By Larry Gordon
The plan is to be in Israel in July; hopefully, those plans will go forward. Back in November, just before Chanukah, we had made plans to visit, when a couple of days before our flight the protocol changed and only Israelis were allowed into the country, unless, of course, you made an appeal to the emergency committee that handles these issues.
These last couple decades, summer for us meant spending at least part of it in Israel. And that is the case for a combination of reasons. First, it’s a beautiful season of the year to be there. It’s extra-hot sometimes, but isn’t it everywhere? And, as you know if you read this space on occasion, when I was a kid and later a teenager, summer meant my parents disappearing for at least six weeks—sometimes more—spending that time almost exclusively in Israel.
I recall that on at least two of those journeys they also traveled to Russia and another time to Switzerland. There may have been other stopovers, but I do not recall at this point. So, as you see, I attribute this attraction and even yearning to be in Israel come the summer to what I learned from my parents as a young man.
I love to reminisce about those days because this exercise of plumbing the depths of my psyche and exploring the events that left an indelible impression is something that I could never imagine would evolve in the fashion that it has. (Fortunately for both of us, I’ve been told by many over the years that you like reading about this, too.)
I’ll never forget the first summer that we arrived in Israel at the same time that my parents were there. Malkie was ten weeks old; through a stopover in London and through Israel, I carried her in some sort of baby contraption on my back, and it was an exciting pleasure to do so.
We flew to Israel through the night while she slept in one of those bulk-head seat baskets that attached to the wall in front of the seat. We didn’t sleep at all that night, though she did for quite a few hours. The problem was that when we arrived at our hotel, at night, she was wide-awake, and we desperately needed some sleep.
So, we were awake for basically 36 hours until we settled into some kind of jet-lagged routine. These days when I see people flying to Israel with babies, I know they are in for an exhausting ordeal, but it’s worth it.
For those of you over 40 years of age, we attended a Saturday-night kumzits/concert on Har Zion with the Diaspora Yeshiva Band. That was a weekly get-together for tourists and Jerusalemites. Avrohom Rosenblum was the lead singer for the band that was one of the most popular groups on the Jewish music scene in the 1970s and early 80s.
I was still hosting my daily music radio program on WFMU in the days prior to everyone having their own radio show or program on the Internet, and Diaspora Yeshiva music was a vital cog in those daily presentations. It was a wonderful and memorable evening on a warm summer night under the star-lit Jerusalem sky.
We hope that, unlike the last time we were poised to go to Israel, things will go smoothly. I understand that PCR tests will no longer be required upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport after May 20. At this point, a negative COVID test is still required upon departure from the U.S.
When we arrived on that jaunt 40 years ago, it was an exciting and even emotional arrival. As I stated above, my parents were not only in Israel but traveled to the airport to meet us. It was the old airport in Lod, a much different configuration than the new Ben Gurion Airport.
My recollection is that those people meeting travelers at the airport were in a balcony or some kind of elevated area looking down at the arrivals. We were probably waiting for our luggage, and I was looking up, gazing at the crowd, when I spotted a person repeatedly waving his arm in a windmill-like fashion.
I recognized that the person waving was my father, with my mom standing at his side. Our eyes locked, and I pointed out to Esta that my parents were up there. I pumped my fist into the air in a celebratory motion, punctuating and sharing the moment that was the start of a longtime dream for both of us to be in Eretz Yisrael together.
As you can see, I’m glad we made that trip at that time, even with a ten-week-old baby, because it provided an eternal memory. With our family growing after those three weeks in Israel, it would be another nine years before I made it back to Israel, and that was for my father’s levayah.
That thought process brings me to that day nine years later, when my brother and I were in Jerusalem and rose early Shabbos morning to walk to the Kotel to say Kaddish for one of the first times. We walked through the Arab shuk, down many stairs, turned right and then left, following the sign that pointed to the Western Wall.
We didn’t know how long the walk would be exactly, but after those turns, we lifted our heads and there it was. It was a stunning moment after all those years. I’ve always felt that my father knew that this moment would arrive and that we, his sons, would be instantly comforted in our loss by the Wall before us.
Now when we arrive in Israel, in Jerusalem, and my eyes meet the stones of that grand wall, it is that moment of 33 years ago that is immediately conjured.
Another matter with which I’m grappling is what to do if we visit Bnei Brak, which we have been doing on almost every trip for the last two decades. Rav Chaim Kanievsky, zt’l, is no longer there, so neither are those few minutes of seeking a berachah and having him scan the names of the children and grandchildren.
But more will be missing. And that includes calling our dear friend, Rav Matisyahu Lessman, who lives next door to the Lederman Shul on Rechov Rashbam. It seems that each time we wanted to come to Bnei Brak there was Rav Chaim’s schedule to consider. In the early years he was usually moving around Bnei Brak almost on a daily basis to be the sandek at a bris.
There was one year—just one—when we left Jerusalem at 4:30 a.m. in order to daven vasikin with Rav Chaim’s minyan in the shul. But for the last ten years or so it was a matter of making our way into his apartment to the table in his study. There was usually a long line on the stairway to the apartment but led by R’ Matisyahu we went up the stairs ahead of the queue; once we were in, there was a sense of accomplishment and so much more.
At this juncture, it is unclear what the fate of the Naftali Bennett-led governing coalition will be. I’ve been in Israel previously when governments were dissolved. From 5,600 miles away it sounds like a major event, but on the streets of Israel it is a routine matter. If current Knesset members do the right thing, it might be possible to form a new government without having to put the country through another election campaign. The current government composition was not built to last very long. Not only are Bennett’s own Yamina Knesset members turning on him, but the Islamic Ra’am Party believes it has the ability to force Bennett to transfer control of the Temple Mount to King Abdullah of Jordan. Those positions are little more than a signal that once again it is time for new leadership and new direction in Israel.
The pandemic was an extreme disruption of our long, loving relationship with Eretz Yisrael. It was truly unprecedented and quite annoying. But hopefully what we once had is back. Of course, we can do much more to upgrade this eternal connection. That’s something to think about and work on.
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