Israel | Opinion

An aliyah story: A native Tucsonan reflects on moving family to war-torn Israel

Editor’s note: A native Tucsonan, Lisa Silverman left her job in New York City overseeing a $2.8 billion capital campaign for NYU Langone Medical Center to make aliyah with her husband and four children. On June 18 they joined fellow Tucsonans, including Hannah (Karsch) Hochner, Carol and Dan Karsch, and Zev Gefen, in Modi’in.

(L-R) Ruth Levin, Talia Levin, Jonah Levin,  Lisa Silverman and  Yael Levin on the cover of the Modiin News (Ingrid Muller)
(L-R) Ruth Levin, Talia Levin, Jonah Levin, Lisa Silverman and Yael Levin on the cover of the Modiin News (Ingrid Muller)

“Some days will be hard, but hope will prevail” were the words to a song on the radio as I headed home to Modi’in on July 17. So many thoughts, feelings, associations have been cascading through me, from the fragrance of bushes in the park where I take the kids that recalls my grandparents’ yard in San Diego, to the warm feeling of sun on my skin that makes me think of Tucson. From the sad radio songs that put me in tears after the three kidnapped boys were found dead, to the recaptured feeling of 16-year-old exuberance when I heard “Yesh Li Eretz Tropit Yafa” – “I Have a Tropical, Beautiful Land,” a song I danced to in summer camp in Pennsylvania.

The first month after making aliyah was a whirlwind. I knew deep down I would eventually be sharing with my children the tragedies and terror that living in Israel brings. I didn’t think we’d sleep in our bomb shelter in our third week here, or that I would be answering 9-year-old Talia’s questions about the three kidnapped boys and 7-year-old Jonah’s questions about the Israeli-Palestinian relationship and the ’48 and ’67 wars quite so soon.

I certainly didn’t foresee Sunday, July 13. The children had slept in the bomb shelter. At 6 a.m. the siren woke us. My husband and I flew down the stairs and joined our kids. We soon heard a number of booms. Not knowing if there would be more rockets, 30 minutes later he left for the airport for a work trip to Europe. Soon after, I put our two older kids on the bus to day camp and dropped our toddlers at their summer program. Then I drove out of town to an interview with a foundation that educates and supports hundreds of thousands of Israeli children (Jewish, Arab, Russian, Ethiopian) from economically disadvantaged communities, turning them into the entrepreneurs, scientists and doctors of our future.

Sun and shadows

Saying our goodbyes (L’hitraot, as we say, “see you again”) to family and friends brought me to tears. Yet that darkness has been so quickly brightened by the sunshine and the community here. The Israeli people are generous and outgoing in a way I’ve never experienced. Everyone who knows about our recent move welcomes us. Strangers have given me their cell phone numbers. Everyone asks how they can help. A grocery store clerk insisted on making sure my watermelon had the perfect sound – and cut open the one I had chosen to show me that if the sound is a bit off, the inside will be a little mushy. Our budding friendships excite me. We have found many families who also choose life in the gray area between religious and secular and while they might have strong leanings towards the right or left politically, want relationships with those along the spectrum.

On Saturday night, July 26, a journalist from the local paper, the Modi’in News, interviewed me about our experience here, and the following day a photographer did a photo shoot with us. It seemed like the height of self-centeredness to see our photo on the front page and to see my words quoted for our community to see. It was the same time that many soldiers starting dying in Gaza. A few days later, I was standing in the produce aisle when a neighbor called to explain that his 15-year-old daughter, who’d spent some afternoons helping me with the kids (including twice running to the bomb shelter with us) had to cancel that afternoon. Her friend’s older brother was Natan Cohen, the 28th soldier to die in Gaza. His family lives half a block from us. I stood tearfully among the fruits and vegetables. How could this innocent girl already be facing such a tragic loss? At 15, I was going to summer camp, babysitting and going to movies. Certainly not staring war in the face.

The next Friday, our family drove up to Herzilya to meet other friends who are olim (immigrants) at the beach. The water was a pure turquoise blue, the sand dotted with seashells. As we ran into the ocean, I heard the lifeguard urging us to move to the left to get away from some more extreme waves. I thought briefly – “oh good, if there’s a siren, even if it’s too quiet to hear under the crashing waves, we can hear his voice.” And sure enough, minutes later, there was his booming voice instructing us to get out of the water and get to shelter. I can’t remember my heart beating faster. Clutching our 30-pound toddler, Ruthie, close to my chest, I tried to run through the water, then the wet sand, then dry sand to get to the “shelter,” a concrete coffee house under an apartment complex. My husband grabbed our youngest, 16-month-old Yael. As I yelled at my older kids, “go, go, go,” I looked up to see what was catching their attention and slowing them down. The white streaks of the rocket and the Iron Dome battery were intercepting right over our heads as we ducked under the concrete roof. My heart continued to pound and slowly my breath returned. We waited the requisite 10 minutes and returned to the water.

That afternoon we were with a good friend when she learned that her husband, who had done a tour in Gaza the previous week, was going back in. He didn’t want to go in; none of the soldiers do. They know there is a job to be done. He’s an engineer. We need to destroy the tunnels. He knows how to do it. So he joins his best friends and they face the terror on the other side and we pray that they all come home.

Running into our home’s bomb shelter that first night, my empathy for the peaceful Palestinians grew tremendously. I can’t imagine living in a place where the elected officials amass rockets and build terror tunnels instead of building infrastructure like schools, hospitals and parks. I can’t fathom being part of a community that places children next to and on top of rockets. I can’t imagine the terror of hearing a rocket coming toward my children and not having a shelter to run to. Hamas simply hasn’t built them. The concrete has been used for tunnels.

Hineni – we are here
So here we are. We go to the beach and a sweet 15-year-old comes over to watch our kids so I can make dinner. Yet the shiva house is right here and there is much suffering all around. So why am I here?

This is Israel. It exists in my lifetime. Its people have created modern miracles – not only this thriving green country, but innovations found in our smartphones, our computers, our medicine, our water systems. My grandmother left Ukraine at age 19 and moved to the United States; I believe that if Israel was an option for her, she would have come here. I am so fortunate to have been raised in Tucson and I will be eternally grateful for the investments made in me by my parents and our community. I lived a blessed childhood. And I want the same for our children: a childhood where they have the freedom to run to the parks and playgrounds by themselves, where they not only see, but explore the land, where they understand where our cucumbers and dates come from and the rich history behind the fruit and the trees and the people.

And I want to contribute to it. Whether it’s the addition of six people to the population or helping advance the philanthropic sector, we want to live it and be it and we do that here. We are counted. Hineni, we are here and we want to be a part of carrying Israel forward.

I am overwhelmed by the history of the thousands of Jews who escaped Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Europe, Ethiopia, Russia, to come where we stand now. Many of their communities were wiped out and they ran here. Me? I sent our belongings in a container and we got on a plane. Of course it was a hard decision, but in many ways it was not. I believe in this country. I want to sing its songs and eat its food and be a part of its relationships with our neighbors.

I’m acutely aware that many people in the nations that surround us want to wipe Israel off the map. In some moments, I do question what kind of mother puts herself and her kids into this chaos. And then life faces me. And life here is good. It’s meaningful. And we’re counted.