Towering 29,029 feet above sea level, Mount Everest has been dubbed “the roof of the world.” Over the past few years, I have read a number of books about the challenges and dangers of climbing Everest — so much so that I have become hooked on the subject. I have even expressed my interest in someday reaching the summit. These remarks have usually been met with amused stares and snickering from family members. Clearly, they think, I have lost my marbles. Climbing Mount Everest is a wild fantasy for an acrophobic, balding 56-year-old male, who is not particularly sure-footed and doesn’t do well in cold weather. Yet, despite the unlikelihood of ever seeing Mount Everest, let alone scaling its heights, I persist in my irrational belief that I will someday make it to the top.
Twenty years ago this July, after reading a number of books on the subject, my wife and I, together with our children, embarked on what seemed to be an equally unlikely quest — moving to Israel. Leaving behind family, friends, and business interests, we packed our belongings and made the switch from the Middle West to the Middle East. Clearly, some of our friends thought, this was a wild fantasy for a balding, 36-year-old male who was not particularly aggressive, and insisted on speaking with a flat “Reish” pronunciation. Yet, despite the seeming irrationality of that decision, here we still are, 20 years later.
Why do people want to climb Mount Everest? Why do people want to move to Israel? When it comes to Everest, George Mallory, the famous British climber, is reputed to have answered, “Because it’s there.” The simple fact that Everest exists is reason enough for people to want to meet the challenge. When it comes to Israel, people provide a variety of different answers.
Some people will say that they moved to Israel for religious reasons. God promised it to Abraham and his descendants, they state, and we are fulfilling that promise. Others may say that they came for nationalistic reasons. Israel was the home of the Jewish people for thousands of years, and now that it has been renewed, we should be here. Still others have come because they are running away from something in their land of origin — be it from family, or from a difficult personal situation. Regardless, while climbing Everest and moving to Israel do not present the same level of danger, I think that moving to Israel represents the ultimate Jewish challenge.
Recently, Mount Everest has gotten some bad press. In 2015, there were no ascents, due to a series of avalanches, and in May of this year, several fatalities were reported there. Moreover, an article appeared in the New York Times, which indicates that by at least one measurement, the world’s highest peak is not Everest, but rather, Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador. Despite these difficulties, climbing Everest remains the ultimate goal of high altitude mountain climbers.
And, like Everest, life in Israel is not perfect. Corruption and dishonesty in government are rife. Religious matters are often complicated. The threat of terrorism is always present, many of the neighboring countries would prefer to see us vanish, and local customer service representatives — if such a thing exists — usually do not wish callers ‘a nice day’ when the call is concluded. Yet, despite the difficulties involved and the sometimes tarnished appearance that Israel may sometimes present, moving to Israel is the Everest of Jewish challenges. Why? Because, ultimately, just like Everest, it’s there. Historically, religiously, culturally, geographically — Israel represents the center of Judaism and the Jewish people. And for some, that is a challenge that they can’t resist.
Moving to Israel, like climbing Mount Everest, is not for everyone. But just as Everest represents a goal, and an achievement — even for those who, like me, may never make it to the top — Israel should, ideally represent a goal and an objective, even for those who may never move there.
If you’re reading this, and you can’t, or don’t want to live in Israel for whatever reason, you can still follow Israel from afar. Read about Israel in the news, visit Israel if you can, speak about Israel, argue about Israel, get hooked on Israel. Like climbing Everest, living in Israel may not be for everyone. But like Everest, it’s “there,” and we can all appreciate it, regardless of where we live.
As for me? After 20 years, while I have a bit more “chutzpah” than I had when we first arrived, my children still laugh at my “Reish.” Some things, I guess, never change.