November 15, 2017
Dehydration…every time I go to Israel. It’s an awful feeling. In July 2016 I became so ill I was plastered to the bed for 48 hours. I just can’t seem to get enough water when I’m here – a testament as to how much water I must drink at home and how precious water is in the desert…
But today was not the day to be sick, so I chugged as much water as humanly possible without floating away and we were on our way to a busy morning of site seeing and an even busier afternoon of paperwork and interviews. Not feeling one hundred percent, I sucked it up in true Doherty fashion, knowing it was the most important day of my daughter’s life. We told the kid that our first stop must be the Kotel (the Western Wall of the Temple Mount, a.k.a. Wailing Wall) – it was necessary for her to know exactly why she was making such a courageous decision that will truly impact the rest of her life. Passing the mighty lions standing guard at the entrance to the long and winding stairway with the magnificent view descending to our destination, we passed through security and walked onto the Kotel Plaza.
As most of you may know, it has become a custom for Jews and Christians to write a note and place it within the cracks of the stone that make up the Wall.
Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed, but this place was fascinating. Several rooms are encircled by oil paintings depicting the history and daily life during the temple period according to Scripture. After scrutinizing the miniature Temple, the museum is chock full of artifacts created according to Biblical requirements specifically for use in the future Temple…wow! Needless to say, I was dumbfounded…
Our third stop of the day was one the hubby and I were curious about and the kid convinced us to visit – the Four Sephardic Synagogues.
Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue
Eliyahu Ha’navi Synagogue
Dating back to the late 16th century, the oldest and largest of the four is Yochanan ben Zakai Synagogue, the other three (Emtsai, Eliyahu Ha’navi and Istanbuli respectively) being added throughout the following centuries. Taken over and all but destroyed by the Jordanians in the 1948 War, all four synagogues were painstakingly restored to their original design after the Six-Day War in 1967. This place was SO beautiful I took way too many pictures to post. (However, I failed to get pictures of the Emtsai Synagogue (Middle Synagogue).) There is a multitude of information online tracing the history of this amazing structure. Needless to say, I pretty much drained my iPhone’s battery taking photographs…
The kid declared, “I’m davening here on Shabbat.” We’ll see about that…
Last up – the Hurva Synagogue to view the city of Jerusalem from its lookout.
Twice destroyed over a 300-year period, the Hurva Synagogue in the center of the Jewish Quarter was restored to its original structure in 2010 and continues to be an active synagogue to this day.
Encircling the top of the dome is a veranda with a 360-degree view of Jerusalem no words could possibly describe…
I definitely challenged myself climbing that spiral staircase in an ankle-length skirt. Climbing down was even more frightening, but the view was worth the terror!
After a jam-packed morning in the Old City, we decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up before heading to the Nfesh B’Nefesh office elsewhere in Jerusalem.
For those unfamiliar, Nefesh B’Nefesh was formed in 2001 “in cooperation with the Israeli government and The Jewish Agency for Israel (and) is dedicated to revitalizing Aliyah from the USA, Canada and the UK by removing or minimizing the financial, professional, logistical and social obstacles of Aliyah and the move to Israel.” Prior to its creation, making aliyah was a very labor-intensive and difficult task only to be followed by the multiple challenges an oleh (new citizen) would face trying to settle into their new home. This program has made it possible for thousands of English-speaking Jews to realize their dream of living in Israel.
Not taking any chances with traffic (or any other unforeseen calamities), we collectively agreed we would start hunting down a taxi outside the hotel by 2:00p.m., but not without a lecture from the kid about dealing with taxi drivers. We were sternly advised, “Don’t say a word! Keep your mouths shut and I’ll do all the talking.” Nice, kid…real nice. First rule of them, we were informed, was to tell the driver “HaMetre,” which means you want the ride “on the meter” and not just given a number before driving. As luck would have it, the doorman was talking to his friend who just so happened to be a taxi driver and we were offered a ride. As instructed, the hubby and I kept our mouths shut tight as the kid looked at the driver and said, “HaMetre.” After trying to convince the kid that he knew what the cost would be and attempting to haggle a price, the kid again looked at the driver and said, “HaMetre,” to which the driver mumbled an annoyed, “B’Seder, B’Seder (Okay, Okay)!”
