On Living in the Land
Rebecca Nathan Kowalsky, Class of ’77
Life is a gift. Every breath we take. The simplest movement, the blade of grass in our front lawn—a wonder. Once we lose sight of those miracles we live life on a lower level of saturation; when not mindful about the moment we are in, we may be looking at a flat graph instead of one that should be jumping off the charts of excitement.
Being brought up as a believing, Orthodox, and Zionist Jew in Chicago is what initially formed me. Upon graduation of Ida Crown in 1977, I embarked on my first trip to Israel, actually my first trip overseas (hard to imagine that in the year 2014!). That year of study and touring in the Land of Israel was a formative experience for me. It basically brought me to one realization –THIS is the place we are supposed to be. How can there be any question?! Therein the practical Zionist was born – not just the theoretical one.
Returning “home” after that year, I resumed my formal education in NYC at Barnard College and married my husband, Yossi. We returned to Chicago, for his dental school education, with the pact between us that our goal was to make aliyah and raise our family in Israel, our Homeland. We would not just pay lip service three times a day (or more) to our desire to lift our eyes to Zion. We were goin’ there!
Upon his completion of dental school and with the great support of our parents, we made aliyah (and allow me to thank and praise my parents for sending their only daughter, and far more difficult, their only grandchild at the time, Yitzchak—then one years old—with kindness as well as emotional and financial help, and, of course, some tears of sadness for the geographic divide).
There were ups and downs, as in any change, and certainly a major change and move. And, Israel, in all its glory, isn’t always easy. But overall, thank God, it was wonderful. We eventually settled in the beautiful city of Efrat, building our family of six children, and now two grandchildren, and our professional lives.
We lived through two Intifadas and all that comes with them, including the fear and risk of travel to and from one’s home and the comforting of families who suffered the ultimate loss and sacrifice. Yet, we always felt like we were a part of a greater one, a WHOLE.
I have taught my children, that we have the privilege to live in one of the small windows of time for the Jewish people that is simply an utter miracle. We have our own state, we have our own army, we are the forerunners of so much development and growth in the world, and we are actively living and rebuilding Jerusalem. Isn’t that what we are supposed to be doing? One must never lose sight of this great reality. We cannot take it for granted. As Jews, our lives have a goal, a higher purpose. Very few days go by that I do not stop and feel the awareness of the gift we have living in Israel. What can so easily be glossed over is that, which so many prayed for and died for – just to walk this land.
We recently went through one of the most intense times our people as a whole have experienced. The kidnapping by Hamas terrorists of three of “our” boys, and of course their cruel and barbaric murder. Was it scary? YES. Was it disheartening? OF COURSE. Did I, as every parent feel and fear for my own children, asking myself what if…? My G-d, did I. But the overwhelming unity in the country – the davening, the united front, the feeling that we are together part of a very big picture is far beyond anything words could encapsulate.
No parent should have to be faced with the test that the Sha’ar, Fraenkel, and Yifrach families were handed. The world at large has been a disappointment. Antisemitism, literally is beyond belief – less than 70 years after the Holocaust.
It only makes me feel stronger and believe deeper that our lives here in Israel are a vital gift. Aside from the daily beauty of walking the land of our fathers and mothers, and actually building and rebuilding the land, we are living our lives with Jewish people from all over the world and building a nation.
To quote a recent piece in the Jerusalem Post by Aharon Wexler on the lack of Aliyah:
Suffering through exiles, torture, murderous rampages and genocide, one could not even eat a cookie without asking G-d to return us to Zion in the blessing afterward.
Through sheer will and faith, we reclaimed our ancient homeland, made deserts bloom, built villages, towns and cities. We created whole industries and rebuilt a destroyed world of Torah. Forced to defend ourselves and our achievements from vicious enemies, we forged one of the greatest militaries on earth. Seventy years after the made soap out of Jewish people, we are a force to be reckoned with.
I challenge you, Academy alumni – think hard and deep and evaluate where your home really is.