The following speech was given during the graduation activities for Class 30 of the Wexner Israel Fellows. The author, Orit Hotovely, had been living in Boston for the past year with her family while her husband Eli was a Fellow in the program.

It is eight o’clock in the evening; Passover has ended a few minutes ago, and at my grandparents’ house the preparations for the traditional family Mimuna have begun. I am five-years old, dressed in white, sneaking into the kitchen where my grandmother has prepared the dough for the Muflettas and my mother has started frying them. The oil is bubbling and its smell is spreading quickly around the house. The Moroccan cookies are loaded on trays on top of the white and golden tables, waiting for the masses of guests. I go to my mother and ask her to sneak me a Mufletta, “white, hot and unburned,” and my mother smiles, hands me one, wrapped with paper so it wouldn’t burn my hands and says, “Go to Daddy, he’ll spread the butter and honey and bless you.”

When my father sees me in the long line, immediately he pulls me over and puts me on his knees, and together we spread the butter and honey, then he blesses me. My mouth is filled with sweetness and I am so happy.

Four weeks ago, in my apartment in Brookline, Passover ended, and preparations for the Mimuna began. I stood dressed in white, next to my mother who was visiting and had already prepared the dough for the Muflettas and had the oil bubbling. The table was covered with the white cloth, pilled with the traditional goodies.

My father was manning the butter and honey stand. He made the first two Muflettas and handed them to Eli and me and blessed us. Our tiny apartment, flooded with Moroccan music, quickly filled with friends and strangers, children and adults.

As one big family, my friends worked together, arranging, frying, loading and serving. Everybody was laughing and talking in so many languages, sharing the essence of the Mimuna – a celebration of sweetness, joy, happiness and friendships.

It was during that celebration that I realized what a long journey I made this year. Moving to Boston was frightening. I feared the separation and disconnection from my parents, my brothers and my friends. I feared the loneliness and a foreign culture.

And here I am; surrounded and supported by the new family we created together, of loving friends, feeling connected to my family tradition more than ever.

When we moved here it was to accompany Eli on his journey. Now I understand we shared a family journey. But, in addition, each of us walked his or her path with its everyday explorations and challenges and experiences.

My kids learned how wide and diverse the world is; they learned how to create new friendships and learned a new language.

I learned the importance of the group, the power of mutual support. I learned that even away from home you can build a home. Today I understand better my professional future and aspirations. I want to lead a true change in people’s lives through personal giving. Today I trust myself and my abilities even more.

The encounter with the rich and diverse Judaism practiced here helped me regain my pride in my own Judaism and faith. A wound that had been open for years, has healed.

We return to Israel well equipped with new assets and abilities to continue our journey there and face any challenge that awaits.

I thank all the friends who set out with us on this adventure. Together we passed this challenging, outstanding and wonderful odyssey. My special thanks to Elisha Gechter, who accompanied me every second, with or without a car. Elisha gave me constant encouragement, challenge and love.

I love you all.

Get To Know The Author

Orit Hotovely was born and raised in northern part of Israel in a religious family. After serving as a Human Resources Non-Commissioned Officer in the IDF, she spent six months in London working with her uncle, a local community Rabbi in the Handon Jewish community. Orit was a kindergarten teacher for 16 years in various education systems in Israel to include the Anthroposophical and the Kibbutz education systems. Orit is also a parents’ advisor and served in Israeli local school parents’ government for several years. For the past year, Orit has worked for the senior Vice President office at the Technion, the Israeli Institute of Technology. Orit is married to Eli and she is a mother of a 13-year-old boy, Eden and a 6 year-old girl, Ayala.

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