Jewish Journal


March 17, 2011

A Brief Encounter: Finding My Grandfather in Israel



Matthew and friend at Nahal Taninim

by Matthew Eisenberg, participant in Masa Israel’s Oranim Internship Experience

How do I explain in words who my grandfather was and what he meant to me?  I guess if you took all that is right in the world and mixed it with the biggest heart, you would have my grandfather.  I didn’t know it back then but he is everything I now hope to be. 

My story begins nine years ago when I was in Israel.  I was on a kibbutz when my grandfather got sick.  At the time, my parents were on a trip in Europe and started making the necessary arrangements to return.  But my grandfather told my father no, he had to continue on his trip.  You see, my father’s trip was supposed to end with a visit to Israel to spend time with me, and that was more important to my grandfather. 

My family believes that Israel is a very special place.  Growing up I learned that if you fall off the path that you need to be on, a trip to Israel will set you right.  I was in Israel trying to find meaning and purpose, and my grandfather believed that my father’s visit to Israel was more important than his return to the US to be with him.  So, my dad came, we had a spectacular time and then he went home to his father.

When my grandfather took a turn for the worst, I got on the next available flight and went straight to the hospital.  He was in bad shape.  He had a breathing tube and was not aware of anything.  Now, I don’t know if when he realized I was home it triggered something, or if it was just a coincidence, but he got better for a little while.  We were able to talk to him and I remember my uncle counting how many breaths he was making on his own per minute.  It was great to have our grandfather back, even for just a brief moment. 

Eventually, he became sicker and passed away.  At that point in my life, nobody that close to me had died.  So I didn’t know how to deal with the emotions I was confronting.  But I knew I had to do something to honor him. 

I decided to take the book he wrote about how he and his family survived the Holocaust, and turn it into a screenplay.  At the time, I didn’t know how to write a screenplay but I knew that it was what I had to do.  It took almost four months but I finished it and decided to pursue a career in Hollywood.  My goal was to one day make my grandfather’s movie.  So I went to film school and after graduating took every job I could find until my odyssey brought me back to Israel in the winter of 2010. 

I enrolled in the Masa Israel-funded program called Oranim Internship Experience, which found me an internship at the Israel Film Fund.  While I was in the program, my brother came to Israel to study in Jerusalem right across from the Kotel.  We met up and went to some classes—one which my brother actually taught, and had a great day.  When it was time for mincha, we went to the Kotel tunnel for the most amazing moment of my life.  I can be called many things, but spiritual is not one of them.  Yet, while standing there at that moment, something happened. 

All of a sudden I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand as an arm rested on it.  When I looked to my left to see who it belonged to, I found my grandfather beside me.  With his signature warm smile he said, “I’m proud of you and I love you.” 

I looked at him with tears falling and closed my eyes for a second, and then, he was gone.  I rushed out of the tunnel to the main part of the wall to get some air when I realized my note came true.  You see, when I was ten years old, I put a note in the Wall that said, “I wish my whole family would live forever in this wall.” 
Here I was in front of the wall, seeing and feeling my grandfather who had been dead for eight years.  All I could do was sit down and cry.  I just wanted to tell him that I missed him and loved him.  I had a second chance to say these things to him, but I blew it.  Then again, I’m sure he knows. 

This took place this past January and since then, I have become a little more spiritual.  Also, because this country was so important to him and his faith, I have kept Shabbat to a certain extent since the encounter with my grandfather.  I am planning on staying in Israel because I feel my grandfather everywhere.  And even though I may never see him again or have a situation remotely similar, just being here allows me to believe, like a child would, that it just might happen.

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