Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"I Don't Think We're in Kansas Any More!"

My silence of the past many days is due to the fact that I travelled to the States for 10 days and did not want to post that fact in such a public way until I returned...never know who may be reading these postings!

In any event, let me begin from the beginning about the trip and share with you some of my thoughts, impressions and some stories along the way. (Full disclosure: I am actually writing this in real time but saving my work to post when I return. Otherwise, I would never write all of this out of shear laziness!)

I planned on this trip for several factors...all work related. There was a conference in NY of the Young Israel rabbis, which was my original impetus to go in to the USA. It would be at that conference, that I could have a booth and perhaps be able to approach many rabbis at one location to discuss group travel to Israel. As long as I was going to go in, it would have been futile to make this my only stop, so I went through a process of finding various schools and synagogues in the NY and NJ area who would be willing to listen me as well. I wanted to make these personal visits besides just a phone contact from Israel. Again, my main goal is/was to find groups wishing to go to Israel to do their arrangements through Tlalim/Authentic Israel. After I had made the arrangements, a bonus of sorts occurred. Our company will be handling a certain student program (NETIVOT) that runs out of Chicago AND a couple of synagogues in Chicago expressed interest in doing a group trip. SOOOOO...I had to add 2 days on to the trip so as to go to Chicago as well. (Since I am writing this in real time, as I said earlier) I have not yet been there, but I am indeed excited to see the family again!

And now for some thoughts/impressions about the trip:

Honestly, I was very reticent about making this trip. The reason? I would be leaving Israel. After being in Israel for 7 months, I really did not yet feel "ready" to leave, albeit for a short stint. Nevertheless, I consoled myself with the thought that the PURPOSE of the visit was to encourage others to come and visit Israel. Once I got past that, I was ok...for the time being.

I got in line at Ben Gurion to check in through security and (for the first time) used my Teudat Ma'avar (Israeli passport-equivalent for the first year after Aliya). I mentioned this to the one checking me in (and I was SO excited to be checking in as an Israeli), and his reply was something along the lines of, "Oh...did you pack this suitcase yourself?" See!? Even HE was excited for me (self-delusion goes a long way in mental health). I tried my enthusiasm for using my Israeli passport on the ticket agent. She, too, was so happy for me! I could tell because when I told her this was my first time flying as an ISRAELI, she asked me how many bags I would be checking...WOW! Such love and joy she showed at that moment; I will not soon forget it!

The flight was uneventful and soon (if you call 12 hours 13 minutes soon) I found myself on American soil. You will forgive me if I did not bend down to kiss the ground as I had on 07/07/10 (aliya-day) in Israel. I am not into kissing the FROZEN-AS-SOLID-AS-ROCK-BECAUSE-THERE-WAS-SNOW-ON-THE-GROUND kind of ground! In any event, I made my way to the hotel and spent my first day in NY just decompressing in advance of the business at hand.

Some thoughts that were running through my head at this first foray out of Israel since Aliya.

* Planes, trains and automobiles: While the airport remain a bastion of security both in Israel and in the USA, I was thrown for a loop at the COMPLETE lack of security in certain respects...walking completely unimpeded into stores...being able to enter all of the various mass transport systems with virtually NO screening (I know there are cops still would not prevent--G-d forbid) a person from...well, let's just say, it would not be a pretty picture.

* I was VERY aware of the fact that in many places, I was the only Jew least the only identifiable Jew present. I was CONSCIOUSLY aware of my kippah...being on a train and needing to recite an "Al HaMichya" after eating a mezonot item...I was conscious of not being able to recite it without thinking someone was "watching" me.

* On the other end of the spectrum...there are SO many Jews in NY! I kept thinking how wonderful it would be if only 10% of them would make Aliya! Can you imagine the impact? I would LOVE for major rabbanim to stand up and tell their followers and those who turn to them for life advice that the time has come to relocate to Israel. What would happen??

* Due to the proximity of all the places I need to go to, I am staying in Brooklyn. I noticed that in Boro Park (where I am writing this at 4am unable to sleep still on my 3rd day!) I was virtually the only one walking down the street and davning (at Shomrei Shabbos) in a kippah seruga and the only one (seemingly) not pushing a baby stroller (read:carriage). And while this did not bother me, I did indeed long to be back in Mitzpe Nevo! At the same time it is BEAUTIFUL to see the Jewish people continuing to grow by leaps and bounds bli ayin hara!!

* To ride the public transportation here, you use a Metro card. It gets slid in a slot to allow access to the trains and buses. Doing this to get on the train I found to be no problem. Doing this upon entering a bus...well, I was a very confused person! There are only four possible ways to insert the card into the reader. As the driver on the bus (in TWO instances) watched with utter contempt, I managed to insert the card three wrong ways before the driver literally grabbed it from my hand to insert it himself. (As I boarded the bus, I had the car in my hand to "flash" to the driver like my Chofshi Chodshi--monthly bus pass--in Israel thinking I could gain entry like that...poor soul that I was!

* The train system in NY is incredible! Not only that, there are updated cars with computerized systems that show all of the next stops, the transfer points and other viatl info that make it VERY hard to mess up!

* I found the population in NY that I had to deal with VERY friendly and helpful.

