Never make important decisions when you’re jet-lagged.
It was June 2003. We all packed into a van along with our good friend Sarah Pomeroy and her coworker John. They would drive the van back together. I do remember that he was not a believer and I shared with him about the Messiah and eternal life. We met him because we gave him our dog Lizzie when we moved to Israel. Not long after we made the move, he came to faith and married a missionary! When Lizzie finally passed away many years later, he sent us a very nice letter with some pictures from her last year of life.
The destination was beautiful Newark, NJ, where we would check into a hotel and then fly out on our free El Al tickets the next morning. I mentioned in last week’s story that the free tickets were a perk when you made Aliyah. But many Messianic Jews will move to Israel and then do their paperwork because, for some reason, it’s much easier to fly below the radar if you’re already in the country.
But I wanted my free airplane tickets! And I wanted the discount on shipping our container. Even though we made Aliyah on paper in 1997, I was pleasantly surprised that they did give us our free tickets when we moved in 2003.
From that hotel room, I called up my mother. It was one of the most difficult phone calls of my life. We had been living in Ukraine, Hungary, and then Pensacola, FL before we had moved back to Richmond for two years. It was important to me to allow my children to live close to grandma and grandpa for a season before we moved to Israel. Looking back I am not so sure that was the right thing. It was like letting somebody live in a mansion for a season and then making them move into a shack for the rest of their lives. It was incredibly difficult for my mother to say goodbye to her three grandkids. I think she was happy to get rid of me!
As I started talking to her, I realized that she was not responding. “Mom, are you there?” I asked. She could barely get out the words, “I can’t talk.” She was overcome with emotion. Not long after we moved, our middle daughter Yael declared that she was going back to America to live with grandma.
(Looking at the date, I see her declaration was written only two days after we arrived. She’s 29 now. She recently sent that letter to our family chat on WhatsApp. We all laughed.)
After I hung up the phone with my mother I felt like the worst son in the world. How could I do this to her? It made me really question the entire move…and that would not be the last time in the next 24 hours that I would wonder if God had really sent us to Israel.
The next morning, we arrived at the airport bright and early. This was at the tail end of the second intifada, so the security was quite high. I left a bag unattended for about 30 seconds and an Israeli security agent came to question me. Because of this, I had to go through an extra screening for security. But I didn’t go quietly. I found myself arguing with the security agent about the whole issue.
I took note that I would never have done this in America (technically I was still in America). In Israel, arguing with people in authority, for good or for bad, is accepted in the culture. For instance, you would never argue with a police officer in America but would treat him with extreme respect. In Israel, there’s a little bit of leeway. I had not even gotten on the plane but my character was already conforming to becoming Israeli.
During my first visit to Israel, I had fallen in love with the country. This was back in 1991. Stay tuned for next week’s story about that! But I’ll just say this, it wasn’t Jerusalem or the Sea of Galilee that captured my heart, it was the character of the nation. I grew up with ADHD and had a hard time playing by the rules. I liked to have fun and to move fast. I discovered that the entire country of Israel is like that!
We arrived in Tel Aviv the next morning exhausted. We got off the plane and posed for a picture in front of the famous sign that reads in Hebrew, baruchim habaim l’israel, Welcome to Israel. In those days, you got right off the plane onto the tarmac. It was very common to kiss the soil of Zion when you landed. That all ended when they built the new modern airport. Now they have a jetway that leads directly to the airplane. And that also means you can no longer pose for pictures at the celebrated sign.
We look better than we felt, as we took a family photo at the airport.
After going through customs, we all went in different directions. Elana went home with her sister, Sharon went with her friend, Jackie Intrater, the daughter of Asher and Betty, and I think Danielle and Yael came with me. We went to an apartment in the city of Ra’anana, where Dov and Miriam, also new immigrants, graciously hosted us until we rented an apartment.
Ra’anana is a city just north of Tel Aviv, and in the most recent elections, it became the subject of scorn from the Netanyahu camp, as they labeled everyone from Ra’anana as far-left liberals, likening it to San Francisco. In all my years there, it never seemed any more liberal than other cities.
Don’t get me wrong, it is more affluent and when I told people that we were living in Ra’anana, they always had a reaction, assuming I must be rich. But the rent there was cheaper than in Tel Aviv. The mayor there, Zev Belsky, was considered mayor for life because he had done an amazing job transforming the city into one of the most desirable places to live in the country.
We moved there because it is a very Western-friendly city. Most of the original immigrants were from South Africa and Great Britain. In retrospect, I wish we had moved to a much more authentic Israeli city, where I would have been forced to speak in Hebrew more. When I visit Ra’anana now, there is a wave of nostalgia that pours over me. I never thought I would live here so long as to feel such a sentiment about a specific place. It has been almost 20 years.
We all took naps and then I went to pick up Sharon. I could see that all the girls were depressed. They had a very happy life in America. And that was after I had moved them from Maryland to Ukraine, from Ukraine to Budapest, from Budapest to Pensacola and then from Pensacola to Virginia, all in a five-year span. I don’t recommend it! But I told my girls during that time that it would be smart for them to become best friends with each other because they’ll be together the rest of their lives. They didn’t think it was great advice then, but sure enough, they became best friends with each other and now remember their dad’s wise words.
And speaking of wise words, I got each one of them alone and I said to them, “I know you’re depressed, but this is your life now. We’re not going back to America. So the smartest thing you can do is accept the fact that we live here and move forward.”
Even Elana who was a native Israeli was depressed. I gave her the same speech. What they didn’t know is that I was depressed as well. From the airport, I began to hear voices of doubt.
What kind of father brings his kids to live in the Middle East…terrorists are going to kill you…you are so irresponsible…you need to get back on that plane now!
I began to think about ways I could explain to all my supporters that this was just a test! God did not really want us to live here, he was testing me like he did Abraham with Isaac. And I passed, but now it is time to come home to America! How could I explain this to everyone and still keep them as supporters, I wondered.
So at the end of the day, I got alone and I said to myself, “Ron, I know you’re depressed, but this is your life now. We’re not going back to America. So the smartest thing you can do is accept the fact that we live here and move forward.”
Jet lag has a way of distorting reality. It’s amazing what the grace of God and a good night’s sleep can do. The next day we all woke up with a new attitude. Well, at least I thought we did until I read Yael’s letter a few weeks ago.