I have to imagine that almost everyone who has made aliyah has left someone behind. Even those people who are the last to join their family in Israel are leaving behind friends, a job, a community, a life.
Naturally it takes time to replace all that has been lost from the “other side,” particularly when the other side remains present through electronic means or, at the very least, through their opinions–and potentially displeasure at what you’ve done.
So the people doing it with you–the people who came on your flight, the people who came during the same year, the new olim in your neighborhood–these are the people with whom you bond under pressure. They don’t replace family here or there, but they are extra support for the good, the bad, and the riotously funny of the aliyah “experience.”
Nowhere has this been truer for me than in ulpan (Hebrew immersion classes). The core of my class, about a dozen people, have been together now since September. The large majority of us fit the same profile–came this summer, Anglo (from English speaking countries), modern Orthodox Jews, married + kids–though there are exceptions. After three months together, we’ve heard stories of spouses and kids and grandkids, know where people lived before, sympathize with house problems, recognize the challenges of fitting into a new place.
We are slavishly devoted to our teacher. She is fabulous and kind and incredibly patient as day after day we match verbs to the incorrect prepositions and generally butcher the language she loves. It’s like voluntary Stockholm Syndrome. We’d probably collectively walk through fire for her.
So naturally, when one of “us” had a baby last week, the rest of “us” showed up to the brit milah today. Including our indefatigable teacher, who happily agreed to come if we promised to speak only in Hebrew. (Eh, that didn’t happen, given the number of Canadians and Americans in the crowd, but there was a lot more Hebrew conversation than there would have been otherwise.) And afterwards, when we left the new member of the covenant with his happy mom, dad, four older sisters, and other relatives, we gamely trooped back to the classroom for an intense hour and a half of passive verbs and new vocabulary. This is what we do. Somehow I can’t yet look too far into the future, into the yawning empty mornings, without the camaraderie of this group, the newspapers and hot drinks on Tuesday, and the nagging feeling of slow progress.