On this trip, I had the opportunity to visit in a couple of communities that I have only been to once in the past: Teaneck and Riverdale. (While I also visited places in Manhattan and Brooklyn, I had been there many times before this). I was very impressed with the schools and the shuls I saw and their love of Israel and desire to get people there AT LEAST for a visit!

As I write these words, I am sitting in the library at YU (Yeshiva University)...also my first time here. I will have the opportunity to see my many nieces and nephews living here in NY as my school/shul visits in NY have now concluded. I found this trip be very rewarding in that it looks like we will get some business from the visits. But, at the same time, I found myself being VERY homesick for Israel (and NOT just because the weather here was so awful!).

After Shabbat in Lawrence, I will be heading to Chicago for the last leg of this visit. Meetings straight through most of the two days I am there but I MAY just squeeze in a few minutes with family! I assume I will be davening at KJBS along the way...I think it will feel a little strange, but it WAS my second (first sometimes??) home for so many will be nice to see the people!

One thing significant that I forgot to mention the other day needs to be mentioned. I was sitting in my room about 8am a couple of days ago getting my things ready to leave. I heard 3-4 ambulances go by, but in this area that is nothing unusual, so I paid it no mind. Then, in the car, I turned on the radio to find out that around the corner from my hotel a 5 year old boy slipped on the ice on his way to the school bus and the bus struck and killed him (R"L). I froze in my tracks to know I was right there and to think of the deep, searing pain this family is now faced with. I was truly affected but this and thought about the boy and his family all day long. This morning (Friday as I write this), I went to the home to be menachem avel. I arrived to find them still in the middle of davening Shacharit. I plan to head back there again in a few minutes. No, I do not know them. But as a fellow Jew and being literally around the corner, I am somehow drawn to be there with them, even for a brief moment. May Hashem give the family comfort they will struggle for for many years to come.

Now, a few hours later, I have just returned from the Shiva home. I entered with great trepidation but knowing I HAD to be there. When I entered, I was taken aback by the vision of such a young father sitting shiva for his son (I saw the mother only moments before I left the home). In addition, seeing their two other sons sitting with their father for the loss of their baby was heart-wrenching. While the father conversed, mostly in Yiddish, with those around him, his eyes kept making their way back to me. I could see him wondering who in the world I was. As I rose to recite the Hamakom phrase, he asked me to sit down...he wanted to know who I was. I explained that I live in Israel, was in town on business and was staying around the corner. I told him that I felt I HAD to come to the home. He was most touched as was I as we spoke for 10 minutes...I do NOT write these words to say "Look at what I did..." I write these words to continue to encourage ALL Jews to show love for each other, no matter their background or Hashkafa. Here I was sitting with a Kippah Seruga in a room FILLED with black hats, bekeshas, long payot, all speaking in Yiddish and without a doubt seeing this as a world completely foreign to me. Yet, at the same time, I was at home...home with fellow Jews and trying to share in their pain. We should NEVER need to express our love for our fellow Jew in this manner, but never, ever hesitate to reach out and be "nosei b'ol im chavero." (Loosley translated, we are required to feel another person's pain). May the Altman family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim!

I am now off to Lawrence for Shabbat and then on Sunday, I will be in Chicago for the first time in 7 months. Shabbat Shalom...

It is now Tuesday morning. I am sitting at O'Hare (ORD) airport awaiting my (delayed) flight to NY. It is the perfect time for reflection on this last leg of the trip.

Chicago...I arrived with both anticipation and a little bit of anxiety. The anticipation of seeing family and some friends for the first time in 7 months was something I had eagerly awaited. But, oddly enough, there was some anxiety involved as well knowing I would be in the "ol neighborhood", attned KJBS, see some people on the streets...would it feel wierd? Would I feel out of place or would it feel natural like I was just there?

The answer to all of those questions became apparent very quickly. On the one hand, it seemed like I left only two days ago. But, honestly, on the other hand it seemed like I had been away for a very long time. It was kind of a strange feeling coming in to daven at KJBS for the first time in over 10 years not in the role of the Rav. But, everyone was SO welcoming and it really was SO nice to see everyone there. While I was here for a VERY short time, a few people did drop by or call and it was indeed great to see them and/or talk with them. I simply did not have the time to run around and see the many people whom I would have like to have seen, but being here such a short time and on of the 2 days being FILLED from beginning to end with meetings...well, it just was not possible to really get around. It was VERY strange driving by my old house but one thing funny did happen. On Monday night at about 9:00pm, I finished my penultimate meeting and headed back (supposedly) to my parents home. Except the car was on auto-pilot and before I knew it, I was pulling up in front of my old house on Lawndale! After smiling to myself and having a good laugh at my
own expense, I headed back to the right place.

While here I met with two shul rabbis about trips they are looking to put together and also went to the Academy (ICJA) to speak to the teachers, parents and students about the Netivot (10th grade program in Israel) program. It was VERY special beig literally bombarded in the halls of the school by students asking how I was doing.

So, it is now the end of the trip. Whether or not it will be considered succesful will be seen over the next few weeks. I am grateful to all those who made the time to see me about the business (Authentic Israel/ Tlalim) and will be trying to put together a group. It's hopefully going to get very busy!

Time to go home..I am READY TO GO HOME!

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