When I made Aliyah twenty-five years ago I became a citizen of Israel but that didn’t mean I became an Israeli. That transformation came about slowly with a series of steps. Some of those steps were baby steps like the first time we went to a parent-teacher’s conference and had to use our rudimentary conversational Hebrew to communicate. Then there were giant steps, such as the two weeks my son spent in the hospital, unable to walk, and we began to understand the Israeli medical system.
There were happy steps like finding the community in which to make our home. Some steps were joyous as when we added two sabras* to our family. Other steps were tragic. When our neighbor’s family was divided in half by a cruel traffic accident we bonded with the Shilo family in our grief. Later, with each terror attack that left someone we cared about murdered, our souls were only tied stronger to our land.
With each national tragedy, be it the 1997 helicopter disaster or the 2000 expulsion from Gush Katif, we shared our countrymen’s heartache. We survived the First Gulf War in our sealed room. We withstood the first and second Intifadas. We joined our neighbors at their children’s Bar Mitzvahs and weddings and rejoiced in seeing their children grow up.
Ours grew, also. The teenagers went away for high school. And then our oldest entered the army. Standing next to his friend’s mother, a recent Russian immigrant, at the boys’ swearing-in ceremony, I whispered to her while we sang Hatikva.
“Now do you feel like an Israeli?” I asked.
“Almost,” she answered with a smile.
For me there was no approximation. I had arrived. I was Israeli. Of course, I still had a strong American accent, my Hebrew was still far from perfect, and many still thought of me as an immigrant. So I continued with my baby steps and giant steps.
With every year I acclimated more and more to Israeli food. When I visited my parents my shopping lists grew shorter and shorter. My mother died and I sat shiva** there. My father came to live with us for a year and I sat shiva here. That was a very giant step.
We married off our children, all to Israelis. Our grandchildren speak to us in Hebrew.
Last year we had one of our most giant steps of all. Our son-in-law was injured in active duty.*** Thankfully, blessedly he was lightly injured. As we drove to the hospital to see for ourselves that he would truly be okay my husband voiced my emotions.
“I guess we’re really Israeli now.”
When we were children we used to play a game called Mother May I. It was a game in which we lined up in a row and the leader would hand out individual instructions. Tommy, take two giant steps forward. Mary, go five baby steps backwards. And so forth. Tommy, Mary, and the others would have to say Mother May I before following her commands. Otherwise they would be sent back to the beginning line.
Throughout my steps, both baby and giant, I haven’t been saying Mother May I. Rather I have been begging and thanking my Father in Heaven. I beg Him to let me continue to take my steps to live a productive life in Israel. I thank Him for allowing me to live here.
Although I’ll speak with an accent until the day I die and many will always consider me an immigrant I know the truth. I’m an Israeli and I’m glad I am.
*native born Israelis
**seven days of mourning after a close relative