No longer having to keep our mouths shut, the driver asked us why we are going to Nfesh B’Nefesh. The hubby and I enthusiastically told the driver that the kid was making aliyah. His response was the same as all the others we had received every time we told an Israeli that the kid was making aliyah, “WHY?!” with the follow up of, “It’s hard, you know…” This is really not what the parents of an only child (let alone a female child) who is moving over 6000 miles away from home at the tender age of 18 1/2 want to hear. Of course after every conversation, each individual did manage to muster up a “Mazel Tov (Congratulations)…”
With a change in topic, the driver entertains us with his wit and humor, asking us how it is possible that all the roads in Jerusalem are named after Ashkenaz (Eastern European) Jews when there are so many more Sephardim (Mediterranean Jews) in Israel. He then asked the kid what her plans were after becoming a citizen and tells her that it will be much easier for her because of her young age. That was something I did want to hear…
Finally arriving at the Nefesh B’Nefesh building, the driver attempted to pull over to collect his money and allow us to exit the vehicle. Now, anyone who has been to Israel, especial Jerusalem, knows the roads were not made for large vehicles, let alone multiple vehicles. That’s when the fight between cabbies ensued. I’m not sure what was said, but I don’t think they were nice words telling by the anger on both their faces. Either way, I think our driver won that one…
After waiting for the kid’s friend to arrive from Beit Shemesh, we all boarded the elevator and found ourselves at the doorstep of the Nefesh B’Nefesh processing center. The first table was manned by her current advisor who would no longer be her advisor as of that night. (Each phase of the aliyah process provides applicants with a new advisor familiar with the tasks of that particular phase to make it easier on the potential citizen as well as the employees.) Being asked to fill out a packet of papers to get the ball rolling, the kid presented hers already filled out online months ago, eliciting an excited smile from her soon-to-be-ex-advisor.
We were told to have a seat until the kid would be called to the next table and helped ourselves to the coffee, soda, pastry and bourekas free of charge. As the clock ticked past 3:30p.m., the kid was surprised by the arrival of one of her advisors from her gap year program. We were then notified by the staff that they were “running a bit behind schedule” and would be “changing things up” to get the process moving. Being told we could not accompany her, the kid was whisked away to a room downstairs where she and a few other applicants met with the supervisor of the program and discussed logistical matters such as banking, Israeli passports, health insurance and the like…topics completely unknown and foreign to the kid…and then anxiety snuck its way into the fold…and the kid heard nothing that was said. This is why I’ve always insisted on being present when anyone wants to speak to my daughter – she doesn’t listen very well. But this was my and hers reality now – she would need to handle matters on her own from now on. We had successfully launched a child. Now it was up to her to navigate the world she was entering and it was up to me to allow her the keys to the rocket ship.
As I waited for the kid, I met dozens of people from all walks of Jewish life, the youngest a young woman from Canada named Rivka who had just turned eighteen and was born in Israel but moved to Montreal at the age of one and decided she wanted to “move back home.” The oldest applicant was in his sixties making aliyah to be with his aging father who had made aliyah 40 years prior. Sisters, brothers, parents, couples, families and friends all wanting to live in Israel – 57 altogether we come to find…and that was just today. This processing occurs on a Wednesday every two weeks all year round except holidays. I was in awe at how many people wanted to do this and even more amazed by the staff that tirelessly worked more than 10 hours that day – all with smiles on their faces the entire time. That was the other thing I couldn’t get over – everyone was happy. I don’t mean fake happy for the cameras – I mean genuinely happy about what was going on there.
After returning from her group meeting and our attempts to squelch The Bully who had taken over the kid’s brain and blocked her from apprehending any of the information given to her, the hubby and I brought the kid over to the supervisor and had him explain everything again (in a nutshell) so that we could make certain the kid knew exactly what she needed to do next. Right up to that moment, the kid was convinced she would not be accepted and have to return back to the U.S. – and fate worse than death in her mind. She was afraid of doing just one wrong thing that would award her a big red rubber stamped “DENIED” on her application. We managed to calm her down and she resumed socializing with her friends and spoke about her lifelong dream of making aliyah to the cameras as they live streamed on Facebook.
Now the kid was on to the third table of the night – the interview.
I have no idea what she was asked or how she answered, but less than 30 minutes later the kid was done. She would later find out that her interviewer is notorious for very difficult and long interrogations, sometimes turning people away and denying their citizenship. But that didn’t happen in the kid’s case – on to the fourth and final table.
Before we knew it, the kid was being handed her temporary citizenship card and teudah zehut (personal identification card)…and that was it…she was officially Israeli. Her lifelong dream had come true…and my reality as an empty nester started to sink in…
In celebration of all her hard work, we took the kid and her friend to Papagaio Jerusalem. The only word to describe this restaurant is meatpalooza with it’s crowning glory the “Papagaio Conjunto” – a sample of the various meats and poultry available are brought hot off the grill to your table and served the way each individual personally requests. Once you’ve tasted all, you choose your favorite…and then it comes to your table until you can’t possibly eat anymore, forcing you to turn the green button provided at the beginning of the meal to red – the waiter’s signal to inform the grill master to stop cooking for your table. We were definitely up for the challenge!
As we ate ourselves to gluttony, for the first time in the kid’s life it felt like I was talking to an adult…and I felt proud of her and me and the hubby – launch successful…and then a server dropped a tray full of glasses that dramatically crashed to the floor followed by a collective “Mazel Tov!” from all the patrons. Mazel Tov indeed!
One day I know
I’ll feel home again
Home Again – Michael Kiwanuka
“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump