After sixteen years in Glasgow, my wife and I had to consider our options. The shul had declined and its future was unsure. Also there was no longer a class for our eldest child who was still at home. Our boys were at yeshiva but we really didn’t want to send away our teenage daughter. I had tried for a couple of jobs in London but my reputation as a “right-winger” went against me. Rumours had spread that I teach Hilchos Shabbos in my drashos. I did, but in separate shiurim and not in my main drasha in the shul Shabbos service. I had also become used to being independent. Making that clear that I would not just do a shul committee’s bidding didn’t help my chances. So I began to think of coming to Eretz Yisroel. Good people were warning me that I must consider three things before making a decision. Firstly I would never get a job as a rabbi in Eretz Yisroel. You can’t take “coals to Newcastle” and you can’t import rabbis to Eretz Yisroel. Secondly it is very difficult to have your children accepted in the schools and thirdly it is very difficult to find a suitable apartment. With these three issues at the back of my mind, my wife and I set off on our ‘pilot’ trip.
We rented an apartment in Bayit Vegan with our two children who were still at home, for a month while we looked around. We enjoyed being there, but weren’t making progress in finding employment. At one point an ex-Glasgow kollel member invited us to his son’s bris which was going to take place in Beit Shemesh and so we decided to go. Some of the other guests asked what we were doing in Eretz Yisroel and I told them that we were thinking of moving to Eretz Yisroel but in the meantime we were just looking around. Someone said that it so happens that just on that day the local Beis Yaakov was interviewing girls for the next year and if we’re thinking of coming here, we might as well apply. We did and our girls were accepted on the spot. However the menahelet realized that the older one was fourteen and said she was too old for her school but it so happened that a new senior school was opening and was also doing interviews that day. She offered to call and say that some new olim are coming over with their daughter. We hadn’t decided we were coming and hadn’t even thought of Beit Shemesh but it seems that hashgacha was pushing us in that direction. We went to the senior school and again our daughter was accepted on the spot. Neither of our daughters could speak Ivrit but people were saying that they would pick up the language quickly. Without even applying, our daughters had been accepted in the schools. So at least one of the three warnings was disproven. But what about the other points? We decided to come back for Shabbos.
We were staying in the Kirya Chareidit, a strictly chareidi section of old Beit Shemesh. On that Shabbos there was a demonstration against a new branch of McDonalds which proclaimed that it would be open on Shabbos. It was arranged that the tzibbur would daven musaf outside the restaurant. The Chief Rabbi of Beit Shemesh was there with other rabbonim and a large crowd. It was a strictly peaceful demonstration and later we heard that the management had changed their policy on Shabbos opening. On the way back I happened to meet a friend whom I hadn’t seen since my Yeshiva days. The usual conversation followed with the question of what we were doing in Eretz Yisroel and in Beit Shemesh. Again I told him that we were just “looking around. ” He asked if I had time after Shabbos to speak to him. It transpired that they were moving to a new apartment in a few months’ time and he had promised his present landlord that he would find a strictly chareidi tenant to replace him. “Was I interested?” I told him that it was a distinct possibility but I’d confirm it when I knew for sure. That was two of my potential problems down with one to go, arguably the hardest. What am I going to do in Eretz Yisroel? Can a rabbi come from Chutz Lo’oretz into a place of talmidei chachomim and get a job as a rav? Unheard of!
Over Shabbos I had davened in a shul called Zichron Aharon. It had a history. Rav Aharon Pfeiffer zt”l was in the process of bringing a group of chareidi Jews from South Africa to settle in Beit Shemesh. Tragically he was niftar when the plans were well advanced and most of the group never came. Those who did, joined existing communities. Some of them named a shul in his memory and davened there. Hence the name – Zichron Aharon. The Rov of the shul was a tzaddik and a talmid chacham originally from America called Rav Chananya Posner. A few days later one of the gabbaim rang me up. He had heard that we were thinking of moving there. He explained to me that their Rov was often away and they wanted to appoint a deputy rav who would take over when the rav was away and give regular shiurim even when he was there. “Would I be interested?” “But you don’t even know me,” I protested. “We have already made enquiries. You’d be perfect for us.” This was incredible. The three reasons which we were told would make our aliya plans very problematic had all been sorted out within days. And if that bris wasn’t the day it was…. And I hadn’t met my old friend at the demonstration…. And if I hadn’t davened in that shul…Talk about hashgacha pratis.
My congregation eagerly awaited my return and my decision. Would we be leaving them after sixteen years? After consulting my rebbes, Rav Mattisyahu Salamon shlita and the Gateshead Rov, Rav Rakow zt”l who both gave me brachos for success, I told the shul we were leaving.
The next three months were extremely busy. Our girls started to learn Ivrit. My wife had to prove to the Jewish Agency that she was Jewish! I gave up certain insurance policies which would not be valid in Israel. And we had to sell our house. The property agent estimated that we might get £120,000 for the house, of which 2% would go to his company. This was good news as this was just price of an apartment in Beit Shemesh. “Even if you sell it privately, we still get our percentage. Please sign this form.” I signed but my wife, who was a joint owner of the property, was just with a lady congregant at that time and couldn’t be disturbed. “No problem. I’ll come in tomorrow for her to sign because without her signature it’s not legal.”
That evening I rang our lawyer and told him that we were leaving and we’d need his legal help to sell the house. “You’re leaving?,” he asked. “Yes, to Israel. That’s why we need to sell our house.” “That’s interesting – I’m thinking of moving into your area. How much do you want for the house?” “We are hoping to get £120.000,” I replied, relying on the estate agent’s estimate. “I’d love to buy it. £120,000 is a fair price. The deal’s done.” I guiltily phoned the estate agent the next day. “We’ve sold the house!” My wife hadn’t signed on the agreement giving them their 2%. I offered to pay him for his trouble. “That’s okay,” he said bravely. “Some you win. Some you lose.” “Another handy stroke of hashgacha pratis,” my wife and I agreed.
The Old Age Home arranged a farewell event and it was quite emotional. I sang for them an old favourite, “When I was just a little girl…” which they loved. Even more emotional was my final visit to Hutcheson’s Grammar Primary school where I had taken the Jewish assembly for fifteen years. Over a thousand children sang “We’ll see you again but I don’t know when.” The shul offered to make us a farewell party but shul hall wasn’t big enough because we knew so many people. Only the hall of the Giffnock shul was big enough, but my shul didn’t agree to that. So we said that we will make our own farewell party and invite them and representatives of the different organization with which we were connected. I arranged for a guest speaker to come up from Manchester, two musicians from the Old Age Home and left the rest up to the caterer. “But how many should I cater for?” she asked bewildered. “I’ve got no idea.”I said. “let’s guess at 180. The evening was a great success. Representatives of different organisations gave my wife and me certificates and presents to honor us and I sang Adon Olam to the tune of Old Lang Syne. How many came? About 180!
I won’t bore the reader with the myriad details of our packing up and arrival in Eretz Yisroel. I will just mention that the Ashdod Port went on strike just when our shipping container arrived. It was difficult to manage without our belongings. I also wanted my sefarim because I had already started giving shiurim. Not only were the port workers striking, but the shippers charged a fee for storing containers which they refused to deliver. The strike was lasting weeks. The Israeli Prime Minister got involved with no success. I davened, “I lift up my eyes. From Where will my help come?” I did my hishtadlus and wrote them a letter. I mentioned that we were new olim and we really needed our things. If they would, by any chance, release our container, they would be blessed with every blessing from Heaven. I posted the letter and continued davening. The next week our door bell rang. Three big Israelis stood there with a large lorry. “It’s your container,” they said. “That’s amazing,” I thought as I directed them to which room the boxes should be put. After they finished, I thanked them profusely and after, summoning up some courage, I asked them whether they had put Tefilin on today. They admitted that they didn’t normally put tefilin on but they would today in my house. “In honor of the miracle,” they said. No other container left the port. Only ours.
But after pleasure comes business. They looked at the hundred shekels I was offering them as a tip and said, “What’s that?” They more or less demanded five hundred shekels as a tip in addition to the bill from the port. It came to 1620 shekels. I translated it back to pounds. £270. That was quite a large unexpected expense. Just at that moment my wife came in with a letter which had just arrived. It was from the Prudential Insurance Company from which I had recently resigned. It read: Dear Mr Fletcher. Following your resignation from our insurance scheme, we have pleasure in sending you this check, which according to our calculations, is the amount we owe you. “That’s nice,” I thought. “I didn’t know about this.” And how much was the check? £270. “Wow,” I thought. “Totally amazing hashgacha pratis. The exact amount I need at this moment. What a wonderful welcome to Eretz Yisroel”
This is also printed in my latest sefer, The Hidden Light. Rush out to buy the sefer, whilst stocks last!
 A traditional sentimental song written by the famous Scottish poet, Robert Burns. The first line is ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot..”