Signs of Home (Photo Essay)

By Shayna Levine-Hefetz

Posted on 11/01/15

This past Shabbat, we, along with Jews all over the world, listened to the story of Avraham and Yitzchak stopping on their way to the Akeida where they could see the Temple Mount (where the Akeida would take place).  What was special about our experience is that we were sitting along their path, a short walk from the exact place they stopped to gaze at the Temple Mount. The theme of this week's Parsha was to open one's eyes to see what Gd has given you. We see this three times in the Parsha - when Avraham sees the angels who come to visit him, when Gd opens Hagar's eyes to see the well and when Avraham looks up to see the ram tangled in the bush that will be the sacrifice he is to give upon the mountain, and whose horn will be used to herald the coming of the Mashiach. We are encouraged to open our eyes and look around - are we where we are meant to be? Are we raising our children in an environment that promotes growth? Are we living each day connecting with Gd, partnering in the perfecting of this world to prepare for our redemption?

I look around and see so many signs that we are home. It all started with the welcome messages on our food trays on our inspirational Nefesh B'Nefesh Aliyah charter flight, less than 4 months ago. On our way from the airport, we saw something truly unique - signs on tractors in fields which lay fallow which stated "Gam Kan Shomrim Shmitta" - "Here we are also observing the Sabbatical Year." Whether it is the sign at the gas station that we pass every time we drive to and from Yerushalayim that states that the station is closed on Shabbat, or the posting of Asher Yatzer on the bathroom door in the gas station across from the Coca Cola Factory, or the kiosks in the mall that sold Sukkah decorations and plush Torahs, we simply need to open our eyes and we can see that we are finally living where we belong. 

We are living in a time of open miracles - Jews who have been stabbed and brought into the hospital without a heartbeat are released two weeks later walking on their own. How many times have we heard about a stabbing in which the handle of the knife broke off causing the attacker to have to flee? How many attacks have been foiled? Too many to count. The more we are threatened as a People, the more our nation grows stronger and more unified - and there is nowhere that this is more true than in Israel. We saw rain the day after we began praying for it on Shmini Atzeret and then again as soon as we began saying "V'Ten Tal U'Matar L'Vracha." Some cities in Israel have already received more rain in this month since Shmini Atzeret than they generally do in a whole year. We are living in a place where we can truly see the Hand of Gd in our everyday life, if we are privileged to open our eyes and appreciate what we see.

Our children have had the most amazing opportunities since arriving in Israel. School field trips have included trips to Shilo to commemorate the prayer of Chana in the actual place that she prayed, events to commemorate Hakhel, and traveling to Kever Rachel to commemorate the anniversary of her death. They have baked cookies for our soldiers, taken Challah with a bracha with large groups in Binyamin, Gush Etzion and Yerushalayim, and packed food packages for the poor. They have been privileged to pray at the Western and Southern Walls of the Temple Mount and participate in the large Birchat Kohanim that takes places twice annually. They are learning Torah in the land of the Torah, where Torah is more than a subject but a way of life - not just for a minority, but for the country. 

It is refreshing to live in a place where the only way we knew we had missed Halloween was seeing a random date on a calendar and some pictures on Facebook. Our calendar here revolves around our holidays. Our malls are not decorated in tinsel and they are not playing carols - rather the stores have started displaying Chanukah stickers and seemingly endless varieties of donuts in anticipation of Chanukah (which is still a month away). We met a visiting friend from the US in the Jerusalem Malha Mall last week and marveled and the many choices of restaurants in the food court from which to choose. We realized that to us, traveling to Yerushalayim has become routine - we go to Jerusalem to go to the mall, to go to school or the supermarket. At first glance that seemed disappointing to my son who pointed this out. Have we lost the wonder that used to accompany a trip to Yerushalayim? Upon reflection, I replied to him, this is actually the way it should be. Yerushalayim is not supposed to be a museum, a relic of past glory. The prophets told of a time when Jewish children would once again play on the streets of Yerushalayim, when it would return to its glory as a center for Jewish life. What an amazing experience to be able to be living the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy every day.  As we reflect on three and a half months of living in Israel, we open our eyes and realize that there is no place else in the world that we are safer, that our lives have more meaning, that we are meant to be. There's no place like home.

Shayna Levine-Hefetz lives in the beautiful Judean Hills, in the quiet yishuv of Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion, with her husband and three children. A native of Miami Beach, Florida, Shayna realized her dream of moving to Israel in July 2015 after living in Maryland for 15 years. 

Balloons announcing the Simchat Beit HaShoevah in our yishuv were tied to every car on the first day of Chol HaMoed Sukkot

Our family at the Hakhel event at the Kotel. Behind us you can see the stage and screen of the ceremony. It was the closest we could get as the Kotel Square was packed. Hakhel is a once in seven years experience

Kiosk in the Jerusalem Malha Mall sells Simchat Torah essentials - Sephardic and Ashkenazic Torahs and flags for the kids

Our daughters participating in the Great Big Challah Bake at Jerusalem's First Station. Racheli Frenkel spoke about the beauty of Shabbat and Jewish unity at this event

Sign with the text of Asher Yatzar, the prayer said after using the restroom, posted outside a public restroom of a gas station across from the Coca Cola Factory

Poster on a Jerusalem street announcing a musical Slichot before Rosh Hashana. Radio commercials for slichot were very frequent as well

A sign next to the dates in a Jerusalem supermarket wishes shoppers a Happy New Year and remind them of the traditional symbolism of this particular fruit on Rosh Hashana

A view of the packed Kotel Square at Hakhel

A candid picture of our son praying at the Kotel at the giant Birkat Kohanim event on Chol HaMoed Sukkot. A private moment among thousands of other worshippers

Kaparot kiosk set up in the Jerusalem Malha Mall before Yom Kippur

Sukkot decorations sold at a kiosk in the Jerusalem Malha Mall

Sign announcing that this field is also observing Shmitta. We saw these signs everywhere we drove during our first few weeks in Israel (until the end of Shmitta)