This past weekend was a very special one for me and my family. It was our first Shabbat (Sabbath) in our new home and community. At long last, after eight years of living in Israel, we have moved into a home of our own.
Our house is located in a developing neighborhood in our town, and while the neighborhood will ultimately house over 300 families, we are only family number 18 to move in. In Judaism 18 stands for chai, “life” – and this move, for our family, is perhaps the most important move of our lives.
Now that we have a house, we can make a permanent home here in Israel. After moving four times in eight years, we hope to finally settle. It’s been a long journey home for our family – from America, to Australia, back to America, and then to Israel. Our grandparents, some of them Holocaust survivors, came from Poland, Russia, and Germany. And many generations before our grandparents, our ancestors had begun their own journey out of Israel when they were exiled in the first century C.E.
Now the journey has come full circle with our return to Israel. We will plant trees on our own land and re-plant our family roots in our ancient homeland, never to be uprooted again.
The reception we received here has been amazing. In a small community like this, everyone looks out for everyone. Everyone knows everyone. Every parent knows and looks out for every child. And everyone cares. We received flowers, cakes, and meals from complete strangers. We received offers for rides for our kids and invitations to Shabbat meals. Family number 18 did not go unnoticed – instead we received a royal reception, making it clear that our arrival is cause for celebration.
As we repopulate this ancient town – which is also an active archeological site containing remnants from the Second Temple period – we are both humbled and awed. We recognize that, while this is especially significant for our family, it is also bigger than just our family. We are part of a long, long story that spans millennia.
This reality was ever so poignant when the congregation in the small synagogue in our community sang a song to welcome us on Shabbat. Many synagogues have this custom when new families arrive. The words to the song are taken from Jeremiah 31:15-17: “This is what the Lord says: ‘A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.’ This is what the Lord says: ‘Restrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work will be rewarded,’ declares the Lord. ‘They will return from the land of the enemy. So there is hope for your descendants,’ declares the Lord. ‘Your children will return to their own land.’”
The passage refers to the matriarch Rachel weeping as the Jewish people were exiled from the land of Israel. God promises her that the Jews will return one day. And we have.
While this song is most appropriate for new olim (immigrants who have just returned to Israel), it is also fitting for a family such as ours that has arrived in our own land. As the congregation joyfully sang for us I felt that we were literally living the prophecies of the Bible.
So now whenever I walk through the door of our new house, I remind myself that it is not just any home. It is a testimony to the truth of the Bible, and a promise of what is yet to come.