Both sets of grandparents came from Russia at the turn of the last century. My parents were part of that optimistic generation born during World War I in their new homeland; my mother in Massachusetts and my father in Rhode Island. Neither family was wealthy but my dad’s family was poor; during the depression, he took a horse and carriage around the north end of Providence selling fruits and vegetables. They spoke Yiddish in their homes and went to shul. They also wanted to assimilate and shake off the vestiges of a culture in Russia that was being wiped out by anti-Semitism. Our big family gatherings were for Thanksgiving and Pesach. As a little kid, I think I was confused by why we did not have little booklets to read at Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving included gefilte fish and tsimmes and lovely sour tomatoes and watermelon made by my aunt, just like Pesach. No wonder I was a very confused little kid.
So now, almost one hundred years after my parents were born, it is my turn. Making aliyah is not an easy decision, but easier than you would think. I have been asked if I am leaving because I no longer believe in the United States. Remembering back to when so many people said that if Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, etc. (take your pick) was elected that they would leave and go to Canada. Canada’s a nice country, but it made no sense. No one I know ever did that, by the way. We lived through bad presidents and bad congresses and survived just fine.
Listen. I love the United States. I love Fenway Park, rock ‘n roll, hot dogs, and the 4th of July. That will not go away. This year’s Super Bowl took place while I was in Jerusalem. The U.S. Embassy sponsored an all-nighter at the First Railway Station. If the Patriots were in the Super Bowl, I would have been there, swigging beer and screaming at Tom Brady. If they make it next season, I will be there.
I remember once being at a 5th Avenue march in the 1970’s in support of Ethiopian Jewry, tears streaming down my face while singing Hatikva. My thoughts were that the emotion was so strong because of the opportunity for Ethiopian Jews to go to Israel, but maybe I was wrong and it just took me this long to put it all together. Maybe I’m a slow starter.
There’s an assignment I have been given for Pesach. At our friends and family seder, I have been asked to speak about why aliyah now. Of course, I could pass out copies of my TOI blog post http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/homeland-vs-diaspora-asked-and-answered/. But I want to answer those who ask why Jerusalem instead of Tel Aviv which seems less foreign to most Americans. In an effort to keep it short, Psalm 137 and a moment about what it feels like to walk those streets. And to be in a place where Jewish life is experienced in its fullest in a place that is ours. That’s what I’ll be doing at the seder this year, quite possibly my last one in New England. Next year, indeed.
Chag sameach Pesach to all.