- Imagine if UK Chief Rabbi emeritus Lord Jonathan Sacks, after over two decades worth of distinguished service to Anglo-Jewry, made Aliya. Rabbi Sacks is probably one of the most respected and recognisable faces of Modern Orthodoxy.
- Imagine if Rabbi Joseph Baer Soloveitchik, the doyen of Modern Orthodoxy, had extended his one brief trip in pre-State Israel and stayed, or even accepted the offered post of Chief Rabbi.
- Imagine if the last Lubavitcher Rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was at least buried in Israel, despite never having been in his lifetime, instead of being buried in the holy city of Queens, New York.
- Imagine if Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, probably the most respected and universally accepted Orthodox Rabbi in modern times, had chosen to live in Israel and not just be buried there.
- Imagine if Jews from Israel, and all over the world, did not leave their families for Rosh Hashanah to pump millions of dollars into the coffers of the anti-Semitic Ukrainian state in order to visit Rabbi Nachman’s grave in Uman.
- Imagine if all of these great Orthodox Rabbis took the first commandment to the first Jew literally and went up (“lech lecha”) to the land of Israel.
- Imagine the impact it would have on their followers and on observant Jews worldwide!
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one
There are precedents. The late Chief Rabbi Emeritus of South Africa, Bernard Casper made Aliya upon completion of his tenure. Rabbi Shlomo Riskin left one of the most influential and affluent pulpits in North America to make Aliya. Rabbi David Hartman left his pulpit in Montreal to make Aliya, which he viewed as an essential part of his mission to encourage greater understanding between Jews of diverse affiliations, both in Israel and the Jewish Diaspora, and to build a more pluralistic and tolerant Israeli society. His work emphasized the centrality of the rebirth of the State of Israel and religious pluralism. Many of these leading Rabbi’s congregants, inspired by the personal examples of their religious leaders, followed in their footsteps. My own father, after decades of service as a pulpit Rabbi, made Aliya, with my mother, upon retirement. I personally have friends who are Rabbis from various denominations who have made Aliya, not just to retire, but rather to contribute to the Jewish State whilst they still have the youth and energy to do so.
It’s one thing to “talk the talk” as a religious role model and leader. It’s quite another to “walk the walk.” I strongly believe that if these prominent religious leaders would have followed, or will follow, their words with deeds the reverberations will be enormous. Their congregants and followers will see that they mean what they say and say what they mean regarding the importance and centrality of the land of Israel to the Jewish people!
God said to Abram, ‘Go away from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you great. You shall become a blessing.’
– Genesis 12: 1-2