Returning

ReturningErev Yom Kippur 5759
September 29, 1998

What is more appropriate to write about on the eve of the Day of Atonement than Tshuva – which literally means ‘returning.’ Of course there are many-faceted aspects of tshuva. Perhaps it begins with that of an individual, and his yearning to better his ways, while making up for the wrongs committed.
There is also the tshuva, or return, not of a private person, but that of a nation. Israel, as a people, is presently involved in a process of return – to our land, to our heritage, to our roots.
When pondering how to best depict these two processes I found an example which must be shared. The story is true – and I will use the Hebrew names of those involved, because just about everyone who knows them, knows them by their English names.
I met Akiva and Leah about two years ago, here in Hebron They had been approached by my colleague Judy Grossman, who asked them if they wanted to come and visit Hebron Their initial response was, “No, it’s too dangerous. Anyway, we have plans to go visit the Golan on Tuesday, the day you are inviting us.”
The next day they met two friends, who told them, “Have you been to Hebron? You have to go – you won’t believe it until you see it!” So Akiva and Leah reconsidered and decided, “well, if they could do it, so can we.” And they made reservations for our weekly tour, beginning in Jerusalem, on Monday of the next week. and toured Hebron with a busload of people.
On Monday night Akiva called Judy and asked her, “do you still have room for us on the tour you originally invited us to, tomorrow?” Judy was a little surprised, because she knew that they had visited Hebron that very day. “Weren’t you in Hebron today – and besides which, you told me that tomorrow you are going to the Golan? “Yes,” Akiva answered, we were in Hebron today and we want to go back tomorrow. We’ve already cancelled the trip to the Golan.”
So, they came back again on Tuesday for another tour, and they came back for Shabbat, that same week. When Judy and I were in the US, Akiva took four days off from his very busy schedule to spend time with us in New York and then hosting us at his home for Shabbat. Whenever we have any kind of program in the NY area he drives for hours to assist us.
About six months ago Leah, who teaches young children in Hebrew in a day school, asked if she could come to Hebron for the summer, to help improve her own Hebrew. As a result, she and Akiva spent the entire summer in Hebron, as volunteers. Leah worked with children in the summer recreation program and Akiva provided assistance with tourists, he himself giving some tours, and speaking to visitors at Ma’arat HaMachpela about the importance of Hebron.
Leah and Akiva did not grow up ‘religious.’ Only after they were married, with children, did they ‘discover’ religious Judaism. Today Akiva is director of a major national Jewish organization, which is instrumental in keeping Jews Jewish.
This couple is, for me, an ideal model of tshuva, of returning, on all levels. They are Torah observant Jews, having made a decision that ‘this is the way Jews should live’ and serve as an example to hundreds, if not thousands of others. Their Shabbat table is regularly attended by many many people, some of whom barely know that they are Jewish.
But their tshuva is not only private. Their active involvement in Eretz Yisrael, and specifically in Hebron, is much more than individual tshuva. It is a higher plane of returning – for it is a return to our Land, and to our roots. What greater tshuva is there than to come back to our original homeland after a 2,000 year absence?
Akiva and Leah still live in the US but I know that shortly, with G-d’s help, they will live here. Until then, I know where their hearts and souls are – they are here, together with us.
Akiva and Leah are two people – and they are special people. But they are also examples of thousands and thousands of others who help, each in his own way, to the return to Israel, to the return to Hebron. These are people who fulfill the precept of tshuva not only on Yom Kippur, rather every day of the year. May Akiva and Leah, together with all others in Beit Yisrael, be blessed with a Gmar Hatima tova – we should all be sealed in the book of life. May our tshuva should be accepted before the L-rd on this Holy Day.


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