Chodesh Elul and Rosh Hashanah always puzzled me as a youth. I could never quite figure out how being better for five weeks of the year could possibly get us “off the hook” for all the things we had done for the balance of the year. It seemed to me a bit phony on our part, almost as if we were trying to pull one over on G‑d.
When I became a parent, I became much more aware of how a parent looks to give his child every chance, hoping against hope that this time they will change their behavior. And I noticed that even though many times the child went back to his bad habits, often they did indeed change for the better, despite their original unwillingness to change.
I became involved in many tzedakot and mosdei Torah. My involvement opened my eyes to tremendous and unbelievable miracles happening on a daily basis in each of our lives. Financial, emotional, physical, spiritual—the breadth of G‑d’s bounty to us is unreal and immeasurable, if only you know where to look.
I remember one time that an organization needed $4,700 to make a critical payment. Having exhausted all possible sources with no success, they had resigned themselves to the serious repercussions to come. I will never forget the elated voices that told me an unexpected donation of $5,500 had come via FedEx that morning.
It sounds silly, but tzedakot, shuls, yeshivot, day schools, soup kitchens—you name the cause, they are built and continue to operate because of such mini-miracles. Whether it is that $5,500 check, the $100,000 government grant for a program you had no way to finance, the psychologist who overhears two students chatting in the yard and is able to provide significant help to their parents who were struggling with critical issues—I am a firm believer that the word accident has no place in our dictionary.
As you know, our family has gone through some difficult times. Some we shared with you and others we kept private. Yet through it all, since that first article in April 2006, we have felt your support and encouragement. And we thank you for it (no, this is not a goodbye article).
The last few years, as we launched a new venture and almost simultaneously had to deal with more serious medical issues, have been difficult. The emotional and financial toll upon us has been heavy, and in truth I have not touched upon it all in these pages because I believe that in this area our experience is extremely atypical.
Most families do not have to face two bouts of cancer within the first five years of their aliyah. They do not have to face the closing of their first entrepreneurial venture at the same time. Most families have far calmer and simpler assimilations as Israelis than we have had, at least in those areas.
In contrast, our kids are (as I never stop reporting) doing outstandingly well, and they are each thriving in their own little zones. We have terrific friends and feel a tremendous sense of fulfillment in the fact that we have, for the most part, made a place for ourselves here in Israel. Many, many families cannot say that. And it hurts.
So we have, as most of you have, the good and the bad. We have the disappointments and struggles and failures, and we also have the accomplishments and achievements and successes. I don’t know if they balance. I don’t know if they need to balance. But I do know that we are still here and that Israel remains our home.
And I am beginning to gain a deeper understanding of this period on the calendar (although I am sure deeper people than I will understand so much more than I will ever dream of).
I see this as a time of year for new beginnings so much more than I used to. Like the first-grader going to school for the first time, I see this as a time to “reset” ourselves and look forward in wide-eyed wonder to the new beginnings to come. And, having the benefit of seeing miracles throughout our aliyah—from the smallest piece of “luck” to the major “coincidences” that dramatically changed the path of our lives—I try to internalize the lesson that truly, everything does come from Above.
I saw that acceptance in others a lot over the last couple of years. When I was putting out the newspaper, I would often ask for the owner (or ba’al habayit) of a store I wanted to use as a distribution site. Many times, the owner would turn to me, point toward the heavens and say, “He is the owner; I am just managing for Him and taking whatever pay He offers,” and I found myself wishing that I had the ability (and I guess also the emunah) to say such a thing so reflexively.
And here we are at another new year, another new beginning. After some very tough times, I am hopeful that this truly is a new beginning for us. Thank G‑d, Goldie got a clean medical report last month, one year after her surgery. She looks forward to continued health (and we, as always, thank you for your continued tefillah for Golda Susya bat Shoshana).
And we have a bit more to celebrate around here as well. After over a year of looking, a year in which I took some temp jobs to help pay the bills, the GM upstairs has found me a new position.
I am proud to report that I am returning to my non-profit roots and have accepted a position as the executive director of a new yeshiva in Israel, Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah. The yeshiva, which will iy’H open its doors in August 2013, is based in Modiin and will service “gap year” students coming from overseas for the “year in Israel.”
I am actually quite excited with this challenge. I will be a part of forming the yeshiva from the ground up and from day one (OK—maybe day 101, but you get the idea). I believe the yeshiva’s message, which you will hear more about in the weeks and months to come, will resonate with a lot of teens and their families.
Goldie is also starting a new job (that you’ll hear more about as well), providing outsourced staff accounting services for overseas companies. She also returns to her roots, as it were, practicing in Israel, but with U.S. accounting standards, which she is much more familiar with.
And since we are only the managers of whatever is heaven-sent, we can only hope and pray that these opportunities are truly new beginnings for us. May Hashem grant us all the benefit of accepted tefillot, health, and happiness (and a parnassah wouldn’t hurt). I ask mechillah of those whom I offended by my opinions (it wasn’t intentional) and hope that you understand that everything I say is with an eye toward encouraging us all to live as one nation in one land.
I look forward to being a part of the avodah on Rosh Hashanah in the rebuilt Beit HaMikdash along with my sons and the rest of mishpachot ha’kohanim. Shanah tovah to you and your families.
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah, a gap-year yeshiva opening in 2013. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at email@example.com.