My name is Meira Weber, and I joined the CFOIC Heartland team in Israel this past month. Having been here for just a few weeks, I wanted to reach out to you all and tell you a bit about myself, my journey to Israel, and how thankful I am to be part of this amazing team.
I grew up on the East Coast of the United States, moving around between New Jersey, Maryland, and Connecticut. All my life, my parents taught me about the beauty of Israel and the importance of making Aliyah (immigrating to Israel), but I didn’t really feel connected to Israel herself until my first visit here. It was a ten-day trip, and I was five years old, so I can’t tell you exactly where we went or who we saw. What I can tell you, though, is how I felt.
Walking along the cramped stone streets of Jerusalem at five years old, I felt more at home than I ever had in the airy avenues of my Jersey Shore hometown. The openness and caring of the people who live here is a real, tangible thing, and it was like stepping into a warm hug. I can recall the grandeur of the sweeping deserts, the lushness of the Golan meadows, the victory of cresting Masada and seeing the whole country laid out before me like a glittering, heavenly mosaic.
My parents said that I cried the entire plane ride back – twelve hours – and begged them to let me stay. Even after that short visit, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else aside from Israel.
It’s been almost twenty years since that visit, and I’ve spent the last five as a citizen of Israel, but I can say with certainty that the wonder never goes away. When I ride the bus into Jerusalem, a now-familiar warmth blooms inside me. When I walk the ancient pathways up to the Western Wall, I carry the weight of hundreds of generations with me, walking alongside me. When I step barefoot in the sands along the Ashdod Beach, I feel the security of the Navy’s ships and the comfort of knowing I am protected not just by the Israel Defense Forces, but by God Himself.
Ever since that first visit, I had felt an undeniable pull towards Israel. But as so many will tell you, the actual move to Israel is not that simple. It’s very easy to get stuck in day-to-day life, and remember Israel only as a vague fantasy place you once visited. It’s very easy for the Jews outside of Israel to think, “We belong in Israel, but not yet. Sure it’s our homeland, but it’ll still be there tomorrow. Tomorrow, I’ll think about it. Tomorrow…”
Many, many people fall into that trap.
I admit, I had fallen into that mindset. By the time I reached high school, Israel had faded to one of the vaguer corners of my memory, and I remembered it fondly, but in a distant, detached way. All that changed, however, when I signed up for a twelfth-grade class in Zionism. The prospect of an entire course on Zionism excited me. Finally, I would be able to fill in the gaps of my knowledge of Israeli history, and learn more about the country that had all but vanished from my recallable memory. Class began, and as expected the history was fascinating, but it was the class discussions that affected me the most.
The teacher kept cycling back to the Jewish expulsions throughout history. She spoke about how the Jews had felt secure in Spain, felt as though they could live there permanently, and then came the Inquisition and Jews were tortured, forced to convert to Christianity or expelled in the very country they had called home for centuries. She taught us about how the Jews had felt secure in Germany and Poland, and then Hitler rose to power. “No one realized how much danger they were in,” my teacher explained of those Jews. Those Jews were so comfortable where they were, so sure that all the anti-Semitism would blow over, so sure that they were safe, that no harm would befall them in this new land, whichever land that may be. And no one took threats seriously until it was too late.
I raised my hand. “Why then,” I asked neutrally, “do you still live in America?”
The teacher just looked at me. “Because we’re safe here,” she explained, staring at me with a strange expression on her face. Her expression said, Of course that’s why I’m living in America. What kind of question is that?
But I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. “Isn’t that what all those other Jews said, before they were run out of their countries? They thought they were safe, but then there would be an expulsion and they would have nowhere to go.”
“We have somewhere to go,” the teacher said pointedly. “We have Israel.”
“But if we have Israel why are we still here.”
The teacher blinked. “You’re talking about Aliyah.”
“Yes, Aliyah!” I burst out.
