A different answer to “Are we there yet?”

Rabbi David Kirshner posted an article entitled “Are we There Yet?” I have chosen to respond.

Dear Rabbi Kirshner,

Let me preface my words with the cliché that what I am about to say isn’t (too) personal toward you. On the contrary, I find you articulate and rather upbeat.  I also share a passion for baseball (although I am a committed Orioles fan with all due respect to your Mets).

David (I would prefer to continue on a first name basis sort of Rabbi to Rabbi), you penned a warm, fuzzy piece about the comfort and accomplishments of Jewry in present times. Your benchmark was a Mets game, complete with yarmulke handout and Israel fest during the 7th inning stretch.

To be frank, there is a time in my life in which I might have identified with some of what you said. I recall sitting with my wife at an Oriole game, enjoying a hot dog and beer from the first kosher stand in a major league stadium. Had they handed out a kippa with the “bird”, I too might have felt a swell of pride.

That was 25 years ago and since then I have come to realize that “reaching the goal” and “being there” has a much more profound meaning on a personal, national and religious level.

You mentioned Parshat Devarim and Moshe with the premise that we didn’t “arrive”.

You see David, that even 3,300 years ago Moshe had “made it”. He was a prince in Egypt, married into a wealthy, prominent family (perhaps even more prominent than Joe Biden) and was doing rather well for himself. For that matter the entire Hebrew people at that time had achieved supremacy in Egyptian society. And has history has proven, time and time again, rather than embrace and respect the Jews, the Egyptians became jealous and resentful leading to a plan for  a “final solution”.

Moshe was then chosen by God for one of the greatest tasks in the history of the world, Take the Jews out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

From that point on Moshe became driven to accomplish this goal. To bring the Chosen People into the Chosen Land.

All of the wealth, honor and power meant nothing in the scope of fulfilling Divine Destiny. And yet,with all of that drive, Moshe did not merit then, to bring his precious flock into that precious land. He would have gladly traded all his wealth, prominence and even a limited edition bobblehead of Pharoh, to just plant one foot on the holy soil.

In the 3,300 years since, the Jewish people settled and were exiled from their Land. For generations Jews longed to come home no matter what sacrifice it entailed.

Fast forward 3,300 years. With the miracle of the founding of the State of Israel, the age old prophecies began to come to life. For the first time in over 2,000 years, Jews were not only welcomed, but encouraged to come and settle the Land.

David, that’s when we could begin to say that we “made it”.

While not perfect and certainly not a total fulfillment of Divine prophecy, we are certainly closer than ever to  “being there”.

Eight years ago my family merited to be a part of this historic process. For the first time as a parent, I actually cherished and smiled when, on the plane, my seven year old asked (repeatedly) “are we there yet”?

We have a different perspective of what “making it” means.

“Are we there yet” should relate to a journey. The journey of Jewish history and destiny…not a temporary thermometer of recognition and finding favor in the eyes of the nations.

I find no pride in knowing that Jews have now married into the families of former presidents and current vice presidents. This is not a milestone on the path of Jewish history. It is a severe setback to Jewish continuity.

To me pride comes through events that solidify the connection of our rich past to the present and future of the Jewish people.

Three years ago my son took an oath, upon entering the IDF, to protect not the Czar, the King or even the Iraqi people, but to defend the Jewish people in the Jewish home. At that time he received the 2 things essential to his task..a gun and a Tanach (Bible). We need a combination of both to preserve the physical and spiritual essence of the Jewish nation. For me, that was a moment of true nachat (and not without the concern of any military parent). Some of my ancestors fought foreign armies in foreign lands for the noble cause of peace and freedom for people, with whom they had no connection. My son stood at the front line with a clear knowledge and appreciation that he was helping his brethren to live in their homeland.

About a year and a half ago we were blessed with our first Sabra grandchild. Generations of my family longed to be here and now one of their own was born on this holy soil. Eretz Yisrael will not be a trip, summer experience or post high school status symbol. Eretz Yisrael is her home. My great-grandfather, who died before fulfilling his dream to be here, must be beaming from up above.

David, the Jewish people no longer need kosher stadium dogs, Mets kippot or a White House seder to feel that we are “there”. We have the opportunity to live as Jews in the only true home we have ever known.

History has shown us that the comfort and security of the Diaspora are both fragile and temporary.

The Jews in Spain most certainly had “made it”. The parliaments of pre-war Europe were full of Jewish leaders. Some countries even had Jewish premiers. They too believed that they had made it.  Comforted by the fact that they were “accepted” by the nations in which they lived.

So David, after reading your article about diaspora Jewry, I am not convinced that Jews have “made” it, I am concerned that we are not even heading in the right direction.

Living in our Jewish homeland gives me a different perspective.

Every Chanuka I sit on the floor with my children (and now grandchild) and play dreidel.

The answer to your question, David, is printed on the dreidel that we use here in Israel.

You ask…are we there yet?

Our dreidel has a Pey, not a Shin like those in the Diaspora.

Nes Gadol Haya Po…a great miracle happened HERE, not there

Yes, David, in Israel we are here now and we have made it.

About the Author
Rabbi Avrohom Leventhal, noted educator and speaker, is the Executive Director at Lema'an Achai.