Love for Jerusalem has been running through my veins since the day I was born due to my ancestral heritage in the Holy City. Although I was born in America, some of my greatest childhood memories are of taking family trips to the Holy Land and marvelling at God’s exquisite city. Walking through the narrow, ancient alleyways, I remember my parents telling me that my family heritage goes back 11 generations in Jerusalem.
As a young child, I watched my father talk to old Jerusalemites on the street in hopes of uncovering more information to fill in our family tree. “Of course I know the Eckstein family,” the elderly Jerusalem residents would often say as they sat us down and told us family stories that took place prior to the founding of the modern state of Israel. Everyone spoke about my ancestors’ righteousness, love for God, and commitment to build up the city of Jerusalem as part of a vision of a greater Israel.
During the 11 generations that my family lived in Jerusalem under British and Ottoman rule, they established the first winery in Jerusalem, to provide wine that could be used during Shabbat and holidays in celebration and thanksgiving to God. And every time we would drive on the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, my father would look me in the eyes, point to a certain old building on the side of the road, and declare with pride, “That is where the first winery in Jerusalem was established by our family, more than four generations ago.” He must have told me this dozens of times, yet each time he said it with such joy that I began to feel a new, stronger connection to the holy city of Jerusalem. This connection allowed me to adapt quickly to life in Jerusalem when I made aliyah at the age of 21 – almost immediately I felt at home.
Finally – and quite surprisingly – last week I got the blessing of being inside the winery building that I have been dreaming about since the time I was young.
While in Jerusalem visiting a job training course for Ethiopian Jews, I immediately realised there was something special about the building I was in. “This building is one of the oldest in Jerusalem,” the director told me, “and it used to be a winery.” As the words came out of his mouth, I froze. Suddenly I realised that I was standing in the very spot that my father always pointed to from the car. “This is my family’s winery!” I shouted in excitement. After telling him my family story, the director explained to me that two generations ago – before my great grandfather moved to America – my family sold the building, and it has been changing owners ever since.
Overwhelmed with emotion, I sat down in the middle of the room and closed my eyes in prayer. I envisioned Jerusalem during the days of old – with fewer houses, animals roaming the streets, and merchants selling their handmade goods on every corner. I envisioned my family toiling at the wine factory to make the first kosher wine in Jerusalem. After a few minutes, I opened my eyes and thanked God for bringing me full circle back to my roots, in the holy city of Jerusalem.
With all of the fear and terror that surrounds the nation of Israel, people often ask me how I feel comfortable living and raising a family here in the Holy Land. They ask me how I left my safe and comfortable life in America to make aliyah to what they envision is a dangerous war zone. My answer is simple: Israel has always been my only real home, I have simply returned to my roots.
With blessings from the Holy Land,