Reflections on Our First Kitah Aleph Ceremony

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The experience of Aliyah provides a new Oleh with countless opportunities to reflect, emote, absorb and appreciate. Hundreds of times over the past two months I could have sat down to put on paper some of the feelings rushing through my mind and body. Finally, this past Friday morning, Erev Rosh Chodesh Elul, there was an experience I couldn’t allow to pass without taking note.

Israeli society, on a whole, places a tremendous amount of importance and excitement on children beginning Kitah Aleph (first grade). This is the grade when they begin to learn Torah, and each year the schools hold ceremonies for the new Kitah Aleph-ers. For Goldie, our Kitah Aleph star, the ceremony at her new school in Modi’in, Ariel, began with the principal coming into the room and telling the story of Rebbe Akiva’s development – from a young boy, with zero Torah background (and an illiterate shepherd until the age of 40), to one of the greatest Tana’aim and scholars in Jewish History. Next, the kids received a laminated sheet of Hebrew letters onto which their teacher poured honey. They were told to place the honey on the first letter of their first name. Until now, my emotions were in check.

For the final phase of the ceremony, the entire school (grades 2-6, including our 4th grade son) gathered outside the front of school awaiting the 1st graders. Music began to play and the Kitah Aleph kids walked under a colorful archway, passing through a funnel of beaming parents glued to their smartphones, hoping to catch their child on camera during this auspicious occasion. Each child was holding the hand of a 6th grader, as they walked to the area designated for them in the front of the group. It was an amazing moment.

Our daughter, who knows maybe 25 Hebrew words, was (thankfully) smiling ear to ear as dozens of students cheered for their induction into the school. The 6th graders chanted “Kitah Aleph, Kitah Aleph!” The cheers are the product of genuine excitement for the journey on which they are about to embark. (I, for one, am not accustomed to one grade of kids genuinely cheering on another grade). Just like the sentiment shared nationwide by its inhabitants, there was a feeling that morning of ‘we’re all in this together.’ The sun was shining, everyone was smiling, and there is just an amazing sense of happiness and togetherness. This warm feeling rushed over me: Hashem has given us the ability and opportunity to do something so incredibly special for our kids; to bring them to Israel and raise them in our Homeland.

I have felt immense simcha many times since we arrived, but there was something about seeing my kids smiling among all the students in the school that brought me to tears. I hope to try and express ‘why’ – why during this 1st grade ceremony was I so overcome with emotion?

One aspect was the comfort my kids feel, and by extension the relief Miriam and I feel, in their/our new surroundings. This is no small thing; Rav Kook has many beautiful writings about the natural relationship of Am Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael, akin to that of a child to its mother, or a husband and wife. It’s amazing for me to see how seamlessly and lovingly our children have nestled into the warmth of Eretz Yisrael. Our son and daughter were sitting among their new friends, with angelic smiles on their faces, absorbing with eagerness, not timidity, all the new sights sounds of these uncharted waters.

Another contributing factor was the togetherness and cohesiveness of the school, its students and its educators; standing in the middle of a large group of people united and excited about the same spectacle is exhilarating (it even tops the rush of the home crowd cheering for a touchdown). Second only to embracing the family members who were waiting at the airport on the day we arrived, the most emotional moment for me, on the day of our Aliyah, was the sight of pulling up to the throngs of mostly strangers (yet, in reality, extended family members) greeting us at the Nefesh B’Nefesh hangar, with pure elation, song and dance, as we came off the bus from the tarmac; our excitement was their excitement.

But I think, more than anything, it was the feeling of my confidence and belief in the brightness of their future here, B’ezras Hashem. My mind fast-forwarded to my kids being the 6th graders greeting the new 1st graders; to seeing the young-adult versions of my kids standing in a circle of friends smiling and speaking Hebrew together; to hosting my sons’ yeshiva friends…army friends; to the pride I know I will feel for whatever army unit or Sherut Leumi service my daughters choose. It’s a feeling that they’ll be in the best position to appreciate the things that are most important in life and embrace the essence of why we were put on this earth, and not waste time and energy on trivial distractions. I firmly believe that Eretz Yisrael is the best place for a child to learn the meaning of communal responsibility, national commitment, forging a relationship with the Borei Olam, connecting to our rich heritage, loving every Jew and connecting to a cause and existence that is larger than one’s own self.

As the ceremony came to a close, I spotted our neighbors (Olim of a year and a half already) who have become very close friends of ours in our short time in Modi’in. They could see I was emotional, and this other father himself was teary-eyed. They had just celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of their son and the mother remarked that through the experience of her son’s Bar Mitzvah and the many other Bar Mitzvot of the boys her son’s age, she could tell that the kids were celebrating the essence of becoming gil mitzvot; the “glitz and glam” of a Bar Mitzvah celebration isn’t what excited them or impressed them, rather these 13-year-old boys were genuinely excited for themselves and their friends who were now joining the adult ranks of Am Yisrael.

Many others who have made Aliyah before me have written far more beautiful sentiments about the feeling of moving and living here; there isn’t much to be mechadeish. I can just say that being here makes me feel like we have so much to accomplish (personally, religiously, communally, etc.) and that we have the best ability to succeed in this special place. Our kids have the greatest potential, with their feet planted in this holy ground, to open their hearts and minds to become the best they can be, and use their individual kochos to their fullest extent. Eretz Yisrael is our collective zivug, and a person cannot be fully activated nor tap into his or her full range of qualities without a partner, both in person and place.  No matter how many difficult, frustrating, or upsetting aspects of the bureaucracy and democracy in this country that have and will come about, nothing can outweigh the overwhelming sense of being in our Home, of building a life in the strip of earth – which has a nefesh unto itself – that Hashem designated for us.

אנא הי הצליחה נא – I hope we can be successful in retaining this perspective and excitement.

Friday night I sat at our Shabbos table reading ‘Ribon kol Ha’olamim’, and said, with more intensity than ever before:
מוֹדֶה אֲנִי לְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהַי וֵא-לֹהֵי אֲבוֹתַי עַל כָּל הַחֶסֶד אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי וַאֲשֶׁר אַתָּה עָתִיד לַעֲשׂוֹת עִמִּי וְעִם כָּל בְּנֵי בֵיתִי וְעִם כָּל בְּרִיּוֹתֶיךָ בְּנֵי בְרִיתִי
I give thanks before you, Hashem, my G-d and the G-d of my forefathers, for all the loving-kindness which You have already done to me, and which You will in future do to me, and to all the members of my household, and to all Your creations who share with me in the covenant.

…the perfect summary to my Friday, and every day since we stepped foot, with permanent footing, in our Homeland.

טובה הארץ מאד מאד

 

Thank you to Binyamin Casper, NBN 2016, who made Aliyah from Woodmere, NY to Modi’in, for sharing this experience with us.