We’ve all seen it in newsreels or movies, or in our mind’s eye as we read or hear tales of the Holocaust recounted. The transport pulling up at Auschwitz, the barking dogs and shouting SS along the siding, the doors sliding open and the frightened faces within. That image came into my mind as yesterday I watched the doors of the bus pull up, the cheering, singing throngs of people at its side, the doors opening, and the exuberant faces within. What a differenceMedinat Yisrael makes! I stood watching as the first bus from the French Aliyah flight arrived from the plane to the hangar at Ben Gurion where the opening ceremony was to be held. I didn’t feel my eyes welling up, just the wetness of the tears as they streamed down my cheeks. Hundreds of Israelis gathered around for no apparent reason—not just friends and relatives of the olim with a reason to be there—just people who were supercharged to welcome Israel’s newest citizens. Teenagers with their Youth movements. The class of new Agency shlichim that will leave Israel shortly for their work abroad. The band belting out Heveinu Shalom Aleichem and Gesher Tzar Meod. The dancing, the embraces, the quiet acts of offering a bottle of water to a tired olah, the cameras held high to get a shot, and the olim reaching in front of themselves to capture their selfies.
I watched as Jerusalem’s Sephardic Chief Rabbi, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Shlomo Amar made a blessing -beracha over sweetened Shabbat bread - challot, and with the words Blessed are you Lord, our God that brings us to this moment of joy - Baruch Shehecheyanu v’Kiyemanu v’Higiyanu lazeman hazeh hanging in the air, sent the challot through the crowd for the immigrants to get their first taste of the sweetness of this land. I was seated next to a couple—he wearing a kippah and she pants and no hair covering. His arm reached behind his wife, pulling her close the way couples do when they are sharing a moment of joy—witnessing the fulfillment of their dreams. When the challah started working its way through seats to our left, she jumped up and chased it—to bring pieces back for her to share with him.
Rav Amar spoke of the Fast of the 17th of Tammuz that begins in the morning, and the three weeks of sadness until Tisha B’Av, the day that marks the destruction of the holy Temple. He related how our tradition teaches that in the time of redemption, when the Messiah comes, this time of sadness will become one of joy. He spoke of how, at this moment, on the eve of a period of sadness, this incredible moment of joy points the way to redemption. If the Temple was destroyed by Sin’at Chinam, baseless hatred, here, I listened attentively to Rabbi Amar, who didn’t need to point out that I was witnessing and partaking of Ahavat Chinam, baseless, boundless love.
I marveled at the difference between this country—wildly embracing its newcomers—and America, which (laying aside the politics of the moment) has always received its immigrants with deep ambivalence. Instead of op-eds and talking heads debating immigration policy, I found myself at a wedding celebration, where this marvelous land betrothed itself to its beloved new citizens. As I watched Natan Sharansky dance with the Minister of Aliyah and Klitah, Sofa Landver, I couldn’t help but wonder at what it must mean to them, so many years after they each achieved their dream of against the laws of an evil soviet regime, marrying themselves to Eretz Yisrael. The chairman of the Jewish Agency dancing with the Minister of Aliyah—the father and mother of the bride?
Mazal Tov to you too! I’m sorry you couldn’t be here in person, but check out some video and pictures, because you helped make this wedding! The people of Israel live! Am Yisrael chai!