I was sitting in an isle seat of the middle section of the plane. Next to me sat an Israeli mother with her sixteen-year-old daughter who were on their way home from an organized tour of the west coast. The mother started talking with me before we left the ground in LA and asked me where I was from. The question caught me off guard. My initial response was, “I’m from Los Angeles,” but then after thinking for a moment I added, “but not anymore. I’m making Aliyah.”
I landed a week ago. One week ago, today, I arrived in Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. My flight was long – 14 hours from Los Angeles to Tel Aviv without any sleep, plus a 9-hour time difference, was absolutely exhausting. I just couldn’t bring myself to sleep on the flight though; maybe I was excited. I read a little from the book that I’m currently in the middle of reading, Exodus. It seemed to fit the occasion.
I didn’t feel as excited as I expected to be, or rather as I thought I should be. For most of the flight, I kept my eyes on the screen with the map that tracks the location and progress of the flight. I guess I was excited, but for different reasons. I had an overwhelming feeling of returning, the feeling you get when you’re going home after a long vacation. It wasn’t a feeling of newness and fantasy; I was going back to what was familiar, but within that familiarity laid a reality, that this time I was coming to stay, for good. For so long, the single strip of land in the entire world that I can call my own had been just an acquaintance. After this past year, I can say that I have grown to know her, and now I’m returning to her, in a much deeper, real way. After I landed, I went to the Office of Absorption in the airport. There, I received my certificate of Aliyah (which looks like a passport), my first payment from the absorption basket, and forms – for opening a bank account, getting an Israeli identification card (Teudat Zehut), and getting healthcare. They also gave me some incorrect information, which ended up making things just a bit frustrating later on (which I will explain in a later post). From the Office of Absorption I went down to get my passport stamped, and I went to get my overweight bags.
When I came out, there was a small group of friends waiting for me. They were so excited to see me, and I was excited to see them as well. I said the bracha “Shehechiyanu”, the prayer said when doing something for the first time, or for the first time in a very long time. I had arrived! I was so relieved to finally have landed and be standing in Israel again. Ruti, the woman from Kibbutz Sa’ad, where I am staying, came to pick me up from the airport. I loaded my bags in the Kibbutz car and we drove back to Sa’ad. I had arrived, and now the real fun was about to begin…