People are constantly asking me why I want to live here.
It’s not an easy question to answer. Because it’s not rational – or logical – it’s emotional. It’s what’s in my heart. After all, my Hebrew name literally translates to “my heart” – so it’s the only natural way to live my life.
There’s something in the air here. Something vibrant. It’s not that the world is less beautiful elsewhere – by far not. But the air here is different. It may sound cliché: This is the promised land, the holy land, our homeland. But all clichés have some truth to them. This is God’s land. It’s the center of our planet, no matter which map you look at. It’s the land of the Bible, no matter which major religion you’re coming from. It’s the land of ancient history, the land of mythology, and the land of mystery. It’s no ordinary land.
There are many reasons – rational, logical reasons – to not want to live here. Economically it’s very difficult. Politically it’s a mess. And bureaucratically it’s a nightmare. But no matter how much Israelis love to complain about life here, very few of them can find themselves truly happy living anywhere else. Because there’s something about living in Israel that is simply wonderful, and can’t be translated into economic terms.
We are building something here. We are part of a communal effort. America hardly notices if I’m there or not. But Israel needs my presence, my contribution. It’s so easy to make an impact here. It’s so easy to see things grow.
It’s wonderful to step outside of the house in December in a T-shirt. It’s wonderful to see Jews from every country in the world dancing together in nightclubs, finding ways to communicate and laugh and kiss, despite our many language barriers. It’s wonderful to walk into a café, grumpy and hungry after a long day, and see the café employees gathering around the counter to light the Chanukah candles together. It’s wonderful that the gym doesn’t play music on remembrance days. It’s wonderful to eat only the fruits and vegetables that are in season at any given time, and to drive past acres of orange groves on your way to work. It’s wonderful to board a bus and see young men that look like your cousins in army uniforms, their arms crossed over their M-16s, nodding off into an exhausted sleep on the shoulder of the stranger sitting beside them. It’s wonderful to feel the simcha and ruach at Israeli weddings, the boisterous jubilation thumping through the room and your veins. It’s wonderful to live in a place that embraces Shabbat – the only country where we can get a real taste of God’s wisdom, in His ordainment of a weekly day of rest. It’s wonderful to walk along the sea at sunset, especially on a Friday – and see every type of Jew you can imagine, from the runner to the street performer to the chassid to the fisherman, each enjoying our beautiful coastline in his own way. It’s wonderful to drive around the Sea of Galilee or down to the Dead Sea, and experience the silencing of sheer beauty. It’s wonderful to be surrounded by inspiration, everywhere.
And it’s not hard to remember that our grandparents didn’t have the luxury of complaining about Israel’s many shortcomings. Or their parents, or their parents, or their parents. We are blessed to live in this generation, at this time. Our generation is at a critical juncture: We are the ones who are going to decide the state of our future State. Now is the time to be here, if we want to pave some kind of way. Because at the end of the day, life is so short – and you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to leave behind a comfortable material lifestyle, or a meaningful contribution to the growth of the modern Jewish state?”
Yes, there are so many things I miss about life in America. There are the little things: CVS. Target. Sephora. Being served a glass of water when I sit down at a table in a restaurant. And I long for the big things: My family. My friends. Speaking and hearing my mother language all around me. The other place I call home.
But – that critical pause, “but”, says it all – we are building something here. We are trying to make something of our lives, something better for our children, and their children, and their children. The hope being that, one day, things will get a little easier, and we won’t struggle to answer the endlessly surfacing question: “Why do you want to live here?”
Because the heart doesn’t ask logical questions. The heart just tries to guide each of us to our truth.