Prayers Upon Arrival: A Song Of Ascent?

On the airplane, I started and finished reading an entire book. It was a memoir-esque guide to mindful living, by one of my favorite authors and teachers. I finished Tractate Hagigah as the plane began its descent to landing. I celebrated closure and growth. I danced (in my mind at least) because of the completeness of it all.

I listened to the playlist I arranged meticulously of “classic” (and less so) Israeli songs. I drank a glass (i.e plastic cup) of Barkan – because El-Al has kosher wine, so l’chaim to that –  and wrote kavanot, intentions and prayers, on the occasion, on my Aliyah, ascent.

How “momentous” is this supposed to feel? I feel like much of my recent life has been about flying to and from Israel, gradually planting more of my spiritual and material life there. “I’m not like other Olim,” I think to myself like a snob. Except I too will post cheesy photos, and I have scheduled a Gratitude Party to celebrate my accomplishment of dancing with the bureaucracy to the right rhythm. So, I’m basically just like all other Olim.

I read a short article about an anonymously penned Mi Sheberach prayer found from Israel’s budding years, for Moroccan Jews’ journeys to the Land. It expresses great hope and support for these travelers, and proclaims a deep commitment to collective Jewish redemption. And so I try to brainstorm writing my own prayers, kavanot from the air…I am usually better at sleeping on airplanes. But alas, my heart is awake.

I want to express my hopes and visions for this new chapter, to punctuate every sentence with overwhelming gratitude for things being the way they should be, the way they are. And for the capacity to notice it.

And in this theoretical prayer, brewing inside for days, I want to include pleas for peace on all levels. I move words around, experimenting with how much I need to qualify things, to explain my Zionism, like I often feel I need to do with people. But this is different, a prayer. And I know “Tatte” or Shekhinah, the two opening titles I use most often in improvisational prayer, understands.

But still, I want this prayer, still floating in me undetected, to address the great blessing and miracle of the opportunity to return to this Land; and I want it to express aspirations for building and nurturing this Place through real justice and compassion, and to plead that the ills of misguided nationalism do not corrode us from within. I want to write a prayer that covers all my bases: gratitude, peace, justice, sacred obligations. It’s a lot to fit under one “Yehi Ratzon,” (“may it be the will”) paragraph.

I jot down a few lines, trying to capture free-flowing thoughts and make them sound coherent and prayer-like. I try to be clever and weave in references to liturgy and Torah, but it feels contrived. Who is this even for? At a certain point, I meditate on a single phrase, “she’yimal’u kol mish’alot libi t’tovah,” “that all my heart’s wishes will be fulfilled for good.” That one always works for me. 

The Ministry of Aliyah and Absorption looks like a museum. Or like the set of a movie about Olim from the 1960’s-70’s. It’s all so…orange. I find it fascinating, so stuck in time. I love that era too, as demonstrated by the way I have been listening almost exclusively to Kaveret (“the Israeli Beatles”) for the past month or two. In fact, I listened to their incredible “jam” of a song, “Lamrot Hakol” (“In spite of everything”) as my Aliyah flight was landing. There was something in that that felt the right balance of climactic excitement and comfortable, subdued sentiment.

I am the first one called to one of the smaller offices in the Ministry office to be given my Immigrant Card and various other forms and brochures. The worker is relieved I speak fluent Hebrew. I am relieved to get free coffee at the orange “cafe” counter area, with questionably stale sesame cookies (my favorite, honestly) on the side. I down at least three cups of coffee but otherwise have no appetite; I notice I am on the verge of a migraine and feel helpless and offended by the timing. I pray for the caffeine to kick in already and for the “others” to get processed already.

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We sit through several short talks about starting our “real lives” in Israel – bank accounts, cell phone plans, Ulpan (Hebrew language learning), health insurance, etc. I have no energy for this right now; and besides, yihyeh b’seder, It will all work out, after all. See, I really am Israeli already!

I try to take deep breaths and focus on the scent of my lavender essential oil. Soon, soon we will breathe fresh air in a dimension outside this stale terminal, this dated swath of orange. But my head is pounding and I am itching to just be home already. To wear spring dresses and walk around in Jerusalem with the sun shining. To no longer be an “Olah” and just be living my life as usual – albeit a new “usual,” but also the same.

As my head kept pounding like the bass in a Tel Aviv nightclub, I tried to summon some small part of me that was patient, in awe of all these other people living their dreams, like me. And sure, I don’t need Ulpan classes by now, but it took me time. We all start somewhere. Far be it from me to sit on those faded orange chairs and judge the “stupid questions” of my fellow “immigrants,” as removed as I felt from most of their stories, and as much as judgmental people-watching is one of my favorite ways to pass time.

Look, we all spent our first hours as citizens here sitting in an abundance of orange, the building’s quirkiness speaking for the surrealness of this moment itself. We are here, and at the moments when my “immigration” feels calm and almost anticlimactic, I recognize that feeling in itself as a privilege. How many generations could never have even dreamed of the ease with which I can transform my life like this? How many people still do not have these same opportunities?

“I am not like other Olim,” I think, and then promptly laugh at myself, spitting out my elitism, and instead proceed to Instagram the “vintage” building and picture longingly my friends greeting me with colorful signs (they are). 

This has been my life already, this Jerusalem thing, speaking Hebrew, sitting in cafes, feeling more enlightened than I have the right to. But now this is Aliyah. This is different. And it’s a Big Deal and it’s not, and it’s low-key, and it invites shrieking and twirling in the middle of the greetings hall in Ben Gurion Airport.

This is brand new, like it always is. This is completely unique, just like every other moment. Because I refuse to be jaded. This is my prayer: Please, G-d, may I never be jaded. 

“…shehechiyanu v’kiyemanu v’higeyanu la’zman ha’zeh”

“…that you have enlivened us, and sustained us, and brought us to reach this moment.”