Growing up in Melbourne, Australia a common question and conversation starter that often left me feeling quite perplexed was; “Would you ever make Aliyah?” It surprised me because of the simplicity that was implied and confused me even more so due to the numerous questions that this idea raised. How does one simply pick up, leave their home, their country and everything and everyone they have ever known? Why would I consider doing that? Should I consider doing this?
Without being raised in a Zionist home or school, the idea hardly ever crossed my mind. But as these questions began to permeate my young adult life, I began to formulate a vague understanding of the benefits of living together with my people in our home land as well as our responsibility to do so. Whether one follows the teaching of the Rambam who states; “One should reside in Eretz Yisrael even in a city whose population is mostly non-Jews” or whether we are able to find the messages of each Parashat Hashavua that demonstrate the commandment to live in Israel, it is not always going to have a realistic impact on the decisions one makes in their own lives. I was taught of many mitzvot throughout my schooling of which we learnt to accept as those that simply do not apply to us. For example, the laws of Leket and Shmitah that relate solely to the produce of the Land of Israel. For most of us living in the Melbourne, Jewish community there was nothing really to talk about. We lived here and Israel was a land flowing with milk, honey (and many other kosher products we didn’t have) but was very far away.
In recent times, with the growth of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the globe, the conversation has exploded in the Jewish Media and around Shabbat tables. A major point of discussion is that we should have learnt from the Holocaust, that we should be learning from the events prior to World War 2 and unlike those who waited too long to escape the hands of Nazism, we should leave before the situation worsens. Indeed this is a valid point, as is the one about the Torah’s commandment and so is the logical reasoning that beckons us all to live together in our homeland, a place where we all belong, where our festivals are celebrated as the norm, where Jews don’t stick out like sore thumbs but rather are encouraged to be who they are freely.
Nevertheless, referring to my earlier question, how does one simply pick up and start over? How do we know if it will be a successful move? Many people I know, who had all the right intentions, who followed their hearts towards Eretz Yisrael spent only a short time, 1 or 2 years, and then returned home claiming it was a failure. Nevertheless, there are also many successful Olim, who I admire considerably. So rather than remain fearful, or ignorant of what life would be like for my family we decided to try it out.
Transporting our family of six to the other side of the world was exhilarating but complicated. We settled four children into new schools, where they spoke a foreign language that was barely familiar to most of them. The children learnt to travel on buses while we adjusted to the congestion and tension on the roads. We discovered the frantic energy of every supermarket and the peacefulness that descended upon the city with the arrival of Shabbat. We acclimatised to a routine that involved work, family life, meeting new people and most importantly the discovery of as much of this beautiful and historically fascinating country as we possibly could. We used Fridays and the early finishing time of school on Tuesday to drive across the country to discover where our forefathers walked thousands of years ago. We were fascinated to learn about Ancient Shilo where the Mishkan stood, to participate in archaeological digs, to walk the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, to taste the exotic flavours of the Shuk in Machane Yehuda, to learn about the fight for Eretz Yisrael at Ammunition Hill and the Bullet Factory, to visit the resting place of our Avot and Imahot and so much more.
After only a few months, we felt at home and we felt inspired, but we missed our family back home and acknowledged the sensation that our life had been put on hold. We needed to get back to what we knew and understood to be life. But then the question would arise; couldn’t we just live here? Would it be possible for us to start all over again?
Wherever we went, and from every discussion we noticed that all evidence and logic pointed in one direction. It was glaringly obvious. G-d wants us (well at least some of us) to live here in Israel. But it really is not that easy despite the inspiring lessons we learn from this country and from the Tanach. A recent lecture by a renowned Rabbanit in Jerusalem detailed the message of Purim. She demonstrated how the Jewish people were oblivious to the reconstruction of the Temple taking place in Jerusalem while they remained in Persia, idolising Achashverosh and the secular society of which they had begun to embrace. The story of Purim, she claimed, teaches us the dangers of assimilation. When we become too accustomed and accepting of a foreign society, we forget about the world we are a part of and where our loyalties lie. We shouldn’t have to wait for a new story of Jewish persecution and oppression to play out for us to realise who we are and where we belong.
True, true, true. Yes, this is all valid and relatively persuasive but when it comes to acting upon this logic, again its simply not that easy.
Ultimately, whatever we decide, whatever anyone decides it is important for those who do live in Israel, particularly those who were born here, to understand the enormity and reality of what is involved. It is a process and a journey. No one can be judged for how and if they choose to respond to the question of Aliyah. It’s just not that easy.