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Forty Years in Israel

What a day it has been! A bag filled with nails and explosives detonated next to a bus stop near Jerusalem’s Central Bus Station, injuring 39.  A sixty year old woman died of her injuries, and eight others are seriously wounded.  The rest, thank God, will be released soon from the hospital.  And while we in Jerusalem were calling all our children to make sure they are safe, parents in Beersheba and Ashdod were running to their bomb shelters as “code red” warnings blasted through the streets, warning of a bazooka bombardment from Gaza.

This was not the article I had planned to write today.  I wanted to write about the 40 year reunion of our aliyah recently held with friends and neighbors who had lived near us in our first Jewish Agency apartment in a brand new neighborhood built for religious olim called Greater Sanhedria or as we olim broke our teeth trying to say in Hebrew: Sanhedria HaMurchevet.

We met each other as young parents of small children, each of us from a different part of the planet.  In my apartment building alone, my next door neighbors were Russian doctors from Moscow, downstairs was Rabbi Toledano and his beautiful wife Jacqueline from Morocco and their ten children.  A family from Stockholm, and Great Britain, and a number of Americans were scattered on other floors.

And here I was – forty years later – meeting many of my neighbors again.  The beards were longer, the women almost all in head coverings. Almost all of us had grandchildren.  I thought my twelve were an achievement, but the women at my table talked about twenty and more.  We had been abundantly blessed.  And as we shared our remembrances, our hearts grew young again, filled with fondness for those strange, difficult and ultimately nourishing days we had shared as new immigrants. It was our neighbors, we remembered, who became our dear friends, and who had made it possible for us to successfully complete our transition to full- fledged citizens of Israel.

One told the story of how at the beginning, when the neighborhood was still unpaved, without a grocery store or single telephone or bus line, it was so off the map that a cabdriver once argued with him that his apartment couldn’t possibly exist where he said it did.  So he was forced to get out and walk home.

I remembered that when we moved in with our newborn daughter Bracha, there were only ten families in the entire street.  That first winter, the apartments were freezing cold until we new immigrants realized there was no super for the building, and it was up to us to order oil for the furnace!  That’s how green we were.

But the most revealing story about the neighborhood is this one: Right after I gave birth to my second child Asher, I started suffering terrible stomach pains which turned out to be gall bladder related.  Alone, without family, with a newborn and a two year old, I was forced to go into the hospital for an operation.

“How will we possibly manage?” I asked my husband, who was working at a new job.  “Who will take care of you and the children? What will you eat? How will you keep your job?”

It turned out I needn’t have worried.  With the precision of a military operation, and without asking any questions, women in the neighborhood organized into a volunteer force. Every day, someone else babysat my children. Meals were prepared and left at our home. My husband kept going to work, and the children were fine. Two weeks later when I got home, I found the house clean and the refrigerator stocked.

We had no family, and so we new immigrants became each others’ family.  I could never have survived the difficulties of our first few years in Israel if not for the amazing human beings who helped me, and whom I tried to help in return.  We began a tradition then of making the Purim seuda (festive meal) together, five couples, and children of various ages whose numbers grew and grew with time, until they got married and started making their own Purim meals. For forty years we have been meeting each Purim. I always make dessert, my famous apple pie.  When we were younger and slimmer and the kids still came, I added a lemon meringue and pecan. Now I throw in a fat-free angel food.

Wherever I have lived in Israel, I always consider my true friends and neighbors to be the people I met at the beginning in that raw, windswept, road-less, grocery-less, bus-less new immigrant town in Northern Jerusalem. I shall never find their like again.

And so, even on a day like today, when our hate-filled enemies are determined to kill and maim the precious inhabitants of the land of Israel, I can say, forty years after the fact, that moving to Israel was the best thing I ever did.

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34 comments on “Forty Years in Israel”

  1. Johanna Kraal

    Last week we visited Israel with a group of our church.
    Israel is so special for me for all the places we know from the Bible. But more than that: a country only existing 63 years under very difficult circumstances with everything so well organised. We stayed at a kibbutz in the Negev, with trees and flowers, perfect housing and lovely food, as an oasis in the desert.To me it is a wonder what is achieved in Israel. On the airport I bought the book, Jephte’s daugther. It was fascinating and I’m going looking for the other books from you.
    There are many enemies of your country or critics, but there are many people with a deepfelt sympathy and love for Israel.Blessings from the Netherlands.

  2. Sylvia

    Mazel Tov Naomi! I keep everything you write! It makes me feel like a part of the great nation of Israel.

