This Chol HaMoed I journeyed from Jerusalem to Chevron, visiting Mearat HaMachpelah and all the other wonderful sites there. While there I saw a booth which was manned by an organization which supports increased Jewish control of the Temple Mount. They were selling a shirt which featured a picture of the Dome of the Rock. The caption read, “Does it bother you that this is on my shirt?”, and in a small subscript, “Then why does it not bother you that this is on the Temple Mount?”
It wasn’t some abstract statement. It was a challenge to an entire people, who the organization accused of becoming complacent, pacified with the current situation, and not dedicated enough to making a change. On the pamphlets being handed out was a line which begged, “What have you done to actively build the Temple?”, and I fear far too many of us can not find an answer to that in our day-to-day lives.
Thousands of us gathered at the foot of the Temple Mount, at the Kotel, to hear the Priestly Blessing and to pray over the course of Chag HaMatzot, but how many of us were staring the entire time towards the top of the Mount, wondering when we could instead stand “In the courtyards of the House of HaShem, in your midst, Jerusalem”, and receive the Blessing there? It hurts me to think that the answer is, not too many, and it is a painful reminder of a fact that is all too accurate.
The statement “This year in Jerusalem” is not true.
Whenever I see a blog post, a Facebook status update, or anything else which claims that someone’s dream of being in Jerusalem “next year” came true, I can’t help but feel great, because I know that was the feeling I had last year. But if I’m being honest with myself these days, I also sense a deep feeling of, “We’ve missed the boat.” “Next year in Jerusalem” was my dream for years. But even though I now live in the Old City, I still sing “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Though I am more inclined at my Seder (should I be making Sedarim still in a pre-Messianic age) to sing the words, “Tomorrow in the Temple” than “Next Year in Jerusalem,” and in fact have written poetry for a modern Seder, in which the hope is not to be in Jerusalem, but to witness the completion of the Redemptive Process, I still ache to think that the goal has been lost from many of us.
Aliyah is an individual’s decision to be part of the national Redemption, but it is not a national commitment. Far from it. Why is it that I have friends from high school who are actively ro-Palestinian, friends who wish to undermine the State of Israel, as well as friends who want to undermine our religion, ridiculing traditional observance, trying to challenge rather than find real solutions? I feel it is a matter of lost national vision.
Does this mean I do not respect my secular friends, or my not-as-religious classmates? By no means. Some of the politicians in the Israeli arena who most represent my views are secular. I view myself, a religious Zionist, as no better than secular Israelis who are fighting for the existence of our State and our national Home. Their work is holy as well. My great uncle, a Conservative rabbi, serves no less of an important role in our community than an Orthodox rabbi. I believe that the holier-than-thou attitude of some of my observant coreligionists has placed a sizable impediment in the way of national progress. We must remember that the Temple Mount lies desolate today as a result of fighting and warring among our people, and yet for some reason even amid the wreckage of our Temple, pacing along the perimeter of the Temple Complex, someone I know tells me that he was yelled at by fellow pilgrims for being unwilling to step closer to the boundary of an area which is halakhically problematic. How have we allowed ourselves to become so consumed by our own egos that we can’t respect the opinions of others, while still being committed to our ideals?
What happened to the momentum our people had in 1967, the clear vision that people like Rav Yoel Bin Nun had then, that this could have been the end of exile? Why do we embroider our tefillin and tallit bags with images of the Kotel? Why do we halfheartedly open the door for Elijah, not really anticipating his presence? Does the song “Ani Maamin” have real meaning to us? We have become complacent, we have settled for less. We are OK with the reality of our State as it is. We are satisfied with telling our friends, “I will always visit with my kids, but I don’t think I’m gonna live there.” We look at the externals, the silly things, the people with attitude, the lower salaries, the different language, rather than looking deeply into the matter, rather than seeing the deeper potential, rather than seeing the difference in quality of life, quality of Jewish identity, quality of Jewish education, and so many other things. Until every American Jew feels a lump in their stomach when the customs officer in the States wishes them a “Welcome Home” when they head back to their temporary dwelling place in exile, this State has failed.
The goal is not to get every Jew here. That can’t be the goal yet. But we need to make every Jew realize that THEY BELONG HERE. We who are here can’t just wear bracelets which read, “Aliyah: Live the Dream”. We can’t just say, “This Year in Jerusalem.” We need to show others how we live the dream, and how they can too. We need to commit ourselves to the vision of Next Year, and if not, then the Next Year. Those of us who have made the decision to go back to our countries of origin to study, or to finance our dreams, need to ask ourselves on a daily basis whether what we are doing is helping us further that dream, like the trip Abraham took to Egypt to find food while there was a famine in Israel. He knew he had to go, but he wasn’t happy with it, nor was he looking for a place to stay permanently. He did it because he had to. For those of you whose dreams require that trip back, and you know your dreams well enough to make that educated, careful decision, well done. It takes incredible strength to do what hurts for the greater good. Kol HaKavod.
But for those of us who are here, what do we do? We write editorials, we volunteer for organizations, we go on Shlichut. As I was told by a dear family member, get off your aliyah high-horse, and help someone else get on theirs. Don’t shove aliyah propaganda down people’s throats. You feeling and living and loving your dreams coming true here is better than any silly video with a Moshav Band song playing in the background. Remember what you had to go through, and know that it isn’t simple. But as long as our family here is incomplete, then our people is incomplete, our state is incomplete, and our national mission is incomplete.
So yeah. I am here this year in Jerusalem. But I will still sing, “Next Year in Jerusalem” for as long as I need, because while my brothers and sisters are still not in Jerusalem, then I am not fully there either.