Yehuda A., M.D., Ramat Beit Shemesh
My father was not politically oriented one way or the other when it came to his attitude about modern developments in Eretz Yisroel; our family was one of bnei Torah originally from Poland, and that was what primarily defined us. My father – like many Jews in Toronto at that time, including my mother and her parents – was from Ostrovtza, and he had learned by Rav Meir Yechiel Halevi Halstock, the Ostrovtzer Rebbe, until he left with his family for Canada at the age of sixteen.
We were associated with a shul, Chevra Shas, which – as its name indicates – was centered around limud haTorah. The members of the shul would divide the shas between themselves, and make an annual siyum on the Ostrovtzer Rebbe's yahrzeit, 19 Adar 1. I first joined in the effort when I was nine or ten years old, making my first siyum masechta together with my father. My father, who was a working man, would spend hours learning daily. My own involved learning schedule, including during my continuous medical practice and up until this very day, B"H, must have been influenced by his example.
As a young six-year-old boy growing up in Toronto in the early '50s, I once asked my father what he had to say about Eretz Yisroel, i.e. the fact there is a Jewish country there with Jews living there. My father answered, "Without Israel, we would not be able to hold our heads up anywhere." He recalled that some short years before, back in Poland, the goyim would denigratingly say, "Jew, go to Palestine!" The recent Holocaust caused a sense of humiliation for many Jews. The fact that there was now a Jewish country instilled a sense of pride in the average Jew, and at least a small dose of respect for the Jews in the average goy (at least back then…). This had nothing to do with one's association with Zionism, the State, its government or policies.
When I got engaged to my first wife, a"h, in 1966, we considered moving to Eretz Yisroel. When my in-laws got wind of this, they became quite concerned, as it seemed to them a very impractical move. My in-laws had been there in 1949, and they remembered it as a very economically-backwards place. My mother-in-law, tblc"t, was a survivor of Auschwitz, and my father-in-law had endured living in Siberia. In Eretz Yisroel they had lived in the ma'abarot (transit camps), and food was rationed – 3 eggs a week, and one piece of chicken for Shabbos. All of this must have influenced their opinion about living in Eretz Yisroel.
From about two years after we got married – this was shortly after the Six-Day War – we would travel to visit Eretz Yisroel almost every year for at least a week. On our first visit, I came to realize that even though I had lived all my life in Canada, Eretz Yisroel is our true home. Most of our daughters subsequently learned in seminary here, and some of our children lived here in Eretz Yisroel for a while as kollel families.
About seven years ago, we came for a two-week trip to look for land to buy, and to see if we could move here. I came to realize that such a move would be very hard for my wife, with all our kids back in America as well as her elderly mother, so I didn't think it would be appropriate to try to convince her. When my wife passed away, I told my kids "im lo achshav eimasai (if not now, when)?" They convinced me to stay back in America for a bit, but after a year I decided it was time to move on and up.
On Pesach Sheni, the second chance for offering the korban Pesach, I got a second chance too. That's the day, in 5777 (2017), that I landed in Eretz Yisroel with the official intent of living here. About a month after moving here, a shidduch was suggested, which turned out to be my second wife. We started out in Yerushalayim, in the Sanhedriya Murchevet neighborhood, as I was familiar with the neighborhood and its shuls etc. from previous visits.
With the advent of corona, we moved to Ramat Beit Shemesh. Bli ayin hara, Sanhedriya Murchevet is a neighborhood full of children; the stairwells and elevators can be quite full sometimes. We felt that for our health, a more spacious environment, such as was available to us in Ramat Beit Shemesh, would be better. Though we at first did not think it would be a permanent move, we came to appreciate the place and its nice and welcoming residents, and are now here for the long term, BE"H.
I am now living here almost five years, and enjoying every minute of it – actually, every nanosecond. Of course, this doesn’t diminish the fact that I miss my children; aside from about 2 years of corona, I have travelled abroad to participate in family simchas. My children do come to visit though, and some are contemplating moving here or at least buying a dira here. I have some grandchildren living and learning here, and was the sandak for one of my great-grandsons here. Every day I wake up with a smile and thank HaShem for my wonderful family, for living in His Holy Land, and for everything else He has given me.
People say that ruchniyus is better here; I say, also the gashmiyus is better here. People live here much more besimcha (with happiness), and have hana'ah (pleasure) living here. My wife and I make an effort to visit and enjoy every nook and cranny of HaShem's Land that we can. It's a Land where "tamid Einei HaShem Elokecha bah" – HaShem's Eyes are always fixed upon it – you can't get better than that! Here in Eretz Yisroel, I can more strongly feel and realize our collective yearning, 'vesechezena eineinu beshuvecha leTziyon berachamim!' May we understand and appreciate HaShem's compassionate return to Tziyon!
Practicing in Advance
When I was fourteen years old, I took myself to task for not having yet learned the entire tanach, and so I decided to learn it one perek at a time. I would pronounce the words with the Sephardic havara (pronunciation), so that if I'd move to Eretz Yisroel, I would be able to communicate with the locals.
While here on visits in later years, I always made a point of practicing speaking Hebrew as much as I could. Every time I came, I became a bit more fluent.
Though I still don't have the greatest command of the language, I am able to get across what I want to say. I participate in a Daf Yomi shiur given in Hebrew, and occasionally substitute for the magid shiur. I am also sometimes given the opportunity to say a shiur to an audience of Hebrew-speaking bnei Torah, politely attentive despite my noticeable lack of fluency.