A long time ago I promised my youngest sister that when she had her first child I would come to America from Israel to help her out. I remember the difficulties of those first few weeks of motherhood and I wanted to be there to help my “baby sister” with her own baby. I’m well aware that I made the choice to make aliyah – to move to Israel – which makes it harder to stay close with the family I left behind. But I also realize it’s up to me to make the effort to stay close with the ones I love. And that’s why when baby Aaron made his appearance into the world a few weeks ago, I booked my ticket to New York right away.
As I walked through Ben Gurion Airport this past Sunday, I thought about the many people who would be travelling in the next few weeks for the holidays. And as I walked down the jetway to my plane I saw a large poster featuring our very own Rabbi Eckstein with a group of immigrants standing on the tarmac in front of a Fellowship Freedom Flight. They were new olim, immigrants to Israel, and Rabbi Eckstein was there to welcome them home.
Then it hit me. Of all the flights that will come and go over the next few weeks, months, and years, there are some flights that are the most significant of all. While many flights will carry children to their parents, connect family and friends, and bring so much joy to so many people around the world, none of those were written about in the Bible. But the flights that are carrying God’s people home to Israel, those were written about in our Holy Book thousands of years ago. They are biblical prophecies coming true in our lifetimes.
“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land” we read in Ezekiel 36:24. Just as Isaiah 60:8 says, “Who are these that fly along like clouds, like doves to their nests?” And Deuteronomy 30:4 tells us, “Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back.”
There are so many prophesies about God’s people returning to their land. And right where I was standing – at 5 am on an ordinary Sunday morning – was the exact place where some of the most extraordinary events of our times are taking place.
When Jews make aliyah, it is more than a homecoming. It is the completion of a circle. A few summers back I travelled to Rochester, New York, with my father. It’s where he grew up and his family lived for several generations. Those ancestors of mine had come from Europe, mostly Poland and Russia. Before that I can’t say exactly where they lived, but I can say for sure that at one point, my family came from Israel. They were exiled and travelled from country to country, fleeing persecution and danger until they reached America. So when my own family returned to Israel, we didn’t just move our own family home. We closed the circle of the journey so many took before us – those who were driven further and further from their homeland – by at last returning home. Of all the flights we have taken, that flight was the most important.
As it turns out, the first person I spoke to when I walked out of JFK airport in New York was an Israeli man. I didn’t know it but I asked this stranger who was commandeering the waiting taxis which terminal I was at. He answered “echad,” Hebrew for “one.” Taken aback by his choice of language I asked him how he knew I was Israeli. He said he didn’t know I was Israeli but could tell I was Jewish.
“Are you Israeli,” he asked, intrigued, “and now you live in America?”
“No, I replied. “I’m from America, but now I am Israeli and have been for over eight years.”
The man was clearly an Israeli who, for whatever reasons, was living in America. I told him that I already missed my family and Israel. “Ayn K’mo Ha’aretz,” I said. “There is no place like the Land (of Israel).” And as I looked in his eyes I saw unmistakable sadness. Then he turned to go back to managing taxis on a cold New York night as I said a silent prayer that he might find his own way back home again one day.
It’s one thing to make aliyah to Israel, but it’s another to stay in Israel because, let me tell you, it isn’t always easy. As we celebrate Hanukkah this year, I will thank God for the miracle of the Maccabees finding pure oil to light the menorah and that the oil lasted for eight nights. I will also thank God for the miracle that my family was able to return to our homeland, and that we have been able to stay there for eight years, and with His help, many, many more.
And as I gaze at those miraculous candles I will pray that all of God’s people will one day be able to come home, knowing that it’s not just another plane ride to another country, but a miracle, a marvel, a prophecy fulfilled.