  3. Chaim Phillips

    This is great — it really puts everything into perspective beautifully! And perspective is the hardest thing to preserve day to day.

  4. Lynn M

    Dear Naomi
    thank you so much for all your very intersting articles. I always look forward with anticipation to reading them. In three weeks time a friend and myself are going to be visiting Israel. We will be doing as tour and we finish in Jerusalem where we will be spending a further three nights. I am looking forward to this very much. I am also looking forward to being able to purchase some of your books while I am in Israel.Do you have any advice on what we could do for some of the three nights we will have spare. I was also wondering if you could point me in the right direction to donate some money to the poor in Israel. I have heard that some of the Holocaust survivors find it hard to get together all the food needed for passover & wondered if I could help out one or two of them. Thank you

  5. Helene Leavitt

    Dear Naomi,
    I can’t even begin to imagine what life was like in Israel 40 years ago…..But reading your powerful and beautiful short story made me feel like I was instantly getting into a novel written by you and I became mesmorized. What a special and beautiful gift you have…..
    In all seriousness, this part of your life, that you describe, could be a setting for another book.
    You are truly blessed.
    Much hatzlacha –
    Helene L.

  6. Ben Rappaport

    I live on a small Moshav Shitufi. Originally from Brooklyn. In 1975 I got a call-up (“tzav-8”) to immediately report to my unit. My wife was over a week in the hospital. I still had to work and care for our 3 children. We both had no immediate family here. As I packed my little bag I walked out of my house and saw our neighbor, Shula, and told her what happened and she told me to ‘go in peace and return in peace.’ The kids will be taken cared. When I returned home all three were ‘adopted’ by my neighbors… This is one story I have retold many times when asked why I love Israel…Ben

  7. shira z

    Touching. And still relevant today, in the age of cell phones and wi-fi. I hope it’s ok here to give a public thank-you to Sylvia Waters from Karmiel, an unpaid NBN volunteer, who has been of invaluable assistance in helping get my parents set up in their aliyah.

  8. Sydney Faber

    Dear Naomi,
    As new Olim of 2(wonderful) years standing, my wife and i always get huge Chizzuk from your writings. Mazal Tov on this special anniversary and please keep up your amazing work in good health.

  9. Esther Edell

    Dear Naomi,
    Mazal tov on 40 years in Eretz Yisrael! I just celebrated the 10th anniversary of my aliyah, the best decision I ever made.
    May G-d grant you many more decades of good health in our Holy Land. May you live to see great grandchildren and great great grandchildren living in peace and prosperity in our beautiful land.

    • ursula beale

      Dear Esther Edell,
      I just spotted your name and it looked familiar. Did you grow up in Vancouver, Canada with your parents Annie and Robert Edell, sister Rachel and brother Joshua?
      If so, it is hard to believe you have made aliyah 10 years ago!
      I’m very happy that this was the best decision you made:)
      You still play the flute? Did you finish your studies in music?
      How are your parents and siblings?
      I used to know your family from Har El synagogue and play music with your mom and dad. Now, I am still teaching in our public school system and liking it very much, even though it is stressful at times. I’m blessed with one delightful, 2 year old grandson and my daughter Melanie and her husband are expecting their second one in May. Unfortunately they live in Toronto, a little too far away to see them often.
      Anyway, this is enough for now as I’m not even sure if you are the Esther Edell from Vancouver.
      With blessings and love from Ursula Beale in Vancouver, Canada

  10. Naomi R

    Thank you so much for sharing. It makes me realize how much I have been missing by not making aliyah years ago as I had hoped, but I still have plans to realize my dream very soon. Your books are an inspiration and I’ve read and reread them all. Yasher koach to you and all Klal Yisrael for keeping us well informed.

  11. REB SHLOMO ESTRIN

    Am Israel loves you for bringing the Geula cioser may you be zoche

  12. patty m

    pattyWow do I remeber those days, they were great times. Growing up in Sanhedria Murchevet was an positive experince . And I even got to babysit for your kids. good luck on your new book looking forward on reading it, i am a Ragen fan

  13. TZVI MANOR

    Naomi Shalom

    Mazal tov !!!I made Aliyah 43 years ago.
    Your description is great and I just wanted to add that I thank G’ almighty every day for giving us this land and I feel deep joy in my heart every morning for that choice I made in 1967 shortly after the war to leave the Asado and other southamerican “amenities” and come to live to Israel.
    G’bless you and your familly with many more celebrations like this

  14. ShimonZ

    It is wonderful reading of your success in returning to our homeland, and integration here. May you have much nachas from children and grandchildren, and the pleasure of seeing peace in Israel.

