I moved to Israel in 1977. My first visit was in 1971.My, how this country has grown and changed.
I dare say there is no country in the world that has undergone so much change and turbulence than this tiny one. Amazing things can come in small packages.
Countries fifty times her size and population are hardly heard of or noticed by the world or its press. Israel has more front-page coverage than any country in the world except the USA - so far. The greening of the deserts, cutting edge technological breakthroughs, , military prowess and the percentage of Nobel prize winners do not cease to amaze.
But it is not any of the above which made me stop and marvel yesterday afternoon. More than any of the wonders that is Israel – is first and foremost that it is a Jewish country.
Never to be taken for granted. This more than anything else that has occurred is the exception to history.
Never has a People returned to their home after two thousand years of expulsion from it. We all know the rest – miracles beyond historic proportions have accompanied Israel from her inception until this moment.
This is common knowledge but yesterday afternoon was one of those times when the essence of this miracle hit me afresh There is an older Russian immigrant living in my Jerusalem neighborhood. He has learned to read some of the prayers in Hebrew and seems to be consciously making up for a lifetime robbed of Jewish identity in Communist Russia. He tries hard. He had nobody in the world except his very old mother and she had no one besides him until she passed away a week ago. A sadly lonely but not uncommon story. Yesterday I was one of the ten men he asked to come to the cemetery. He doesn’t really have ten friends he can call upon. I guess because I made a point of greeting him in shul he felt he could approach me and a few others like me .
I stood at the grave of this woman who must have been seen so much in Russia. The Czar, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler – oh the joys of being Jewish in Mother Russia. She finally came home to rest in Jerusalem, the last stop for an old Jewess. Her son collected a minyan for her in Jerusalem. It probably never occurred to her that “Next year in Jerusalem” would actually happen and that the stones of Jerusalem would be her eternal companion.
Because the Russian immigrants are late comers to the Jerusalem cemetery, their plots are in a newer section – next to another group of recent returnees to the Land – the Benai Menashe.Where better to feel the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles in our day then in a Jerusalem cemetery?
As we helped the elderly Russian immigrants with the reciting of the Psalms that they were not allowed to know in Russia, Asian Jews were paying their respects a few feet away.
The two little groups seemed like light years away from one another, but this moment united the two most disjointed groups one could imagine.
The Benei Menashe has a fascinating story. Suffice it to say that their last home was in Manipur on the Burmese – Indian border. They never have forgotten their roots after they were expelled from |Israel over twenty-seven hundred years ago with the Assyrian exile.
I asked some of the younger people to read the inscription on the tombstone. It was in their own script which most of these, now Israelis, could hardly decipher.
The deceased was one of the first of the community to undergo formal conversion in 1975. The second part of his life dream came true in 1988 when he stepped foot on the land that his ancestors were expelled from millennia ago. The younger generation are the new shoots springing up in the soil of Zion. The elder, now resting in that soil, lived to see it.
As the prophet said “I will bring you from the far corners of the earth on the wings of eagles.” The Bible and prophecy “come alive” - in a Jerusalem cemetery. - The "dry bones" are a reborn nation.
I am witness to this awesome drama and prophecy. For me, more than any of the many wonders this is what Israel is really all about. This is the miracle of miracles.
Shalom Pollack is a tour guide, filmmaker and writer in Jerusalem
Shalom Pollack is writing a book, "Despite ourselves, a personal account"