My grandma never gave me toys for my birthday or for Hanukkah. I didn’t get books or action figures or video games or baseball cards or any of the things I loved. She only gave me one thing: Israel bonds.
As a little kid, I thought I was rich. Those pieces of paper said $500 on them! And I had a bunch. No one told me that some of them wouldn’t mature for 30 years.
My grandma did this with all of her grandchildren. Her dream was for each of us to have some money when we made Aliyah. Maybe a year she would say. Sadly, none of us did that – but in 2000, I cashed in my bonds and booked a solo trip to the Holy Land. It was only for 10 days, but it sure did make my grandma happy and proud.
In 1951, then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion hatched a plan with some American-Jewish leaders to raise much-needed funding for the new country of Israel. Israel Bonds were born and I’m pretty sure my grandma signed up right away. Over the next 4-plus decades, my grandma became one of the top sellers of Israel Bonds in all of New York. She would win awards and attend banquets and it was her thing! She downplayed it all, of course, because that’s the way she was.
Tonight, I took my 15-year-old to the solidarity event at Beth El because we both just felt a need to be with our people. And we both had a lot of things on our minds about what was going on.
We got there late and people walking towards us said that we should turn around and leave – that the building is at capacity and they’re not letting anyone else in. Well, that wasn’t really going to fly with us. It was true – they weren’t letting anyone in, but we stayed and gathered outside with our people (who were also late). Some people watched the livestream on their phones and we listened along first to Sen. Amy Klobuchar and then to Gov. Tim Walz. When the VIPs left, some people started leaving, so the security staff let us in.
There was a program for teenagers so Sam left me and then spent almost two hours engaging with other kids. A room jam-packed with Jewish teenagers talking about Israel and how they were feeling. I can see it now: Sam and his great-grandma sitting around a table talking (and probably eating). It was exactly what I did as a teenager. I remember talking to my grandma about everything, including Israel of course. She’s the one who taught me how important it is to keep Israel safe and thriving. She drilled it into me in typical Grandma ways – like buying Israeli-made products (they were better) and giving me those bonds for every occasion.
Towards the end of the event, there was a call for all Israelis to stand. A couple of dozen people stood and received an ovation of love and support.
Then, there was a call for anyone with a loved one serving in the Israeli armed forces. A few dozen more stood – and right in front of me, a couple – perhaps just a few years older than me – who clearly had a son or daughter serving. Tears flowed from their eyes, but the ovation got stronger.
Then a call for anyone with a loved one in Israel. An elderly man was beside me sitting on the seat of his walker. He pushed his son’s offer of assistance away and struggled to stand on his own. Slowly but surely everyone else present stood. Just a couple thousand Jews in a Minnesota synagogue on a Tuesday night praying for the safety of our brothers and sisters 6,000 miles away.
The elderly man made his way to a side door exit. To everyone he approached on the way out – the man who could barely stand ––gave a fierce Am Yisrael Chai.
I’m so proud of the 2,000 people who came to show their support for Israel and for each other. I’m incredibly grateful to those who organized this event and allowed us all to participate. I’m proud of my son for standing up for himself, for being able to share his feelings with peers, and for being a mensch.
Hey Grandma: I know you’re out there somewhere. I hope we made you proud tonight.
And Am Yisrael Chai.