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06/08/2023 12:29:17 PM


Sarah Avner, Cantorial Soloist

Shalom Chaveirim!

For those of you who follow me on Facebook (Sarah Avner Beth Israel) – or read my blog post from a couple of weeks ago - you know that my husband Jonathan and I have just returned from a busy 12-day trip to Israel. The main purpose of our travels was to celebrate our youngest child’s graduation from High School.

This was our fourth time returning to the Holy Land since 2018. Our plan was to simply be “parents in the country.” We chose an Airbnb in Ra’anana – just a 10–15-minute drive (depending on the time of day) to the kids in Hod Hasharon. Fortunately, our rental came with a parking space that was easy to access. While our children were busy with their own lives – Rebekah practicing for graduation ceremonies and tutoring for end of year tests and Jacob working some shifts on his military base to best make use of time off – Jonathan worked at the dining room table, and I spent most of my time on the couch reading a book I selected off the shelf in our apartment.

In between we met one or both children for lunch/dinner or ventured out on our own. We also went on shopping trips for those essential but seemingly expensive items when you are a young adult for both Jacob and Rebekah’s apartments. While there isn’t a Target in Israel the mall in Hod Hasharon, closest to the kids, has a home store, a bedding store, and a giant – even by US standards – grocery store that is like an HEB plus. Here is where we were able to acquire a set of pots, a new Brita and filters, towels, bathmats for the washroom, new bedding, etc.

Living in Ra’anana was dreamy. We became familiar with the sounds of our neighborhood – the flocks of chatty parrots as they moved through, the coo of the pigeons, the yappy little dog who lived in our building, but we never saw, the street cleaner, the construction, and the people. Hebrew, Arabic, French, Russian, and English were the languages we heard most. The giggles of children, the cries of babies, the chatter of women meeting at a café, the man selling fruit, the young adolescents filling their after-school time with trips to the smoothie shop or ice cream parlor or bakery.

On the morning of Thursday, May 25th (Erev Shavuot), Rebekah and I walked out of our apartment building and headed to the main road to buy essentials before everything closed for the holiday and Shabbat. The grocery store, bakery, coffee shop and fruit/veggie vendor. It was exciting to be doing this with our neighbors – everyone preparing to be able to NOT run errands or go shopping for the next 48 hours. Well, at least not within walking distance.

After a busy afternoon – taking Rebekah to meet up with friends for brunch, driving to the Erez Border Crossing to pick Jacob up from his base, and sitting in crazy holiday traffic, we returned to our apartment where we packed a picnic to take to the beach and watch the sunset.

As we took in the cool breeze and soaked in the sea air, Rebekah exclaimed “there is Inbal!” Sure enough, walking along the water’s edge was Inbal Levy, the wonderful host mom who has taken in not just one but both of our children over the past 7 years. After a brief hello she let us know that she was going to stop in at Sabba and Savta’s place to say hi and did we want to join her?

“YES!”. How could we pass up the opportunity to get to meet these wonderful people who Jacob and Rebekah had talked about for so many years with so much love in their eyes? What better opportunity than with just the four of us and Inbal instead of a big family dinner where we might not get the chance to speak with them directly? This was perfect and we were excited.

We were welcomed with open arms. Do we speak Bulgarian? Do we speak Ladino? No?! Well, then the children will translate. After some minutes of hearing how much they adore our children, how remarkable it is that they would make the choice to become Israeli, Inbal brought out two copies of a book they had written a few years ago telling Sabba and Savta’s story. Pictures of their family back in Bulgaria, their immigration to Israel in the early 1940’s, Sabba in the military, the concern when both Sabba and his son, Inbal’s husband Nikki, both served in the 6 day war in 1967, Savta’s role as a hospital administrator and her work in improving the quality of working conditions for women for which she received an award from the President.

Sabba spoke in English as he went through the book with Jonathan and Rebekah. Inbal was so surprised as she didn’t know that he knew so much English. The last chapter is all about the present and it was very sweet to see a family picture that included Jacob and Rebekah, their American grandchildren.

While we were only together for two hours it was truly the most special of the trip. Sitting on their couches, meeting them in person, hearing the most intimate details of their contribution to the formation of the country. So very special.

Today, Jonathan and I are celebrating 26 years of marriage. While we are part of a loving, supportive, and caring family that raised us we also find ourselves deeply blessed by the people who have come into our lives and become our family, our mishpachah.

On this Shabbat, I invite you to take some moments to breathe in the love of those whom you have adopted into your extended family. If you haven’t spoken to someone in a while or find yourself in need of reconnecting – reach out. Send the text or email or make the phone call you have been putting off. It might just become the most special two hours of your week, and wouldn’t that be lovely?

Shabbat Shalom.

Fri, April 19 2024 11 Nisan 5784