Bracha Toporowitch CHT, Zichron Yaakov
In my professional practice of Mind-Body Healing, I often tell people that difficulties can be looked at as stones. It is up to them to decide if they view these stones as stumbling blocks or stepping stones. Aside from the “sunny side” of living in Eretz Yisroel, my own experiences here included such challenges – stumbling blocks that were really stepping stones – as well.
My husband is Israeli, but we met in America and settled in Lakewood. Although I was never exposed to life in Eretz Yisroel, nor had any of my own close family members living there, I knew I wanted to live there. As a Jew, being drawn to Eretz Yisroel was just an integral part of my neshamah. When we already had four children, I told my husband that if we wouldn't make the move now, we would never. So on Zos Chanukah 1970 we moved to Bnei Brak.
We lived there with our four little children in a third-floor apartment with no elevator. There was no home delivery back then, so there was a lot of shlepping to do. In the winter the apartment could get really cold. I had my fifth child when my oldest was all of seven years old, with none of my family around to help.
As followers of the Chazon Ish, we would not use the locally-generated electricity on Shabbos, or the water pumped on Shabbos into our pipelines. We would use kerosene lamps which would sometimes blow out before the end of Shabbos, leaving us in the dark till Motza'ei Shabbos. We didn't have our own water tank on the roof like some others had, so I would fill the bathtub with water before Shabbos and make sure the bathroom door was locked to keep the kids out!
I remember having to manage our first Shmitta year in 1972. There was almost no produce. A truck would come, and people would come and share a sack of potatoes, some onions, and some carrots. We'd have to manage with whatever we got.
There were difficulties and challenges. There were things I had to adjust to. There were changes I had to make. Though in spite of it all, I still always just wanted to stay and live here, where áveera d’Eretz Yisrael machkim – the air (atmosphere) of Eretz Yisroel makes one wise. I believe this atmosphere greatly influenced our family's spiritual growth. We were close to many gedolei Yisrael of the Litvish world living in Bnei Brak; my husband was a ben bayis (like a member of the family) by some of them. We were upstairs neighbors of Rav Chaim Greineman ztz"l, a nephew and adherent of the Chazon Ish ztz”l. I very often discussed issues, such as child rearing and cooking, with his wife Rabbanit Chana z”l. My children gained tremendously in their spiritual lives from growing up friends with their children.
A bit after the Yom Kippur War (1973), we ended up leaving Eretz Yisroel to England, and shortly thereafter to Monsey, where we lived for the next few years. We were destined to undergo quite a bit of moving, with all the challenges that entailed. We did return to Eretz Yisroel in 1980 and remained for ten years. Then we did another ten year stint in Monsey.
Finally, when we had our sights on moving back to Eretz Yisroel in 1999, we decided it wasn't going to be to Bnei Brak. We were looking for a place that would be a bit more spacey and quieter. We moved to the Chareidi kehillah in Zichron Yaakov, on the northwest coast of Eretz Yisroel, where we built our own house. Like Monsey, it was in a pastoral setting, with small private houses and a lot of greenery. We were very happy with the calm and quiet atmosphere.
At the time we came we didn't really know anyone living there. Over time I got to know the local Americans more and felt comfortable with them, and I eventually gave shiurei Torah in both Hebrew and English. Although there may always be political or hashkafic “stress” anytime and anywhere, amongst the women I didn't feel it at all.
There was a yeshivah gedolah down the street from our house where two sons-in-law of Rav Chaim Greineman ztz”l were the roshei yeshivah. Though many mosdos were local, for Beis Yaakov high school the girls would have to travel, about a half an hour commute, to nearby Chadera. My boys went to the local yeshivah gedolah, though one did go to learn in Bnei Brak.
Living far from the center of Eretz Yisroel had its own set of challenges. I would rarely go to a wedding in Yerushalayim, as travelling with public transportation could take about 1 ½ hours in each direction. Friends coming from America would just never get out to Zichron (as Zichron Yaakov is called in short). I would travel once a week to the center where I operated a clinic, for many years in Bnei Brak, and more recently in Ramat Beit Shemesh – a two-and-a-half-hour commute by train and bus – where I would stay over for one night. B”H my therapy sessions and evening “Joy & Vitality” workshops in Beit Shemesh, Bnai Brak and Zichron were very popular. I worked to create awareness of the connection between mind and body. I wanted to make people healthy by positive thinking, talking, and emotions, utilizing the various modalities of Mind-Body Healing.
Our choice is what we do, physically, emotionally and spiritually, with the situation HaShem gives us. We can go shlepping and complaining through hard times, or we can learn to cope and become so much stronger. Being spoiled will just be to our detriment. This applies to everything in life, including the challenges of living in Eretz Yisroel – the place where we all belong.
Sparks of Radiance
My most recent book, “Sparks of Radiance” (Mosaica Press 2020), includes a fictionalized account of a terror bombing attack. I wrote it to help people understand the mindset of victims of terror, and how steadfast faith and an intense desire to create kiddush HaShem turn these darkest moments – which have effects for years and years – into brilliant radiance.
My daughter, her husband and three little children were on the Egged #2 bus bombing seventeen years ago; my 3-year-old granddaughter was killed, Hy”d, and all others were injured. There were a lot of interviews in the media. I remember saying to one reporter, “People are afraid there's no peace here in Israel, but it's we who have to make peace. Peace will come when we make peace with each other.”
It doesn't matter where you live, for you are not necessarily safe in any place on earth. The recent Covid-19 virus proves this. Therefore, I believe that lack of safety is not a valid reason for not living here. No one can escape what HaShem plans for him. Let us realize that we all belong here and make the best of it. With a positive mindset we can turn our greatest stumbling blocks into powerful stepping stones of elevation.