We piled onto the upper deck together, 22 young people from England, 700 immigrants from North Africa—Algeria, to be precise. We were all bound for Israel and impatiently waited for our first glimpse of the Promised Land—the port of Haifa. We had different ends in view; we were excited at the prospect of a two-week holiday there, the immigrants apprehensive at the change of direction their lives were taking.

It wasWe had different ends in view the summer of 1963, and newly independent Algeria passed the Nationality Code in 1962, denying citizenship to all non-Muslims. Jews had been entitled to French citizenship since 1870 and the majority of Algerian Jews repatriated to France, while the remainder immigrated to Israel. During the five-day voyage from Marseilles on a rickety Italian ship, we had not managed to exchange more than a few sentences with our co-travelers because of our halting, basic French.

It was clear from their clothes and the scrawny bodies of the babies and children that they had left a hard, impoverished life. What shocked us most was that so many of the small children suffered from trachoma, an eye disease that can lead to blindness. Many of them also had weeping sores on their skinny legs. All we had to offer them were sympathetic smiles and Nivea cream to spread on the sores. Thank G‑d, we said to each other, they’ll be able to get proper treatment in Israel.

We were on deck for hours, keyed up with anticipation of the first sight of the country, visualizing ourselves walking down the gangplank, taking our first tentative steps on the soil of the Holy Land. Unfortunately, I thought, Moses—the greatest Jew and teacher—had to be content only to see the Land of Milk and Honey from afar. And here are we, ordinary Jews from all walks of life having the huge blessing of being able to enter His Land.

We were edging closer to Haifa, the blue of the sea merging with the blue of the sky. The coastline began to take the shape of the well-known contours of the map. It was possible now to see buildings of the town and port area, and the Carmel Mountain range behind. The same Mount Carmel where the heroic Elijah the Prophet had stayed in a cave many centuries ago and proved to the back-sliding people of Israel that there was only one true deity. I could hardly believe that I was there, seeing what until then had been only a name—a far-off place where a story, a legend, history had taken place.

We were hustled down the gangplank and formalities dealt with. We smiled goodbye to the Algerian immigrants and called out “Shalom” to them as we made our way to the bus waiting to take us to Kfar Maccabiah in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv. Our fellow shipmates, we were told, would be taken to development towns and small settlements in the south of Israel.

We arrived at Kfar Maccabiah, where our group would be based during our two weeks in Israel. There were 12 to a room in bunk beds; it was a no-frills facility set up in 1961, a far cry from the five-star luxury hotel of today. But we would be spending little time there as we would be going out each day, apart from Shabbat, seeing as much as we could cram into 24 hours.

Jerusalem, but no visit to the Western Wall, the Kotel. It would be another few years until that dream became a reality for Israeli citizens, tourists and pilgrims after the spectacular victory of the Six-Day War in June 1967. We had to be satisfied with going only as far as the Mandelbaum Gate, the former checkpoint between the Israeli and Jordanian sectors of Jerusalem, just north of the western edge of the Old City.

My grandchildren take it for granted that they can just get on a bus and take themselves off to the Kotel whenever they want to pray or just to place their hand on those time-worn stones and feel the continuity of Jewish history running through their veins at that special place. But I, their savta (“grandmother”), am aware of the miracle that has taken place within my lifetime to make that possible.

Israel then was, of course, before theJerusalem, but no visit to the Western Wall liberation of territories regained during the Six-Day War, smaller than it is today, but there was still much to see and experience. It was all very foreign to us—exotic even—from the Hebrew signs on storefronts we would occasionally manage to decipher to the smells and sounds of the shuk, the market.

The old Egged buses, which we at first hesitated to ride, were shared with hens squawking round our feet, which were often deep in black-and-white garinim (“sunflower seed”) shells, spat out by our fellow passengers with not a bit of self-consciousness. Cigarette smoking was allowed on public transportation, so we traveled in a haze of smoke and were deafened by constant coughing. The volume of quick-fire speech in what was to us incomprehensible Hebrew added to the strangeness of it all.

The heat, the light, the brilliant blue of the sea viewed at the end of the streets of Tel Aviv with its Bauhaus architecture—those white buildings erected in the 1920s and 1930s—we had experienced nothing like it. The hustle and bustle and frenetic activity of a cosmopolitan city with its cafes open far into the night; we loved it!

The contrast of Beersheva, then a sleepy desert town with an arid landscape, brown in the parched days of summer, was striking. We arrived there on a Thursday morning and were taken to the shuk. Camels clopped their way between the stalls. It was hot, boiling hot, and we hadn’t taken seriously the instruction to drink, drink and drink more. So half of us ended up receiving an infusion in the local hospital, a far cry from the Soroka University Hospital of today.

We saw much, talked late into the night, made lasting friendships and agreed that it had been a wonderful holiday. Before the trip, none of us had even the vaguest idea of making Israel our home. Afterwards, although we had been thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit Israel, so central to us as Jews, no one had expressed a wish to live there.

We were settled in our lives in EnglandIt seems that G‑d had other plans for me with our families and friends, and all the familiar habits of our existence.

Shortly after my return to Manchester, I was asked to give a talk about my visit to Israel to my mother’s local Zionist group. At that time, not too many people went on holiday there, and they wanted to hear my impressions. I was glad to do so. My enthusiasm in describing my experiences led one of the group to ask, “So are you thinking of going to live there?” I answered unhesitatingly, “Oh, no, it’s a marvelous country, but my life is here.”

It seems that G‑d had other plans for me. I have now been living in Israel for 43 years.

Israel is more than just a country; it is our land. G‑d promised the Land of Israel to Abraham and his children. It is where our history comes alive, and it is in the heart of every Jew. Many of our prayers speak about the Jewish people’s desire to once again settle in our land, and Jews in the Diaspora pray the Amidah towards its direction since our prayers ascend to heaven through it.

Our sages teach that every Jew possesses a portion of the Land of Israel. For this is “a land which G‑d … seeks out; the eyes of G‑d are always upon it, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” Just as G‑d seeks out the land, so do we.

Moving to Israel was the best decision I ever made. I thank G‑d each day for giving me this life-changing opportunity.