Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a monthly column describing Rosie Bernstein’s experience in Israel.
Dec. 6, 2017 — Jerusalem was in every headline on the front page of every news source around the world. And I was in Jerusalem. All eyes were on the little, cobblestone city. But the city felt empty.
Rain poured down in buckets, flowing down the sloped streets like rushing rivers. And I walked, hands jammed in my pockets, my warm breath making little clouds in the biting winter air, toward the Western Wall.
The last time I visited the Kotel was at sunrise during Sukkot alongside thousands of other Jews. But this time, as I neared the Kotel plaza, I saw that it was nearly empty.
I planned to stand at the Wall for several hours that day, and have a long conversation with God before I made my way to do the most important thing I have ever done in my life. But when I arrived at the Kotel, and felt the rain beating down on my back, I said to myself, I’ll just go down and say a quick hello to the Kotel, and then I’ll go pray somewhere covered. However, the second my hand hit that familiar cool stone, I could feel my soul being pulled in by an unbreakable magnetic force as my feet rooted themselves into the ground. I wasn’t going anywhere.
So there I stood, my hair dripping wet, raindrops splashing down constantly on my siddur, my glasses foggy. And before I began to pray, I glanced to my left and to my right, and realized that I was, in fact, the only living soul on the women’s side of the Western Wall.
And while you might say that’s because it was pouring rain and freezing cold, and anyone with half a brain was inside during the torrential downpour that spilled over Jerusalem, I say that it was Hashem reaching out His hand to me, telling me that I may be doing something incredibly scary, but I should not be scared. Because not only was He right by my side that day, but those raindrops were His tears of joy that another one of His children was coming home.
On Dec. 6, 2017, I made Aliyah and received a Teudat Zehut, an Israeli ID, proof that I’m a citizen of the State of Israel. And life since then, has been both incredibly normal and the craziest whirlwind.
I returned the next day to my regular school schedule, but I have not walked into a single classroom the past two weeks without being sung to and danced with the moment I stepped through the door.
And while I really don’t look that different on the outside, I feel an intense amount of pride that I walk around with my Teudat Zehut in my wallet just like every other Israeli in this country.
Yesterday, I opened up a bank account. And in many ways, that experience perfectly summarizes the dichotomy I feel right now. A bank account is a most basic staple of life. I waited in line behind normal Israelis going about their respective days stopping for an errand at the bank just as I was. Normal life, nothing out of the ordinary. But it is specifically because of that mundaneness that it was so special.
I am a citizen of this country. Israel is where I run my day-to-day errands. And when I stand in lines, it’s behind Israelis — Israelis just like me. That’s why as I sat in that waiting room next to chairs full of people sighing and rolling their eyes as they waited, I couldn’t help but smile ear to ear.
I am an olah chadashah, a new citizen of the State of Israel. I have no permanent address, and my family is 5,000 miles away from me. But as hard as that is, I couldn’t help but chuckle with pure joy when I said to the bank clerk that I have zero dollars in my new bank account, and he corrected me, “No, you have zero shekels!”
Rosie Bernstein, daughter of Jordana and Josh Bernstein of Dallas and Yavneh Academy graduate, is studying at the Stella K. Abraham Beit Midrash for Women–Migdal Oz. She made aliyah Dec. 6.
Hanukkah in Israel
The TJP asked Rosie Bernstein what it was like to celebrate Hanukkah in Israel, and how it was different from Dallas:
Celebrating Hanukkah in Israel is equally magical as Christmas feels in Dallas, and that is a feeling I never expected. Everywhere you walk on the streets, especially in Jerusalem, you see hanukkiyah after hanukkiyah outside of literally every single home. Hanukkah music blasts all over the streets, and there is just a collective feeling of the Hanukkah season. Every bakery on every corner is lined with sufganiyot of every color and flavor.
It’s just impossible not to feel the Hanukkah spirit. The best part for me was being in random coffee shops and restaurants at the time to light candles, and they get everyone quiet and say “We’re going to light candles now,” and the whole restaurant participates and sings together.
Got a question for Rosie about Israel? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.