Making aliyah. That’s the hard part. Of course your religious level will be lifted up once you live in the holy land. HOLY LAND. You see, even the name proves it. It’s holier than where you come from, so automatically you become holier too!!!!
Maintaining, never mind growing, aspects of religiosity in the coined “Holy Land,” is, in my opinion, a hell of a lot harder than back in Sunny South Africa.
This seems like a strange phenomenon, especially since one of the main reasons pushing me to leave my bed, my car, my friends and family, was a religious one.
I grew up in an Orthodox community, thrived in a Zionist seminary, and returned home to an environment bursting with Torah learning and a halachic lifestyle. My Glenhazel neighborhood is blessed with a synagogue on every corner, a kosher restaurant by the block, and learning programs to cater for any type of hashkafa you choose. And there I was, flitting from night seminary each evening, to davening each morning, and playing shiurim in my car on repeat.
Until I picked myself up, religious intensity intact, and moved to the land of our forefathers. Why? Because first and foremost — that’s what God wants from me!
So then what is it? Why do I keep forgetting my morning prayers before Ulpan, pushing off my chavruta for another hour sleep, and spending time in bars off Ben Yehuda far later than I’m used to?
I have a few theories behind this pious paradox.
There’s the one that blames the blurred lines of what is means to be Dati…where it’s okay to go out drinking because you’re only with Jews, and where it’s totally beseder to smoke that joint because you feel closer to God that way. Where black and white in Chutz La’aretz becomes a shade of grey and you find yourself dancing in the shuk in front of graffiti art of the Rebbe. One big colorful blur.
Then there’s the one that justifies. I made aliyah for goodness’ sake. Do you know how hard that is? Yup…all by myself. I’m here totally alone. God surely won’t mind if some other aspects of my Judaism dip for now. I have total aliyah difficulty immunity for at least my first five years in this place were the bureaucracy blurs my tear ridden eyes. Who would expect me not to let loose after a day in Mishrad Haklita?
There are these theories, and the semblance of truth in each is undeniable. Yet I wish to offer another, more optimistic one. Whether this is simply cognitive dissonance speaking, I am not positive…(yes I just wrote a Psych exam).
Israel, in particular where I live, Jerusalem is a complex, multicolored melting pot of different shades of people, cultures and beliefs. In this ‘City of Gold’ the stage is set for movement and growth. While it is relatively easy to keep up the same path of religiosity in an environment that is more or less stagnant, it is nearly impossible to avoid the waves of spiritual fervor that crash through this city daily. And I believe this is entirely positive. Our relationship with God is meant to evolve, grow, and change. It means that it is alive and it is real. I find myself discussing Rav Kook around a hippy bonfire on Thursday night, and swapping Rav Nachman stories at a moshav on Shabbat. And yes, the struggle to wear a skirt below my knees may be tougher at this very moment, but I think struggles are what shape us.
When we are forced to ask ourselves to define limits in a place where so much is available, we establish who we are. And then we try something different the next day and reestablish! Inconsistency, at my age and my stage, is a beautiful thing.
I would rather have a connection to Hashem that is authentic and cemented with tears and struggles and finding my feet over again when I fall, then a never changing somewhat distant kind of connection. I am speaking totally for myself here, because I know plenty people that are flourishing in calmer, more still environments and I envy this sturdy close connection with God. I’m afraid I cannot build a religious life in this way, I need movement and I need questions.
So, so far, these Jerusalem waves of activity, people, and challenges have crashed heavily upon me, and I’m fighting for air and fighting to navigate my religious path. But I am glad for the struggle, and I am more in touch with who I am, what I need, and why I am here than ever before.
And it might all change tomorrow.