  15. selma

    What a coincidence! Yesterday I lad a discussion of Tenth Song at the library for 15 ladies (non-jewish) and they almost unanimously loved the book – I explained some judaism to them, but they caught your love for Israel and were fascinated by the descriptions ofthe land. I believe they will read some of your other books now. Mazel Tov on this occasion and I pray you and your family stay well and flourish and that we here can enjoy and comprehend Israeli life through your writing. through your

  16. Alexander Grobman

    Naomi:

    Conratulations on the arrival of the 40th year of your residence in Israel. May Hashem bless you with a long life, the wisdom and courage you have manifested, to inspire your readers around the world for many more years.

  17. Alexander Grobman

    Naomi,

    My heartiest congratulations for the 40 years of productive life in Israel. May Hashem bless you with a long life and the continued wisdom, courage and capacity to keep enlightening your readers around the world.

  18. Linda Cothern

    What a great article!! Thank you for sharing this!!

  19. Carol Eberwein

    Naomi Ragen…
    IN THE DIASPORA,WE NEED YOUR INSIGHT,
    HOPE,INSPIRATION MORE THAN WE NEED FOOD.
    THANK YOU FOR THE MIGHTY EFFORT.

  20. Adrienne

    Thank you Naomi for all your newsletters. I have enjoyed them argued against them, cried about them, bragged about them sent them to friends all over the world. I don’t always agree with everything you say but then family sometimes don’t agree. I too have lived here a long time 29 years, I love Israel with all my heart even with the bad times there is always the good. Keep up your good work. Love your books too by the way

  21. Beverly Lyons

    I echo the thoughts of others as I type through tear filled eyes. It is sometimes hard to imagine how kind people in Israel can be as you go through the everyday experiences of being honked at a red light because it is about to turn green. But underneath the aggressive exterior there is a kind soul who follow the traditions of looking after those in need. Keep up your great work and I love your web-site.

  22. Ahava Leah Tamres

    May we all be so blessed to have 40 wonderful years in Israel with friendships, love, happiness, and Shalom. I made Aliyah almost 3 months ago after dreaming about it for 26 years….Today is difficult but today I am also home, in Israel with Peace in my heart and prayers for those that witnessed this tragedy. Thank you for sharing your story and may we all have such great stories to tell in 40 years.

  23. Margie Zachariou

    Hi Naomi
    I’m so glad for your 40 years in Israel, and for your voice to us from the Land…I’ve been reading your writings since 2000. May you have 40 more years filled with every bracha….thank you for your clarity and for being faithful to the truth.

  24. Amalia Leubitz

    Naomi,
    How wonderful to have another venue to pass on your so well expressed political writing. Many of my email friends became direct subscribers and now you can really go viral! B’hatzlacha.
    Amalia Leubitz

  25. Yaffa

    Dear Naomi:
    I have read all your books. I live in CT but have much family in Israel. My teenage niece travels on that same bus everyday. The closeness between the USA Jews and the Israeli Jews can never be argued. As is true of the Orthodox and Conservative Jews and women that fall into every sector. Please keep writing your books, each touching on another side of life and love and loyalty. The Tenth Song made me want to leave everything behind and go to Israel. Thank Goodness your books live the life that I can’t live.
    Yaffa

  26. Rabbi Jeffery Feinstein

    Dear Naomi,
    There are few writers that can move me to tears. They usually do so for sadness. You, however, move me to tears of joy.
    Toda Rabah

    R’Feinstein

  27. Inga Batyah

    Yes, I can say that I agree with every word you say here. I have lived in israel for some 26 years now, and I have never regretted moving here , nor would I ever have made a different choice could I live my life over again. Living in Israel is very hard and challenging but also beautiful and interesting……May The God of Abraham Isac and Jacob continue to bless this country and His people and cause His plans and purposes to come through in spite of the enemies around us…

  28. Diane Hunt

    Interesting the French used the cover from Saturday Wife for their version of Jephte’s Daughter!

    New website is terrific!

    Thanks, Naomi.

  29. Rachel

    As Shimon HaTzadik said, “the world rests on three things: Torah, avodah ve’gmilut hassadim.” Mazal Tov for celebrating your 40 years in Israel!

  30. jane

    How amazing to have forty years of such beautiful memories. May you have forty more. Thank you for all you emails over the last few years, which have kept me abreast of some of the “real” perspectives of Israel. Blessings to you from New Zealand

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