“Should I make aliyah?”
Zionists in the diaspora have asked themselves this question for the past 65 years. The thoughts that go into answering it, though, are vastly different today than they were a generation ago.
In the seventies and early eighties the feelings of Zionism amongst Jews in the diaspora were strong and vociferous. These feelings peaked after the victories of the IDF in ’67 and ’73. Jews around the world were proud, and walked with their head held high once again, knowing that they now had their OWN country with their OWN army, that was more than capable of defending them, the State of Israel and Jews all over the world – in other words they became proud Zionists.
For Jews in Argentina – where my family had been living since the Russian pogroms in 1892 – sentiments of Jewish pride and Zionism were heightened by the capture of Adolf Eichmann on their home turf in 1960. My father, a secular Jew with little traditional connection to his Judaism other than eating Ashkenazi foods and playing basketball at a Maccabi Center in Mendoza, Argentina, took his Jewish pride and Zionism and spent his free time volunteering to protect the Jewish community and institutions from anti-Semitic fueled attacks. He was not observant, but was (and is) an ardent Zionist, who lives and breathes his love for the Jewish People and the State of Israel.
But, the 1970s in Argentina were tough. This was the time of the “Dirty War,” when a vicious military dictatorship killed hundreds of thousands of mostly college-aged students, ostensibly because they were leftist guerrillas, making daily life unbearable for every day people even if they had no involvement in politics. My father was a 24 year old doctor living in Buenos Aires when he found himself on the wrong side of a secret interrogation in a paramilitary detention camp, run by the government. When he was lucky (or blessed) enough to be released, he decided it was time to leave – quick. It was no longer safe for a young Jewish doctor to live in Buenos Aires.
My dad then asked himself the question: “Should I make aliyah?” The factors he considered were:
(1) family; (2) security; (3) opportunity; (4) quality of life; and (5) the Jewish and Zionist magnetic pull to the State of Israel (not in that particular order).
He knew he had no choice but to leave his family behind, because his personal security was the reason for his move. He decided that he would either move to the United States or to Israel.
The magnetic pull to Israel that each of us have as a result of generations and generations of our predecessors yearning for Israel took my dad to the Israeli embassy to ask for help to make aliyah.
Still, deciding to make aliyah in 1977 was a BIG decision. Factors (3) and (4) – opportunity and quality of life – were very difficult to overcome. Not only was making aliyah in 1977 an unknown, but the State was really just beginning to be built. While the kibbutz enterprise was still going strong, the economy was faltering, and making aliyah at that time would be making a decision to help build a Jewish State rather than a decision to build your own life and career. Moreover, as a young doctor, with absolutely no Hebrew language to speak of, the decision was even more difficult to make.
In short, life in Israel in the 70’s was a far cry from life in the United States. The US provided safety, quality of life, religious freedom, and promised endless opportunities for those who worked hard. After weighing these factors, my father answered the aliyah question “no,” and instead chose the US as the place to take his medical degree and begin his career and life. So my father moved to Miami, Florida, where he married, and raised me and my sister in a safe, Jewish, Zionist environment.
Now, 35 years later, I find myself waking up early in the morning, getting my three daughters ready for their day, kissing my wife, and going to my job as an attorney in the safety, comfort and luxury of Miami, Florida – all the while dreaming that I was in Israel. I began constantly asking the same question my dad asked 35 years ago: “Should I make aliyah?”
The factors in 2013 are the same as they were in 1977: (1) family; (2) security; (3) opportunity; (4) quality of life; and (5) the Jewish and Zionist magnetic pull to the State of Israel (not in that particular order).
Today, however, those factors are weighed very differently. First, I am not escaping a military regime, as my dad was in 1977, so the extrinsic pressure is not there. The factors that most likely kept my dad from pulling the trigger and moving to Israel in 1977 – opportunity and quality of life – are the two factors which today favor making aliyah. As a successful attorney with entrepreneurial aspirations, the opportunities for me are arguably greater in Israel than they are in the States. Israel is on the up-and-up. American law firms are opening shop in Tel Aviv, Google and Facebook are fighting over acquiring Israeli start-ups, and there is an undeniable and incomparable entrepreneurial energy in Israel which any young, educated, ambitious person would want to be a part of. The next factor, quality of life, today also favors Israel. For a Jew, particularly if you have the means, you can live with all the comforts that you have in the United States (minus decent customer service and other immaterial things).
Of course, when the opportunity and quality of life factors all favor Israel, the Zionist/Jewish magnetic pull towards Israel only becomes stronger.
Safety is something that fluctuates – both in the United States and in Israel. While many will argue that Israel is much more dangerous that the US, after every random attack on US soil (Boston marathon, Colorado movie theatre shooting, Newtown elementary school, etc., etc.) that argument becomes more difficult. The truth is
there are dangers everywhere. As Jews, our safety is most guaranteed in our own State. Still, there are definitely fears and apprehension involved in moving to Israel. A stark reminder: My kids sleep in a safe-room when we stay at my in-laws’ vacation home in Jerusalem.
The most difficult factor, however, isn’t security, it is family. Coming from a Latin-Jewish family is a unique experience. If you’ve ever seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” you can start to understand our family dynamic. At this point of my life, this factor is paralyzing. My three girls live a life surrounded on a daily basis with aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, cousins, second cousins and life-long friends. Taking that away from them and restricting them to a life of visits and Skype flips the entire equation for me. I don’t know if this will change with time, but this factor makes it impossible at this point for me to make aliyah. It’s a good “problem” to have.
So, to satiate my burning desire to live in Israel; to teach my children the love of Israel and of being Jewish; to teach my children that we have a State that was established in our historic homeland to protect the Jewish People and to be a home for all Jews, I’ve decided to take them and move to Israel…
for one year.
On July 1st, I’m moving to Jerusalem for 12 months, enrolling my girls in school, working from Jerusalem remotely (thank G-d for Remote Desktop and VoIP), and partaking in the magic that is the State of Israel!
Is this enough? I really don’t know. Some say it’s an amazing decision, others say it’s not enough. But the truth is that, right now, it’s right for me, my wife, my three daughters, and my extended family — and I couldn’t be any more excited!
You now have a small glimpse of my perspective from the Outside-In. Follow me on my blog as I spend a year gaining a perspective of Zionism and Israel from the Inside-Out. Follow me to see if these factors are weighed differently as the year goes along.
Am Israel Chai.