“Some of us have jobs in America,” she said. “We can’t just up and move to Israel. Our families are here, our jobs are here, our livelihoods are here… It’s not that simple, Meira. Not everyone can just uproot their entire lives and move to a new country.”
I was floored. Not five minutes earlier, my teacher had been condemning the mindset of Jews who refused to leave Germany before the Holocaust, and now she was giving me the exact same reasons for staying in the United States. “Israel isn’t just a new country,” I said in disbelief. “Israel is our homeland.”
The teacher frowned. “We’ll address this later,” she said. But she never did.
I sat there at my desk, numb with shock. I remember not even being able to muster the strength to be frustrated – that single, short exchange had left me drained and empty. Disbelief hung around me like a fog. Why doesn’t she see? I had thought desperately, but couldn’t answer myself. Does she even hear what she’s saying?
That was the moment. It was the moment when I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I would do it. Maybe it wouldn’t be that year, and maybe it wouldn’t be the next, but I was going to make Aliyah. High school, university, they were rest stops on a highway that led only to Israel. It only takes one person to inspire many, and it dawned on me: maybe I would have to be that person.
The rest of the year was a haze of distraction as I prepared myself mentally for my move to Israel. It was perfectly timed, as well; only a few months later, my parents told me that they were also planning to make Aliyah that coming summer. I was lucky enough to have a support network with me throughout the move – and it was my own parents. Everything was falling into place, and looking back, I can clearly see the hand of God orchestrating it all.
When I finally boarded the flight to Israel in the summer of 2013, I was overcome with anxiety. What if it wasn’t everything I had dreamed of? What if those memories, once so distant but now aired out and refreshed in my mind, were inaccurate? What if the things I felt as a child didn’t translate to my adult self? For hours I sat in my airline seat while the plane buzzed with anticipation, a charter flight dedicated exclusively to people making the move to Israel. For hours I teetered on the edge of terror, so afraid that the Israel I had built up in my mind was a different Israel that awaited me on the other end of the flight.
But it was better.
The airplane door hissed open and bright sunlight, brighter than I’d ever seen, flooded the cabin with a nearly-audible whoosh. The stale airplane air was chased out by a warm breath of indescribable sweetness, something I’ve since only been able to describe as “Israel air.” It was clean and fresh and pure and when I breathed it in, all my anxieties disappeared. I was home.
In the years since my Aliyah, I spent a year studying Bible, lived on a kibbutz, completed my national service, married my wonderful husband Shlomo and moved to Karnei Shomron. I’ve traveled the width and breadth of this beautiful slip of land. I’ve seen the crystalline turquoise waters that flow through the grottoes at Rosh HaNikra, and hiked the rocky Mount Solomon in the Red Mountains near Eilat, reaching the peak just as a crimson dawn broke on the horizon. I’ve camped under the stars in the Ramon Crater, biked around the Sea of Galilee, and meditated in the Old City of Safed, and so this I can say with certainty: God is in every piece of this magnificent country. Holiness exudes from the paving stones of Akko and whispers to you from the hills of Samaria. God is in every dust mote, every grain of sand, every drop of rain. He is in every tear shed at the Western Wall, every prayer sung out from every synagogue, every church, every mosque.
God’s presence is so clear here. And without Him, I don’t know how we – the inhabitants of Biblical Israel – would still exist.
When I joined CFOIC Heartland, I didn’t realize how motivating a sense of purpose would be. I don’t think I can describe to you the passion that flows through everything we do, or the pride I feel at being just a small part of this. But what I can express is my gratitude to you, the wonderful supporters of CFOIC. Without you, none of what we do would be possible, and I’m honored to be here. It’s incredible to see the real effect of these donations. All throughout Judea and Samaria, children play on donated playgrounds, shaded by trees that were planted by CFOIC tour groups. The elderly are cared for and special needs children are gifted equipment and facilities.
I’m excited to see what we can, God willing, accomplish together. And I look forward to meeting you on your next trip to the Holy Land.