I made Israel my home in 1977, after my first life-changing visit in 1971. I certainly have witnessed this little

Amazing things can come in small packages.

country grow and change. I dare say there is no place in the world that has undergone so much change and turbulence. As they say, amazing things can come in small packages. Countries fifty times her size and population are hardly heard of or noticed by the world. Israel has more front page coverage than any country except the USA - as of today.

The greening of the deserts, cutting edge technological breakthroughs, military prowess and the percentage of Nobel Prize winners do not cease to amaze. But it is not any of the above which made me stop and marvel yesterday afternoon.

More than any of the wonders that is Israel, first and foremost is that there is in fact a Jewish country. This, more than anything else, is the exception to history as we knew it prior to 1948. Never has a people returned to their home after two thousand years. We all know the rest - miracles beyond historic proportions have accompanied Israel from her inception until this moment. This is common knowledge, but yesterday afternoon was one of those times when the essence of this miracle hit me afresh.

There is a Russian immigrant living in my Jerusalem neighborhood. He has learned to read some of the prayers in Hebrew and seems to be making up for a lifetime robbed of Jewish identity in Communist Russia. He tries very hard. He had nobody in the world except his very old mother, and she had no one besides him until she passed away. A lonely but not uncommon story. Yesterday, I was one of ten men he asked to come to the cemetery. I guess because I make a point of greeting him in shul he felt he could ask me and a few others like me. I stood at the grave of this woman who must have seen a lot in Russia - the Czar, Lenin, Stalin, Hitler - oh the joys of being Jewish in Mother Russia. She finally came home to rest in Jerusalem, the last stop for an old Jewish woman. Her son collected a minyan for her in Jerusalem. It probably never occurred to her that "Next year in Jerusalem" would be a reality for her and that the stones of Jerusalem would be her eternal companion.

Because the Russian immigrants are latecomers to the Jerusalem cemetery, their plots are in a newer section - next to another group of recent returnees to the Land, the B'nei Menashe.

Where better to feel the miracle of the ingathering of the exiles in our day than in a Jerusalem cemetery? As the elderly immigrants struggled through the reciting of the Psalms that they were forced to forget in Russia, Asian Jews were paying their respects to one of one of their elders a few feet away. It seemed like light years away, but this moment united the two most disjointed groups one could imagine.

My return from my own part of the Jewish exile was far more than a personal choice or escapade.

The B'nei Menashe have a fascinating story. Suffice it to say that their last home was in Manipur on the Burmese-Indian border. They never have forgotten their roots after they were expelled from Israel over twenty seven hundred years ago, with the Assyrian exile. I asked some of the younger people to read the inscription on the tombstone. It was in their own script, which most of these now-Israelis could hardly decipher. The main point on the stone was the date of his conversion to Judaism in 1975. The second part of his life dream was chiseled on the white Jerusalem stone as well. It recorded his second dream come true. In 1988, he came home to Israel from where his ancestors were expelled so many centuries ago. The younger generation are the new shoots springing up in the soil of Zion. The soil that was just the stuff of dreams to the patriarch under the stone. The elder, now in that soil, lived to see it.

Yes, this People is finally coming home. As the prophet said, "I will bring you from the far corners of the earth on the wings of eagles." The dry bones are truly taking form again, as the Bible and prophecy "come alive" - in a Jerusalem cemetery.

For me, this is what Israel is really all about. This is the miracle of miracles. This is what makes me realize that my return from my own part of the Jewish exile was far more than a personal choice or escapade. I too returned on the same wings of eagles. And the world just can not take their eyes off those wings.