I’m sitting in your dining room, barely two hours after Tisha B’Av’s ending, ever aware that my impending aliyah this coming Wednesday weighs heavily on us both. You, for all your gracious and kind support of this project, look at it with some modicum of resentment, as it creates greater physical distance between us. It is another great and heavy sacrifice I ask you to make in pursuit of self actualization, and a better future for my children. I, by contrast, am excited for the new opportunities/apprehensive about the risk of so drastic a move in middle age. But amid all the emotions swirling in my head, I have an unabating awareness that this aliyah would not happen, would not potentially grant me the spiritual satisfactions I hope it will, were it not for you, and everything you’ve done for me these 46 years of my life.
The Talmud states that the Land of Israel, our corporeal patrimony, cannot be acquired in any way other than through suffering. In the physical sense, the principle makes great sense. Nothing that comes easy is truly precious. Naches from children, success in one’s career, esteem of one’s peers, all require intense labor; the sacrifice of temporal leisure in pursuit of the greater reward. Our homeland is no different. We, the Jewish People paid a huge price for it, and continue to earn that swath of land each and every day. But if it’s true in the physical sense, on the emotional plain, the rationale for the principle is elusive. Specifically, why do we need to suffer the pain of separation from loved ones, family and friends, in pursuit of physical land? In what way will the tearful goodbye we are determined to not have, but inevitably will experience, enhance my acquisition of that which G-d promised me the day He created heaven and earth? Moreover, the pains of leaving you behind stand to mar every new experience I may have in my “alteneue”home. Why need we endure it? The answer, I think, lies in Tisha B’Av, the day we just observed.
An essential aspect of the Tisha B’Av observance, the purpose of intoning Lamentations, dirges and elegies is to get the worshiper to self identify with the catastrophe that was the sacking of Jerusalem and the exile from the Land of Israel. The Ninth of Av is the counterpoint to Passover, when we envision ourselves triumphantly leaving the bondage of Egypt towards the epiphany of Sinai, the genesis of our national identity.
On the eve of aliyah, I found myself perplexed by this requirement. How can I mourn exile, much less envision myself being cast out of it, when I’m about to return our nation’s homeland? But sitting in schul reading the elegies, I began to think about those who were exiled, not the exile itself, but the exiled themselves. Those Judeans who survived the Roman conquest were led out of Israel in chains, as slaves. And when they ultimately settled in the lands of their dispersions, in Egypt, Syria, Africa, Rome, and later in Spain and the lands of Ashkenaz, they lacked identity. They came from nowhere. They had no monuments, no metropolis at which to point and say “I came from somewhere, from there.” They were a vanquished people brought as strangers into strange lands. And it has been our fate to be deemed strangers in all those lands we have since inhabited. Whether as Dhimmis, subjects of the Limpieza de Sangre, confined to the ghetto or Judengasse, or later with the Nuremberg Laws, we were, to paraphrase Augustine “allowed to live, but never truly prosper,” never allowed to become fully integrated into the mainstream. We came from nowhere and were treated as such.
The end of exile is the ingathering and return of the exiled. And in a reversal of our fortunes, we return from “somewhere.” But even that, returning from “somewhere,” the Talmud tells us, comes only through suffering. If I, a returning exiled Jew, am to be able to say “I returned here from somewhere,” that too must be obtained at a price; the pain of leaving the land of my birth pays for the physical land I now acquire. The agony of separation from those I love is the price of the identity I bring with me.
In 1947, a penniless Holocaust survivor arrived in America. He too “came from nowhere” had no parents to give him pedigree, Kisvarda, his birthplace, was nothing but a distant memory. In 1962 a penniless immigrant likewise landed here from nowhere. Yes, you came with your parents and two of your three siblings. But Sibiu was a closed book. A condition of your emigration was the prohibition on your ever returning. Romania disavowed you, rendering you from “nowhere.” You and Daddy met and married. Lacking pasts worth cherishing you created life anew together, living each day to its fullest. With your hard labors and constant sacrifices, you, Daddy, and later Sam gave me the place from which I come. And as I now move into this new and exciting chapter of my life and that of my family, I can, with a bittersweet tear in my eye, say, “I come from somewhere.” I come from the greatest home a child could have dreamed of. I come from parents, three of them, who always put their children first. I come from a community that educated me and that, together with my family, gave me the courage to undertake this huge move. And indeed, physical separation from you and all you represent, is agonizingly painful. But it is that anguish that ends my exile. It is the price we both pay in the pursuit of our destiny. I will ever cherish the roots you gave me. They are what will ground me in “alteneueland.”
What more is there to say? We decided we would not say goodbye, as it’s too final a word. So rather, let’s say Lehitraot, to see you again. You will look across the expanse to see where I’ve gone. But I will, from my new home, gaze across the ages and gratefully see from where I came.
Your ever loving son,