Birthday Blessings

I awoke at 5:30 am today to the sound of Bedouin men in the neighboring village chanting their prayers (Usually I wake up at 6:30 to the songs of busy yellow-beaked Eurasian blackbirds outside my window and on the roof.). 

Their chanting was so hauntingly mesmerizing that it gently carried me from asleep to awake… and drew me towards it. I looked out my open window taking in the pre-dawn experience of the Holy Land.  

I heard animals howling in unison — maybe they were תַּנִּים (tanim)? As I looked out across the still-black forest, it was a truly bizarre moment, someplace between reality and a new existence. And then I realized I could also now hear the slight din of cars in the distance, likely commuting to work. From here in the north to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, where many Israelis work, it takes a couple hours even if you leave this early there is traffic. 

Sunrise view from our balcony overlooking the Wadi

Time — seconds, minutes, hours, and days — is one unit of measure that’s the same here, and I take comfort in that. Though I’m now seven hours ahead of many of the important people in my life personally and professionally. 

There are so many things I’m having to adjust to and learn since we made Aliyah — sights, sounds, smells, feelings, friendships.

Of course, there’s the language (the microwave buttons, food labels, instructions for setting up my voicemail, and the chit-chat at grocery stores are not yet understandable (slowly, slowly through Ulpan and my Google translate app, which also allows me to translate photos of text).

Dollars are now shekels, so I’m always calculating in my head now how much something is — dividing by 3.5 — though I’m told eventually I’ll think only in shekels. 

Miles are now kilometers — that next turn is sooner than I expected.

Inches are now centimeters — trying to find the right size mattresses, which are sized differently anyway. 

Pounds are now grams —how much fish to buy.

The outlets, of course, are also different, so we got adapters for some things and replaced others.

Everything here is based around the Jewish rather than Gregorian calendar. Stores and government offices are closed on Shabbat and the Jewish holidays. Walking around, there’s a feeling of belonging that reaches deep — I’m sort of a foreigner but am finally home for the first time in this life.

Even in my town that has around 20,000 people who aren’t religiously observant and less than 100 families who are, the streets are closed to cars on Yom Kippur — as everyone takes advantage of the quiet streets, walking, biking and scootering in the middle of otherwise busy roads. Though 80 percent of Jewish people in Israel don’t identify as religious, I’m told many still keeps Shabbat and/or kosher, and most fast on YK.

Many of the stores are owned by Arabs yet still sell mostly kosher food, and all the signs and labels and pretty much everything includes Arabic writing. One of my new friends is Catholic from Italy and married to a Muslim lawyer. Another is from Yemen. Other friends are from Iran, South Africa and Chicago. Some grew up on kibbutzim, others in bigger cities. The people are as diverse as the majestic landscape.

Even the clouds here look different, and there is literally not a drop of rain for more than half the year including the summer (in Florida it rained everyday during the summer).

But when that first rain finally does come — יורה (yoreh) — it’s considered a spiritual event and celebrated — an answer to daily prescribed prayers and a gauge of our behavior.

Nothing here is as bad or scary as others may have led me to believe. People often call me brave for moving here, and when I ask why they think that, the answers vary based only on their own internal fears (and never actually encompassed what was hardest for me personally, or what seems to be reality).

The energy here is so different that I’m not fully in my body yet. If I hadn’t begun learning about somatic healing and other metaphysical stuff before coming, and didn’t tune in to at least a basic awareness of this, I think the transition may have been even harder. Earthing, deep breathing, meditation and journaling are helping my mind, body and soul get reacquainted here in this special place. That, and the kindness of the people here. 

Families in the community here stocked our fridge and brought us home-cooked meals, mattresses, small appliances, and other random things to help ease our landing. We chose not to get a lift (shipping container for our stuff), but instead put what we wanted to keep in storage, packed our 15 allotted suitcases, and sold and donated the rest. Slowly we’ve been getting what we need and want, and there has been a mourning process for some of the stuff we left behind — like our books! 

There are no police here or need for them (at least here in my town). It’s so pastoral, safe and quiet that it’s taking me time to relax and truly enjoy it.

Kids and dogs happily roam free, on the streets, in parks and stores.

The mangoes grown here are enormous and taste like Heaven. We can go to a kibbutz nearby to get fresh honey, homemade passion fruit liqueur and pomegranate wine. I’m addicted now to the little halva snack bars — not sure how I went my whole life up till now without them. 

The Kotel is more magical than I ever imagined, but getting to and from it requires navigating corridors or vendors selling all sorts of things (we bought handmade painted bowls and a vase), and the mall next to the Kotel is so beautiful it’s like being in Milan or Miami. It was a bizarre juxtaposition from holy to mundane, ancient to modern.

With my daughter at the Kotel

People keep reminding me that, as our Sages teach us, the Land of Israel is acquired through difficulties. 

The trials allow us to clarify that we are here for the right reasons. As one friend told me: “A little idealism can go a long way.”

When someone is sincere in her values, she is prepared to endure suffering. She’s ready to face challenges and isn’t here just because of convenience or because she happened to be born here. 

She is here because this is the ultimate place for every Jew. She is here because this is the only place where a Jewess can fulfill her mission on earth.

Tomorrow, Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan, is my Jewish birthday. As one new friend said on a voice note this morning, it’s my first birthday here in Israel. She invited me to get coffee, and I went with my family to Biga, the best restaurant I’ve ever been to. The food is healthy and delectable, and we get to practice our Hebrew with the servers who, like many people here, marvel at these strange Americans who made Aliyah to a town with almost no Anglos. I’m told Tivon is like the Sante Fe or Sedona of Israel. 

If there’s proof that G-d truly guides us if we ask, it’s the fact that I poured out my heart and soul in prayer when we were trying to decide where to live. It was a nearly impossible task, especially given the fact that I had never even visited Israel before. Of course, since G-d works through us, as us, it was the humans we spoke with on the phone who provided the information and clues as we navigated our way here, making monumental decisions seemingly in the dark. “G-d, please be my eyes,” I said.

Tomorrow I’ll take a trip to Tiberias with my family. I’ve felt a strange pull and connection to the Kineret (Sea of Galilee) for many years. I caught glimpses of her beauty during our recent drive from here to Tzfat. The Jordan enters her from the north and flows out from the south, and the Kineret is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth.

Miriam’s Well, according to tradition, can be found in the Kineret. According to Jewish mysticism, Kineret receives her illumination directly from the Shechina, the Divine Presence. Tomorrow, G-d willing, we will make the 45-minute drive east toward her shore at sunrise.

“The Well of Miriam” by Yoram Raanan

Birthdays are a time to give blessings to others and to give thanks for having reached this day: Blessed are You, Hashem, Source of all life, who has sustained me, and kept me alive, and brought me to this time.

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