A Bridge of Paper

Shlomo Leib, the author’s father, standing outside the family cottage in Motole, Lithuania, as the family is about to embark on the journey to America in 1926. His younger sister and parents are seen here as well.

Motole, Lithuania, 1916:   

His blue eyes ablaze with jubilation, six-year-old Shlomo Leib bursts into the kitchen of his family’s cottage. “Bubbie! Do you know what rebbi told us in cheder today?” 

Bubbie Devorah is mixing a pot of soup on the stove and murmurs over her shoulder, “I have no idea.” 

“He said that Mashiach will come and there will be bridges for all the Yidden to go to Eretz Yisrael! We will dance to Yerushalayim on a bridge from Motole!” 

Bubbie turns around and mirrors her grandson’s gaze with wonderment and exultation in her eyes. “Tell me, how? How could it be?” 

“It will be a nes, an amazing nes! Bubbie, listen—the bridge will be made of paper, but it will be so strong we’ll be able to dance on it all the way!” 

“A bridge of paper! What splendid news! In that case, Shlomeleh, we must practice singing and dancing right now, so we’ll be ready when Mashiach comes!” Bubbie hitches up her long skirt a bit, takes his hands in hers, hums a lively niggun, and together they ecstatically whirl round and round the tiny kitchen.     

Shlomo Leib was my father, and whenever he told that story, a smile would play over his lips and his moist eyes would widen. He could still feel the warmth of Bubbie Devorah’s hands and hear the swish of her skirt as it brushed the floor.  

By 1926, Bubbie Devorah was in her grave in Motole, and the family had moved on to New York. Sixteen-year-old Shlomo Leib concluded that someday the paper bridge would have to cross the Atlantic Ocean.  

The dream of going to Eretz Yisrael never left him, and he lovingly passed that goal to his children. It was built into our lives quietly, subtly, but it was always there. He was always thankful that he was able to visit Israel once in his lifetime to see the many places he knew so well from Tanach.  

For more than fifty years, my husband and I nurtured the concept of aliyah, but it was little more than a vague objective. Life happenedchildren, careers, grandchildren. We were caught up in the swirl of daily living, time and again sweeping all practical thought of aliyah out of our minds.  

Of course, with modern air travel we visited Israel numerous times over the years. We were riveted to the Old City of Yerushalayim and were enthralled by Tzefat; we scaled the Golan hillsides, bathed in the healing waters of Teveria, absorbed the pulsating air of the Galil. And each time, we turned our footsteps back, back to our family, back to familiar comforts. We had many reasons, good reasons, why aliyah was not for us.  

It wasn’t time. 

Until it happened. And as much as we’d like to think of it as a sober, careful decision, we have yet to understand the astounding forces that gathered, propelling us to our homeland.  

And each time, we turned our footsteps back, back to our family, back to familiar comforts. We had many reasons, good reasons, why aliyah was not for us.  

Looking back, there were moments that foreshadowed our rather sudden decision. For several years, we had become pleasantly accustomed to spending the Yamim Noraim with our daughter’s family in Yerushalayim. Yet there was one Rosh Hashanah in particular, three years ago, pre-Covid, when we had just returned from a trip to Shilo and Eretz Binyamin. There, we relived the story of Chana, walked where Jews had trekked to the Mishkan, noted the lush vineyards, tasted their magnificent wines and surveyed in astonishment row after row of olive orchards and date palms.  

When I heard the first haftarah of Rosh Hashanah about Chana and Elkanah going up to Shilo, I recalled dreamily, “now I know exactly how it looked.” In my mind, I was back in Shilo, inspired by Chana’s poignant prayer.  

The haftarah of the second day of Rosh Hashanah includes the stirring words of the prophet Yirmiyahu: “ . . . You will yet plant vineyards in the mountains of the Shomron . . . I will bring them from the ends of the earth . . . The One Who scattered Israel, He shall gather them in . . . and they shall stream to Hashem’s goodness . . . the grain, . . . the wine and the oil . . . Neum Hashem.”  

I was transfixed and read the prophecy over and over. We had just witnessed those very words of the prophet coming to life now, right now! Still reeling, I met my husband outside the shul afterward. “The haftarah,” he said in a choked voice. “Did you notice the haftarah?”  

Notice it? “Something moved . . . inside me,” I stammered. “Somehow, someday, we must be part of this.”       

But we had family, obligations, reasons. Shilo, Binyamin and Yerushalayim moved automatically, discreetly, to the back burner.  

Soon after, the One Who scattered Israel hurled Covid into our lives. We were locked into our homes, locked out of our shuls, locked out of Israel. Those children and grandchildren that I thought I could never leave receded from our daily lives as one yom tov after another passed without them crossing our threshold. No more siddur parties, no school plays, no birthday balloons. Nothing, only the barren prospect of aging in solitude.  

One day, as I was having a barely audible phone “conversation” with a very young grandchild, I thought bitterly, “For this, I may as well be in Israel. We could talk on the phone from there.” Once again, something inside me moved imperceptibly. 

