I’ve always watched the Nefesh B’Nefesh live streams. I follow their page on Facebook, and receive emails from them. I even check their website from time to time, fantasizing about where I might live someday when I eventually choose to take the plunge and make Aliyah. Following their updates and posts have always been just that, a fantasy. A fantasy in which I applaud Jews I do not know for making a choice that I cannot make myself at this point in time. It has always been a reality from which I have always been a few degrees removed, until now.
This summer, I am being left behind.
Come Monday, August 17, I will be at the airport amongst the hundreds of well wishers sending their sons, daughters, parents, neighbors, and friends off to a land to which they visit, but do not reside in. I will laugh, smile and celebrate with those about to embark on the most challenging and exciting journey of their lives. I will recognize some people in the picture of the group of 200 or so “Olim L’Tzava”, or the new immigrants planning to join the army upon their arrival. I will see families of friends that I have grown up with, and friends who feel that now is the perfect time to pick up and go. When I will watch the live stream in the early hours of the Eastern Standard Time Zone, I will cheer for those dancing as they step off the plane, and for those who kiss the ground as a sign of overwhelming affection for the place that they will now call home.
But I will also cry.
It is always hard for the people who are left behind. Those who are leaving the airport and not arriving at a flashy party at Ben Gurion airport, but rather going back to a house that is now missing a person, and feels empty despite how many others remain inside. Those who are faced with their day to day lives, and maybe don’t have someone to go to movies with, paint and dance with, or even just to hug and kiss every day. Their beds are now empty, the clothes they left behind are neatly folded in the drawer, and they are merely a compilation of pixels on a computer screen until a trip across the Atlantic can be arranged. We, at home, are proud and in awe of what you are doing, but nevertheless, you, the one who left, is still not here.
When people talk about making Aliyah, nobody really ever speaks about how the ones you leave at home will feel. They speak about how you will establish a new life in your promised land, how you are following in the footsteps of your forefathers, and will continue a legacy in the land awash with milk, honey, and hummus. I’m not saying people should not make Aliyah, in fact, it is important that the trailblazers, and the ones with enough courage, muster it all up in order to be the push that the rest of us need… but until that push takes effect in the rest of us,let’s just say it is tough.
One day, I will be the person who leaves others behind. I will be the person dancing, singing, and wearing a big Israeli flag on my back shouting “V’shavu Banim L’gvulam” as I run happily around JFK airport. But, I am consciously aware that the ones I leave at home will be more subdued, reserved, and almost somber when I eventually sign up for the flight. It is the happiest occasion for some, and one of the most dreaded moments for others. For many reasons, Aliyah is not an easy choice, and I think it is important that we recognize that. It is not a choice that solely impacts the individual, but the entire family and network of friends as well.
The slogan of Nefesh B’Nefesh is “Aliyah:Live the Dream”. I think part of fully living the dream is not just living in Israel by oneself, but rather encouraging friends and family members from their respective corners of the world to be part of that dream as well. When more people choose to pick up and pursue this dream held by our ancestors for thousands of years, there will be a lot fewer tearful separations at airports across the world. Families can be whole, happy, and thriving in a country that is our own. I hope that when the time comes, I will be fortunate enough to book not one seat on the Aliyah charter flight, but a whole block of seats, and I will sit with my immediate and extended family, friends, and neighbors as we journey off to Israel, our promised land, and live our dream, together.