Since moving to Israel, we’ve had many opportunities to host students studying here from abroad for their gap year. They’re away from their families, and we’re happy to make them feel at home. Some of these high school graduates have acclimated to their new environment, while others are very homesick. Can’t blame them. For us, each time it is definitely a noteworthy experience. My kids love having new people to give them attention- play games, tell stories, and just talk with them. And my husband and I love having “time off” while the kids are entertained by others. So it’s a win-win situation for hosts and guests!
Being new to Israel, we are excited to continue this idea of hosting Shabbat guests. I just received a Wattsapp message from 2 Seminary girls asking to come for Shabbat this week. When I told my kids, they shrieked with excitement, as these are repeat guests! Looking forward to this Shabbat, I started reminiscing on a past event:
A couple of weeks ago, we experienced a Shabbat like none other. We were part of a program to host Israeli soldiers from the group called Nativ. Read all about it here: http://www.kh-uia.org.il/En/SupportIsrael/JewishPeoplehood/Pages/Nativ.aspx
“Since the collapse of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s, over one million new immigrants from the former Soviet Union arrived in Israel. Many of them are not Jewish according to Jewish law – a fact that makes it difficult for them to fully integrate into Israeli society. The Nativ program makes it possible for them to strengthen their Jewish identity by learning more about Judaism and Israel.”
I wrote about this experience before and after it took place and thought it worthwhile to share it here on the blog:
Shabbat with Soldiers? Sign Us Up!
As I was sitting at the bus stop waiting for the bus to take me to do my errands I began to think about what this Shabbat and life in Israel means.
In our lives we each have the opportunity to do incredible things. To move away from the mundane and ordinary, and instead use life’s days to the maximum potential.
I feel blessed to have been able to move our family to Israel.. To experience life on a completely different level.. I hope where everyone will one day be.. when you too are fortunate to live in Israel.
Living here is different to anywhere else in the world. As safe as we feel, life can also be edgy and scary. Understandably.
When you see Chayalim standing by bus stops, you know it isn’t because they’re waiting to take the bus.
When you see Chayalim at the mall, you know it isn’t because they’re buying new socks.
When you see Chayalim watching everyone pass by on the street, it isn’t because they’re out relaxing and enjoying the weather.
Chayalim are protecting.
Chayalim are patrolling.
Chayalim are monitoring.
Chayalim are keeping us safe.
So when I received an email to host Chayalim for this Shabbat, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity. I couldn’t say no. My immediate answer was, Yes! Of course! Sign us up!
But here’s where it gets even more interesting…
These Chayalim that are staying at our house for this Shabbaton, are Chayalim that have lived in Israel all their lives.
But they’re not Jewish.
They are in the process of being Mitgayer.. Of becoming Jewish.. Taking on the responsibility of becoming Jewish.. adopting a lifestyle with rules they haven’t needed to follow before.
Because after a life of living in Israel among the Jewish people, and having so many Jewish friends, that is the life they are deciding to live.
And they are amazing! Their Mefakedet, commanding officer, describes them as Maksim, terrific!
We signed up to be their “family”.
To be there to help them figure things out. To help them answer questions.
To have them for Shabbat whenever they need a place to go.
This is such an extraordinary opportunity to say Thank You to these Chayalim that are out protecting, patrolling, monitoring, and keeping us safe.
How could I not?!
Bonding over Sunflower Seeds
In life there are no coincidences.
Life doesn’t just happen.
Hashem (God) guides us.
Yet, we all have a say in how we lead our lives.
Sometimes, you are placed in a life that is wonderful with a loving family.
But you are searching for something more.
This Shabbat we had the opportunity to be part of a very interesting process for two awesome guys.
An entire group of Chayalim and Chayalot came to our town and were placed with families to experience a Shabbat.
These were two Chayalim that were born into wonderful, loving families. Part of their family is even Jewish, with a long line of Jewish lineage. But their mothers aren’t, so they aren’t.
Now they are learning and experiencing because they are choosing to join the Jewish nation.
And we will welcome them!
They came to our home and we welcomed them. Within a few minutes, they were playing games with our kids. (Super Goal is definitely a favorite here!)
Not only were the Chayalim here, we were also lucky to host 2 amazing guys from the states that are studying in Yeshiva. Introductions were made and all 4 guys hit it off instantly!
When I lit candles, my husband and son accompanied our 4 guests to the Beit Knesset (synogogue). My daughters and I joined a little later. The synogogue was full with these extraordinary guests and hosts.
After Davening (prayer services), we returned home and ate a delicious meal (if I say so myself). The conversation was intriguing, enlightening, and very relaxed.
The kids went to sleep and the conversation continued until well after midnight, definitely past my typical Friday night bedtime!
But it was well worth it..because..
As the sunflower seeds were consumed and the piles of shells continued to grow, true bonding occurred. One of the yeshiva guys would like to draft into the army next year to be a Chayal Boded (lone soldier), so he received lots of information from the Chayalim. And the Chayalim received lots of information regarding Judaism.
And I felt like their honorary mother helping them figure things out.
Aren’t I too young to have 20 year old sons?
The next morning all the men left to go daven (pray) and I stayed back to prepare for lunch. Once preparations were complete, my girls and I went to synogogue too. After Davening was over, a kiddush (small meal) was put out for the Chayalim, Chayalot, and the hosting families. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet and talk with everyone. I talked to two very sweet Chayalot (female soldiers) who are also enjoying and experiencing this journey.
Having friends for Shabbat lunch to share this experience with was perfect! Each kid had a friend to hang out while the adults enjoyed each other’s company. Seeing everyone smile and laugh made me so happy.
I’m not sure if it’s normal to feel this much excitement, but how can one not feel like this?!
Shabbat afternoon was chill as everyone relaxed, in true Shabbat afternoon style.
Havdalah in beautiful musical Carlebach fashion was so special as everyone joined together in the synogogue. (Havdalah is a Jewish religious ceremony that marks the symbolic end of Shabbat and Jewish holidays, and ushers in the new week.)
When we said goodbye, shavua tov (good week), to these two guys who we now consider Mishpacha (family), it wasn’t really goodbye. Because we’ll see them again. Whenever they want to come for Shabbat. Whenever they have a question. Or whenever they want a good meal!
I’m sure that the two yeshiva guys had an incredible Shabbat that they will chalk up to one of their top experiences for the year!
And I’m sure that my children will remember this experience for their entire lives.
Before Shabbat, I was told by the Mefakedet (commanding officer)that the guys that we’d host are Maksim (terrific)! Now after Shabbat, I can vouch that they really are Maksim.. Meuleh(excellent).. Magniv (wonderful). I told the Mefakedet that I think we might have gained more from this Shabbat than they did!
Because when you are born into a life that you are given, it is easy to forget to appreciate it. It’s easy to take it for granted. But let me tell you, after seeing their eyes light up because of this excitement for Judaism, it reminded me how lucky I am to have been born into this amazing religion. And it reminded me to try to not take it for granted.
How lucky we are. And how lucky we will be to gain more incredible guys and girls into this religion.
Let’s also remember to thank them all for their service for protecting us in Israel. And remember when you see Chayalim and Chayalot on the street to say Thank You. They really do appreciate it!
When I asked my children how they enjoyed Shabbat, they held their thumbs up and yelled out.. AMAZING!!
And if you ever want to bond with someone, open a bag of sunflower seeds. You might be surprised how people will come out of their shells as they open up the shells of the sunflower seeds.