We were enjoying a lovely life in Maryland. My husband and I were employed in meaningful jobs, we were situated close to family, and we had warm friends and a friendly community. So what did we do? We uprooted our family and moved to Israel.

My husband had applied to a rabbinical program—being the son and grandson of rabbis, he had always dreamt of devoting himself to Torah learning. He was accepted and had to choose whether to study in New York or Israel. We chose Israel. And four frenetic months later, we and our four children were on a plane, flying across the world.

Unlike my husband, I had never had a vision of residing in Israel for an extended period of time. We uprooted our family and moved to IsraelIn fact, when we were dating, my husband almost ended our relationship because I mentioned that I had no desire to live in Israel. (Thankfully, his smart sister convinced him of the ill wisdom of such a move.) My sentiments about the land changed, however, as our marriage grew.

The first time I visited Jerusalem was when I was ten. Every year my parents and I would take an exotic summer trip to places across the globe, and this particular year the suggestion was Israel. To be honest, I was not too thrilled at the prospect. I was raised in a traditional home where Judaism was strongly valued—I went to day school, and my father went to shul on Saturdays and holidays. I admired Israel and understood the vague references to a “homeland for the Jews,” but it did not have any personal resonance. So when I heard that our anticipated yearly vacation would be to a Middle Eastern country not as fashionable a destination as, say, the Caribbean, I was disappointed.

Of that first trip, I remember three moments. The first is of my father making kiddush in a non-kosher restaurant in Jerusalem on Friday night. (The kosher restaurants were all closed, to our consternation.) As the presumably non-Jewish proprietor looked on with confusion, I felt strangely proud, special even, to be a Jew and have this privilege of the Shabbat.

The second is an incident that took place in Meah Shearim. My mother and I were picking out a keepsake necklace with my Hebrew name on it. We were dressed modestly, as instructed by the guidebooks, and my mother’s hair, in the bouffant style, resembled a wig. We really fit in. The store owner started schmoozing with us about all these Jewish ceremonies and events that we had never heard of. My mother, with impeccable social grace, smiled and said mazal tov—a seemingly acceptable response. I remember feeling proud that I was part of the club of Jewishness—that we were eligible to participate in this woman’s celebrations solely because of our common heritage.

And the third incident, which stands out as a contrast to the first two, was when we had dinner at the Jerusalem YMCA. Their restaurant was written up in my father’s guidebook, and we were eager to sample the fare. However, being in this distinctively non-Jewish atmosphere amidst the holy city of Jerusalem felt cold, alien and wrong. It was then, while I stared at the congealed meatballs, that I decided I would thereafter eat only kosher beef and chicken.

My next trip to Israel was at the end of high school—a three-month celebratory trip before the grind of college. I clearly remember Shabbat on the kibbutz at which I was working. Every Friday night, all the men and boys would wear stark white shirts and black pants. I looked down into a sea of swaying whiteFrom my perch in the women’s section of the shul, I looked down into a sea of swaying white from which emanated the haunting tunes of “Lecha Dodi.” My heart lifted at the sight and sounds.

After I became more observant, I visited Israel on a learning program and had the pleasure of spending Shavuot, the holiday when we commemorate receiving the Torah, in Jerusalem. The first night of the holiday, scores of people congregated together to walk to the Kotel, the Western Wall. Considerate community members set up water stations along the way, and the excitement was tangible. Children ran along the side of the street eating sweets; grownups walked purposefully with joy on their faces.

My fourth trip was after my husband and I got married, when, on a whim, we decided to spend some time in Israel, with my husband taking a leave of absence from his job (and us exhausting our wedding money). It was a carefree existence; my husband attended yeshivah and I attended seminary in the morning, and we met up in the afternoon to take a walk or get a snack.

Then, this past January, we decided to return to the land for a short visit after eight years away, this time with our children. Out of all of my trips, this one made an ordinary existence in Israel seem all the more possible and attractive. We rented an apartment for ten days, and immersed ourselves in the culture and vibrancy of our Jerusalem neighborhood. The kids loved the feeling of belonging, delighting that they were around Jews all the time. They got a thrill out of the universality of Shabbat—how a good day was wished to and from everyone, from the tattooed taxi driver to the man with a beard and peyot (sidecurls), how the neighborhood seemed to close Friday afternoon as everyone got ready to sanctify the day. So, back in the States, when the opportunity arose two months later to extend our brief visit to a one- or two-year sojourn, I eagerly accepted the chance.

Israel’s uniqueness is palpable; it lies in the feeling one gets of being closer to G‑d and to one’s true calling in life. Mundane experiences somehow feel more meaningful; simple bus-stop conversations create deeper connections. The daily grind takes on significance. Nachmanides says that every four amot, or steps, that one takes in Israel is a mitzvah. Imagine how many connections to G‑d one can get from just preparing and serving dinner!

As for us, we are living more simply here. Our life was stuffed into six suitcases. We went from a nice-sized four-bedroom home to a two-bedroom, three-floor walkup apartment. The dining room now is also our living room, playroom and den. “Central air” is the breeze from the double-exposed windows. The laundry dries on our porch instead of rolling around inside a machine. Sand is everywhere.

And yet, it works. The walking and stairs are great for my Our life was stuffed into six suitcasescardiovascular fitness. My kids have begun to come up with creative ways to entertain themselves without all their toys and distractions, like a Friday afternoon “carnival” in their shared bedroom. We are enjoying being closer together (literally) as a family, as opposed to each of us in different rooms. The winds from the hills provide a merciful draft during the heat of the day, and become a cool breeze during the star-filled nights. My three-year-old is becoming comfortable with his new chore of laying the laundry on the drying board. And as for the sand, a little more dust (and a lot more sweeping) never hurt anyone.

There are many parts of America that I miss—my family, my friends, the comforts of home, being able to read a yogurt label. However, while we are here we have purpose and connection. Our lives are meaningful. Our steps are meaningful. The very air we breathe is filled with holiness. How could we not embrace this opportunity?