“Go forth from your land, from your birthplace, and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) This initial command of “go forth…to the land that I will show you,” marks not only the beginning of Abraham’s personal spiritual journey in the Biblical text, but also marks a central theme that runs through the Bible in its entirety. For, the journey to the land of Israel does not end with Abraham’s arrival, but continues on as his descendants embark on their journey as a newly born nation through the wilderness in order to arrive in the land of their forefathers. Indeed, it is a journey that has continued throughout history and continues today with the creation of the modern State of Israel and the renewed return of the Jewish people to their ancestral homeland.
I’ll be perfectly honest. I am not a Biblical scholar, nor am I a historian. But, I am about to embark on a new journey, or an old journey, as it were, and return to the land of Israel, to the land of my forefathers, as an olah chadasha. It happens to be that my group flight with Nefesh B’Nefesh on October 7 coincides with the weekly Torah portion of “Lech Lecha.” So, when I attend synagogue (providing I am not sleeping off my jetlag) on my first Shabbat in Israel, I will hear the words spoken to Abraham and truly feel the significance of the call to come to the land, to return home.
Recalling my first visit to Israel as a high school student in 2005, I vividly remember a classmate of mine describing the experience of coming to Israel as follows: Israel is a place we have learned about our entire lives. Coming here for the first time is like going on a blind date, but already being in love. This classmate has no idea how many times I have quoted her on this, so I thank her for the analogy. The truth of these words has been echoed in the sentiments of almost every person I have spoken to after visiting Israel. We have all fallen in love. We love this country with all of its flaws, its triumphs, its passions, its contradictions, its promises, its people, and that special something that no one can really put their finger on, but simply feel being present in the land.
Now, I know it is not all fun and games over there. It is not some wonderland, and living there will not bring the same excitement or emotional experience as a Birthright trip or an NCSY summer program. Not every day will bring a new spiritual awakening. What I do know though, is that it will be a special privilege to live there –a privilege I am willing to work hard to maintain, a life I will work hard to build and develop. What I know is that when, please G-d, I raise a family in Israel, my children will return home from school knowing far more Torah than I know, and their Jewish identity will be built not only through their home life, or their schooling, but in their society. They will celebrate holidays together with their nation, see sukkot built on the balconies of apartment buildings, enjoy the glowing lights of the Chanukiah rather than be inundated with Christmas songs (as catchy as they can be). They will celebrate in Israel’s victories and mourn her losses. They will serve to protect their country, and they will contribute meaningfully to its continued progress.
This past June, I marched up 5th Avenue in New York City as a part of the Israel Day Parade along with thousands of supporters of Israel. I was marching with SAR Academy, a Modern Orthodox Jewish day school located in Riverdale, New York. As we were moving along the parade route, another float pulled in ahead of us. It was the Nefesh B’Nefesh float. There I was, marching in support of Israel with my present life, and fifty feet ahead, my future plans pulled into sight. On that day I felt the significance of the steps I was taking from my present to my future. And, when I board my flight on October 7th to arrive in Israel during the week of “Lech Lecha,” I go knowing that I am going forth from my land, my birthplace and my parents’ house in good company.