Six months ago, we made the decision to return to Israel. We knew we weren't eligible to make Aliyah - having lived in Israel for 11 years previously - but what did it mean to be a "returning Israeli"? Was it just a technicality or different status in our teudat zehut/identity card?
Almost as soon as we finalized our plans to come back to Israel, we found out about a "toshav chozer" conference that was taking place in NYC. Both Josh & I reflected many times during the conference, where MKs spoke from the heart about the beauty of returning "home," how mind-blowing it is that we have a country that not only offers practical and financial assistance to returning Israelis, but genuinely welcomes us "home." Is there any other country in the world that welcomes home its residents with open arms like Israel?
When my husband and I made Aliyah (separately) in 1998, there was no Nefesh BNefesh on the scene. No IDF soldiers greeting us at the airport. No ceremony. And this time around too, we were just a frazzled family of five with fifteen suitcases on a regular El Al flight. But even though we didn't get to enjoy the magical NBN experience, there was no mistaking the fact that we had arrived "home."
Moving countries is never fun, but when you are returning "home," you realize very quickly that you are NEVER alone. Not in our new community, Rehovot, where we were received with such a beautiful welcome; not in Misrad Haklita, where they patiently and gently talked us through the rights we are entitled to; not in our girls' elementary school, which welcomed our girls six weeks before the end of the school year without batting an eyelid; and not in our new apartment building, where our new neighbors offered us their fridge to store our food while we were without appliances, and invited us for Shabbat meals.
Three months later, and the honeymoon ain't over. When we left the US, we left behind not just amazing friends, but parents, siblings, our children's grandparents, nieces and nephews. Blood relatives. No easy thing. But returning to Israel, returning HOME, means that no matter how tough things get, no matter how harsh and ugly the world can seem, in Israel you are among brothers. Among family. One people, one heart.
These words play out constantly in our lives.
The limitations of the Israeli public school system only reinforce what a tremendous country Israel is, and how spectacular my girls' school is. It takes very little effort at all to find fault with the overcrowded classrooms, the low ratio of teachers-students, etcetera, etcetera, but amidst the chaos and disorganization, there are spectacular human beings who genuinely care about our children's integration back into Israel, about their comfort, about their happiness. One people, one heart.
This week I once again discovered that to be a "returning Israeli" is not just a technicality, but that you are truly being welcomed with open arms. As "returning Israelis" who have been out of the country less than 4 years, my girls are not technically entitled to receive any help from the school with Hebrew.
Yet Tachkemoni, my daughters' school, is choosing to overlook that technicality, and at the end of each school day, my girls receive an extra hour of assistance with homework/Hebrew. The girls' classes are bursting at the seams - Tzofia is one of 39 students with only one teacher - yet the teachers bend over backwards to make themselves accessible at all times for both us and the girls, and constantly are offering support and words of chizuk/encouragement. One people, one heart.
This summer was a disaster for Israeli children - yet my daughters' teachers and ganenet took the time to pick up the phone to check in and see how they were doing, and to offer support and encouraging words.
None of this do I take for granted. Last night I was at my youngest daughter's back-to-gan meeting. As we went around the room and introduced ourselves, I told everyone that we just returned to Israel three months ago. The parents all clapped and said "bruchim habaim - welcome." Can you imagine such a scene in France, England, anywhere in the world? Where fellow parents - essentially strangers - in your child's class would be so excited and inspired by the idea of someone returning home to... Manchester?
We left Israel three years ago, unaware what it would mean if we ever one day decided to come back, but Israel was waiting for us patiently all that time to welcome us back home.