I Count Everything
BY SHOLOM FELDHEIM
I count everything. I’ve dropped off my daughter Elka at Bais Yaakov 212 times, left her off at Jewish day camps 147 times, brought her to the homes of Jewish friends 89 times, and to Jewish/Israel events 71 times. So you can understand that I wasn’t shocked when I dropped off Elka (for the 519th time) with her husband and baby at the ElAl Terminal for a one-way flight to the Holy Land.
Yes, they made Aliyah.
People ask me, “Are you worried for their safety?” No, I feel less secure living in Miami. “Are you disappointed that they didn’t stay in Florida?” Nah, I’m proud of their Aliyah. “Are you going to miss your grandson?” Um, yeah. If I wanted to see my six-month-old grandson before he and his parents made Aliyah, I walked down a twelve-foot-long hallway. Now, I have to fly for twelve hours – that’s a heckuva long haul (or hall!).
Ironically, I did not understand Judaism or have an attachment to the Promised Land growing up in a rural part of New Jersey with more cows than kohanim. I only knew that the country had loads of stones and sand and yet produced big, delectable oranges. Phylacteries? I thought they were braces a dentist used to soothe cavities. It wasn’t until becoming observant in my 20s that I learned about Israel, tefillin, and tuition.
I understand that Jews in America and Israel are divided not only by an ocean but also by the notion that one might have to give up a safe thing in exchange for something holy and miraculous.
My daughter and son-in-law already knew this. They could’ve stayed in Miami and settled on making ends meet, juggling schedules, and carpooling. But instead, they are engaged in a thrilling, honorable enterprise – the Jewish Homeland.
They aren’t my first family members to make Aliyah. On an earlier trip to Israel, Elka discovered a photograph of my great-great-grandfather hanging in a museum with a blurb beneath the photo saying, ‘First Koydanover Colonist in Israel ’. Interestingly, my son-in-law shares the same first name as my great-great-grandfather. So we know the power of a name.
These anecdotes, like leaves, fall and scatter around the trunk of my family tree, nourishing it and bringing life to my offspring, particularly my grandchildren.
Aliyah is my grandson Ari’s movie. It’s a grand film. I rejoice when I envision a teenage Ari on a hillside wielding a hoe, bantering to friends as they clear a plot of land for a park, his peyot flying. Or, I see him in a beit midrash discussing in Hebrew the finer points of a Gemara. I have a clear mental picture of Ari going off to his army base with his assault rifle in his hands and a siddur in his backpack. Later, I imagine him laughing with friends in a cafe, drinking beer, and strumming guitars until the early morning.
Ari is oblivious to my ‘visions’. He is more interested in flipping over in his crib than history or hashgacha pratit, Divine Providence. But, someday, he will learn about his ancestry and appreciate the meaning of his parents’ sacrifice. And, on that day, Ari’s life will fulfill the verse: “They shall dwell in the land… They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever.” (Yechezkel 37:25)
Until then, I’m proud of my ‘fam’ and feel everything is going as planned. And, yes, I intend to visit them. You can count on it.
Sholom Feldheim has had his anecdotes published in ESRA and Mishpacha magazine. His story “A Tale of Two Kisses” aired on National Public Radio’s Miami affiliate, The Public Storyteller. He is currently at work on a screenplay. Mr. Feldheim lives in Miami with his wife and family. You can contact him at email@example.com.