My seven weeks in Israel have come to a close. They were packed with simchas and great emotion.
Let me start with the last major event I was privileged to attend on this trip: the swearing-in ceremony of my grandson Yoni Schwartz at the Kotel. A few hundred soldiers stood in formation, facing the Kotel, as various speeches were delivered. One officer read verses from Tanach affirming our divine right to the Land of Israel while another said a Yizkor prayer for all the soldiers who were killed in battle or terror attacks.
The rabbi of the IDF addressed the young soldiers: “Today you receive your gun and your Tanach. The Tanach is our deed to this land. It is the reason you will fight to protect it. Unfortunately, enemies still surround us who want to wipe us out, and that is why you also need the gun. But one day we will realize the words of our prophet Yishayahu, ‘when nation shall not life sword upon nation.’ May Hashem protect all of you.”
I was crying as I sat near the Kotel, listening to the speeches, all containing references to G-d. I couldn’t pick Yoni out in the crowd, but it didn’t matter because, as I looked at all these young soldiers, many with yarmulkas and many without, I realized they were all my family or, in the words of one famous American playwright, “all my sons.” I pray that Hashem will watch over you, my dear Yoni, together with your fellow soldiers.
While in Israel, I was also blessed by the birth of another great-grandson. Little Yedidyah Moshe was born on Erev Pesach and his bris was on Shevi’i Shel Pesach. With his birth to Gilad and Natalee, my children Zevie and Yael Schwartz became grandparents. Just last week I attended the pidyon haben for little Yedidyah, a most joyous occasion. And yes, Gilad and Natalee did redeem him and duly paid the kohen.
Pesach in Israel is extraordinarily special. You can actually feel the chag in the air. For days beforehand, everyone is busy cleaning and preparing for the holiday. On Erev Pesach, supermarkets already have half their shelves covered. And in the morning, on practically every street corner, people are burning their chametz. During Chol HaMoed, the whole country seems on the go. Matzah sandwiches are the fare of the day.
I went with family up north to Tzefat, Meron, and Tevaria. Whenever I sit at the Kinneret, I think of my mother, Irene Klass, who, together with my father and grandfather, founded The Jewish Press. Some of my earliest memories are of her singing songs about the Kinneret to me. I remember when she visited Israel for the first time; she went to the Kinneret and gasped in joy at the beautiful blue lake. Her songs had come alive – and so they remain for me.
During this trip I was also fortunate to be at the bar mitzvah of my grandson Akiva Yosef Schwartz, son of my children Dovid and Julie. I spent a remarkable Shabbos on my children’s yishuv in the Shomron. Akiva read Parshas Emor flawlessly in a strong confident voice. He also made a siyum and delivered his own dvar Torah.
I heard many inspiring divrei Torah throughout Shabbos, but for me, the best part was being together with so many members of my family – children (almost all of them), grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. And I was able to spend time with each one. I think Shabbos came to an end too soon for all of us, and I couldn’t stop thanking Hashem for all of my blessings.
For me, being in Israel is in itself a blessing. I breathe in the Jerusalem air and already feel smarter as per the Gemara’s teaching that “avira d’Yisrael machkim – the air of Israel makes one wiser.” I don’t spend my time in Israel as a tourist. Once in the country, I act as if I live there. I spend time with precious grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well as old friends, especially my lifelong friends Libby (Goldberg) Weinberger, Sandy (Singer, Bernstein) Epstein and Talya (Cohen) Hahn.
This year I had the additional pleasure of attending the Jewish Women’s Writers conference, Soferet. There I got to see some of the very special writers whose articles grace the pages of our Olam Magazine – women like Ann Goldberg, Faygie Heyman, Naomi Gross, Jolie Grieff, Linda Hirschel, Rhona Lewis, Sara Miriam Gross, and my cousin Gila Rosenthal Arnold. Forgive me if I have left some of you wonderful ladies out.
For me Jerusalem will always be home. And that is the best feeling of all.