“I give your father two to three months to live.”
“You have a small window of opportunity for you father to be able to fly.”
“We can get your father Israeli citizenship within a week. Just Fed-Ex his passport to Chicago.”
Those were samples of the information I received after my father was diagnosed with cancer in November, 2006. In light of his diagnosis, he accepted our offer to come live with us in Shilo, Israel. So my husband and I flew to Wichita, Kansas to pack up his belongings, close down the house, and bring my father to Israel. He’d recovered from his hospital stay enough to make the journey and we’d been given a week to get everything done.
It was important for my father to have Israeli citizenship so he could sign up for an Israeli health fund. However, as much as the Jewish Agency representative guaranteed us that we’d have the passport back in time to make the trip, we were afraid to take the chance. My father’s insurance company assured him he’d be covered for the first couple of months of living overseas.* So, when my father landed in Israel on Thursday evening, the night before Chanukah, he entered the country as a tourist. With most of his grandchildren, granddaughters-in-law, and a couple of great-grandchildren waiting at the airport to meet him, being an Israeli citizen or not was probably last thing on his mind.
For me, though, it was one of my biggest concerns. Sunday morning I began my phone calls. Right away I was told that it would take several good weeks, at least, to get an appointment with the Department of Interior, the office that issues citizenship. I began calling some of the immigrant organizations and got quite a runaround until I dialed AACI, the organization for Americans and Canadians in Israel. They gave me the name of a specific woman to ask for in the Department of Interior. By the time I had that information, though, her office was already closed. First thing the following morning I was on the phone. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the woman I was supposed to ask for but I do remember how she listened to my sob story with patience.
“Can you be here (at The Department of Interior) at eleven?” She asked me.
“Eleven,” I had the chutzpah to hesitate. “Can it be a little later? My father’s still recovering from surgery and jet lag.”
“Eleven or nothing,” she was adamant. “Someone was supposed to be off because of Chanukah but she came in today and has one opening.”
“Just a minute,” I told the woman. “Daddy,” I asked my father. “Do you think you can be ready to leave in a half an hour?”
I explained the urgency and my father nodded. “I think I can do it.”
“We’ll take it!” I told my angel ecstatically. Then I called my husband and asked if he could leave work and take us to Jerusalem. I shudder to think what I would have done if he hadn’t been able to do so. However, he was available and helped my father into the car, folded up the wheelchair and stowed it in the trunk, drove the hour drive to Jerusalem, pulled up in front of the Department of Interior, helped my father out, and then went to park.
My father and I were directed to the elevator. At that time the Department of Interior was located in an old building probably from before 1948. The elevator was so tiny that I couldn’t enter with the wheelchair. Thankfully, was father was able to walk, albeit slowly, so he entered the elevator while I collapsed the wheelchair. Waiting for us in her cubicle was another angel.
It took quite some time for this angel to finish all the necessary forms but once she’d done so she left her desk and came to my father. Holding out her hand she said, “Mr. Katz, I want to be the first one to welcome you to Israel as an Israeli citizen.” Both my husband and I had tears in our eyes as my father accepted her welcome. At the age of eighty-six he had come home. He lived in Israel as a full-fledged citizen for eleven months. Then my father died and was buried in Israel.
In the Torah portion, Chayei Sara, we learn how Avraham bought a burial plot for his wife, Sara, in Hevron. Later his son, Yitzhak, and his wife, Rivka, were also buried in the Cave of the Patriarchs, as were Yaakov and Leah. Since that time Jews have longed for the honor to be buried in the Holy Land. My father was privileged to not only to have been buried in Israel, but also to have lived for almost a year in the Land of Israel. We are blessed to live in a time when any Jew can do so.
My father came home. You can, too.
*Once my father was registered with a health fund I tried to make an appointment for him with a certain oncologist. There was a waiting period of several months but by paying privately we could see him the following week. We opted to go privately and get our reimbursement from my father’s insurance company. Unfortunately, we got bogged down in countless forms and never got our compensation. However, after seeing the oncologist once and getting into the system, my father never had to pay another penny for a visit, tests, or medicine. The cost of that private visit was one of the best investments we ever made.