I always wondered how some people in Europe had the foresight, the courage and the individuality to leave before the onset of the Holocaust. They were not prophets, yet they sensed something I always believed was beyond my ken. At heart, I’m a trusting, cowardly person. I am the type that stays put, hoping for better times. 

I had long speculated that G-d would nudge American Jews toward our final destiny by having us legislated out of America, extending the sinister process emerging in some “progressive” European countries. First, the government would tamper with the curricula in our yeshivot, then brit milah and shechitah would be declared inhumane and illegal. Undoubtedly, given that untenable scenario, we would take the hint and move on. 

But a far grimmer prospect suddenly arose.  

I don’t have the wisdom to interpret current events on a cosmic level, yet I was glued to my computer screen on January 6, watching in horror as shrieking, ugly mobs broke into the Capitol building, shattering glass and shattering America’s soul. My sense of history translated into certainty that when there is political upheaval, economic upheaval, or social upheavaland here we had all threeit is never good for the Jews. The consequences of extremism may not play out today. Maybe not tomorrow. But the day after. And something told me it’s time to leave.  

Not to run, not to panic, but to calmly wash our hands of this galut and go home. That night, I sent an email to my children: “Maybe we should think about aliyah sooner rather than later.” With strange foreboding, I had been laying the groundwork for this message for a few years. So, they weren’t surprised a week later when I informed them (by telephone, individually) that Abba and I had signed up with Nefesh B’Nefesh: we’re doing it! 

Author Charlotte Friedland soon after she made aliyah.

From then on, an unseen Hand swept us along. Our house sold in a jiffy; our car changed hands overnight. We gave away books, appliances, furniture; we rid ourselves of everything that would not fit into the apartment in Yerushalayim we had found, a space one third the size of our beautiful, newly-renovated house. Everything that remained was packed up and sealed in a container to brave the oceans, bound for the port of Ashdod.   

And there was paperwork, so much paperwork. We discovered that the government of Israel will happily embrace us as citizens, but first we must provide our birth certificates, our marriage certificate, our ancestry, a letter from our rabbi attesting that we are Jewish, health questionnaires, driver’s licenses and records, employment status. We learned the meaning of the French word apostille, (an official seal affirming that a document is authentic), and what it takes to get it on our important papers. Not to mention passports and letters of intention, confirming where we will be living and the identities of our relatives in Israel. 

While we waited for approval, my mind made a 180-degree turn. It became clear to me that living in the US as a remnant of Jewish wanderings in galut—through Spain, Poland, Lithuania, and New Yorkwe were part of history, the past. In Israel, we will be part of the future, a speck in the massive kibbutz galuyot that is palpably, persistently, taking place.  With our aliyah, there will be two more neshamot in our homeland waiting for the Geulah Sheleimah.    

Then came the tickets, the precious tickets to take us home. And when our Nefesh B’Nefesh cohort landed in Tel Aviv, we were herded into a special room where we signed yet more papers and were given our temporary citizenship documents. 


The container has arrived. We’re unpacking. I take my vintage family photos and tenderly arrange them in our living room. My eyes meet the somber gaze of my grandfathers and grandmothers from Galicia and Lita, my husband’s Brooklyn-born mother, his father and great-grandfather from Warsaw. And here is a fuzzy photo of that cottage in Motole, with my father and his family about to embark on their journey to America.  

Our own odyssey has taken not only the recent months of preparation; it took a hundred years. But the “amazing nes” is underway. Recalling the reams of documents and forms, records and affidavits we had conscientiously prepared and submitted, I reflect wryly that we Jews are streaming back to our homeland—truly over a bridge of paper!  

And though I can’t see them, I have no doubt that somewhere in Gan Eden Shlomo Leib and Bubbie Devorah are dancing.   


Charlotte Friedland served as director of publications/editor of Jewish Action at the OU and later was a book editor at Mesorah Publications Ltd. Currently, she is a freelance editor, writer and editorial consultant. When she and her husband moved to Jerusalem in August 2021, they were delighted that one of their sons and his family made aliyah the same week. 


More in this section:

Medinat Yisrael: Through a Torah LensRabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik; Rabbi Dr. Yitzchak Isaac Halevi Herzog; Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin; Rabbi Tzvi Pesach Frank; Rabbi Yehuda Amital; Rabbi Yaakov Friedman; Rabbi Dr. Aharon Lichtenstein

The Birth of the Jewish State: Rabbinic Views and Perspectives compiled and translated by Rabbi Eliyahu Krakowski

The Return to Zion—An Excerpt by Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik

Voices of Faith: Memories of 1948 by Rabbanit Miriam Hauer, Rabbanit Puah Shteiner and Rabbi Berel Wein; interviews by Toby Klein Greenwald


This article was featured in the Summer 2023 issue of Jewish Action.
We'd like to hear what you think about this article. Post a comment or email us at