When I took my eldest daughter, Atara, to Israel three-and-a-half years ago shortly before her bat mitzvah, my intent was to afford her the special privilege of visiting the Jewish homeland and allowing her to have an experience unlike anything she had ever had before.
It turned out to be a life-altering experience for her. From that point onward, my daughter decided she wanted to live in Israel. She decorated her room with big Israeli flags, pictures of the Kotel, and a large sign that says “Israel is my home.” She regularly watched videos featuring the Nefesh B’Nefesh flights filled with people making aliyah to Israel. She constantly spoke about her love for Israel and her desire to be there.
I was therefore not completely surprised when she began talking last fall about applying to high school in Israel. At that point she had just embarked on her high school career in a local yeshiva high school, but she clearly had a different long-term goal.
My wife and I discussed it and decided to let her go through the application process and see what would happens. In May we learned that Atara, after a lengthy and intensive screening, had been accepted to the Naale Elite Academy. When I woke her up early that Sunday morning to let her know, she was ecstatic. Her smile lit up the room and she immediately began calling friends and family to tell them the good news.
At some point along the way, prior to her acceptance, my wife and I, in one of our many conversations about my daughter’s desire to go to Israel, discussed how we felt about it. My wife made an excellent point that stuck with me.
“We raised her a certain way,” she said. “We raised her to love Israel and we taught her the importance of being idealistic and Zionistic. She’s made it clear that she wants to pursue her dream. How can we now stand in her way and quash her dream after working so hard to teach her those values?”
And so, before I knew it, we were suddenly busy with shopping, packing, and more shopping. My daughter was going to Israel.
The last several days before she left were filled with last-minute shopping trips and emotional goodbyes to friends and family. As we loaded her suitcases into the car before we left for the airport, it was extremely difficult to watch her say goodbye to my three younger children, each of whom will undoubtedly miss her terribly. At that point it hit me that she was actually leaving.
After checking her bags at the El Al terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport, parents and students from the program gathered at the International Synagogue for a brief ceremony. There were speeches by representatives of the school and the Jewish Agency, but it was when one of the school representatives read a poem that I really began to contemplate the significance of my daughter’s journey to the Holy Land.
“Each day is a new beginning…a fresh start, a new dawn…. A world of possibilities waits for you…. You can be whoever, whatever, however you want to be – it is all up to you…. Grab onto your future…it starts right now…. A new world is waiting for you, today, in Eretz Yisrael.”
The words of that poem really resonated with me. This incredible experience that my daughter has embarked on is a new beginning for her and the possibilities are virtually endless. The new world that is waiting for her in Israel is full of opportunity and will allow her to pursue her dream.
And then it was time to say our farewells. Saying goodbye was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do as a parent. After telling Atara I loved her, I told her how extraordinarily proud I am of her.
I have to confess that I am very conflicted. On one hand, watching my oldest daughter board that plane was extremely painful. On the other hand, I am filled with an immense sense of pride that my daughter chose to pursue this path at this point in her life. I admire her courage, her conviction, and her commitment.
When we were leaving Israel during our pre-bat mitzvah trip in 2010, my daughter turned to me, with tears in her eyes, and asked “Why do we have to leave?” Well, Atara, little did we know at that time that you would get to go back so soon.
My daughter is going home.