Every time I return to Israel I feel a swell of inspiration as the plane flies in to Ben Gurion Airport. But a flight I took to Israel recently had very special meaning for me. I escorted my parents — Rabbi Simon and Belle Eckstein — to Israel as they made aliyah (immigrated to Israel). They are moving here to spend their final years in the land of their spiritual forefathers.
The Bible says that when God told the people of Israel that they would go into exile in Egypt, He also added that “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here” (Genesis 15:16). These words have been realized, quite literally, in my family’s life. With my parents’ aliyah, there are now four generations of our family in Israel: my parents; me; one of my daughters, Yael; and her children. So I see this aliyah in the same way I see all aliyah — as fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
My parents’ aliyah is, of course, also very personal. To say that I am proud of them would be an understatement. My father is 91, and my mother 84. They are in good health, thank God — but to pick yourself up and go to Israel with a one-way ticket is a monumental achievement at any age, let alone this late in life. It wasn’t an easy decision for them to make. They left behind their home of 28 years, a close community of friends, and family members. At their age, they knew these goodbyes were significant — and sometimes final.
There will be difficulties for my parents as they adjust to their new life in Israel as well. But the love they have for this land, this country, this people will help them overcome these obstacles. And they have been welcomed with open arms — a number of dignitaries have asked to meet with them, including the chief rabbi of Israel and the mayor of Jerusalem. Natan Sharansky, the renowned Russian dissident who is now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, actually visited them in the airport before they boarded their flight. Best of all, they are blessed with children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren who will now be part of their daily lives.
When my parents’ plane arrived in Israel my father got on his knees, kissed the tarmac, and with tears in his eyes recited the traditional blessing, “Thank you God for sustaining me, giving me life, and enabling me to reach this milestone.” I am so grateful to God for my parents’ example. They have taught me that it is never too late to fulfill your life’s dream. I deeply admire them for gathering the mental, emotional and physical energy necessary at their age to “begin anew” and trust in God to guide them in the days ahead.
Several days after their move, my father said, “If any feeling would describe us, it would be a sense of great gratitude to God for giving us this blessing and the fact that we can share it together.” And so, I as their son, along with all of you who share in this dream of Jewish people going on aliyah, say to them “mazel tov” — and welcome home.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Chairman, International Fellowship of Christians and Jews® of Australia