Aliyah is a Cult (Classic)

Anyone who knows me (even a little bit) is well aware of my affinity for Facebook.  I love to share pictures, links and videos on a regular (at times hourly) basis.  And I try to keep it interesting, with a good mixture of funny, interesting and religiously inspiring.  But my “staple” has always been news and views about my favorite topic: Israel.

Often, these posts launch lengthy discussions about Israeli policies and Israel-Diaspora relations.  Thus far, everyone involved in these debates have “kept their shirts on” and, as such, learned a little from each other in the process.

But there is an ‘Israel posts’ subcategory that ALWAYS ruffles feathers.  Namely my second favorite subject: Aliyah.

For example, in December, I posted a piece by 5 Towns Jewish Times columnist Shmuel Katz that got quite a few of my American friends downright angry.

The article, entitled The Way He Intended It, was a response to a reader who suggested that Jews living in Israel were at a spiritual disadvantage, that their “Yom Tov celebration was missing something” due to the fact that their chaggim were a full day shorter.  Shmuel countered as follows: “You should perhaps consider that your entire life is missing something. I get to celebrate yom tov the way that Hashem established it.”

While I agree with the sentiment, I knew that many others would not (either the wording, the message or both), and so I braced myself when posting the piece.  I was still wholly unprepared for the response.

Suffice it to say that the responders were not at all interested in a friendly debate.  Among other things, they accused me of being “pretentious” about Aliyah, and chastised me for being so critical of American Jewry.

Just last month, there was a repeat performance when I posted an article from the Cleveland Jewish News by new oleh Cliff Savren.  Many of my Israeli friends thought that his piece, A case for aliyah: personally, nationally rewarding, was “too parve.”  But my American friends felt that Cliff went too far by suggesting that American Jews trade their tourist maps for Israeli passports.

Again, I was accused of being “a hater” and “denigrating Diaspora Jewry and its many accomplishments.”  One responder even explained that while my hometown friends are proud of the choices our family has made, we simply can’t expect such things of everyone else.  After all, she continued, “Israel is not for every Jew.”

And therein lies the problem.  Israel IS for every Jew.  But those who haven’t made the leap from tourist to resident can’t stand talking about it…or even hearing others talk about it.  And, to be fair, those of us who have made the leap do tend to talk about it…A LOT.  It’s a toxic combination that may very well tear our communities apart over time.  But only if we let it.

So, in the spirit of trying to understand each other a little better, I would like to offer an analogy to explain the human, raw emotion side of the oleh (immigrant to Israel) perspective.  I’m hoping that it will play better than delving into “the textual proofs” (again).

(My apologies in advance to those on both sides of the issue should this analogy crash and burn.)

Imagine that you were born and raised in a small town obsessed with a 1960s cult classic film.  The film was written and filmed in your town and, in tribute, the citizens have adopted it as a way of life.  They collect branded memorabilia, dress like the characters on a regular basis and quote lines from the film incessantly.  Though they lead normal, productive lives, the townsfolk expend a great deal of time, money and energy trying to “live like the film” and constantly dream of making the ultimate homage: viewing the film in living Technicolor at the one and only (very overpriced) movie theater in town.  Everyone can (and does) watch the DVD at home, but only a lucky few even have the opportunity to watch the film the way the producer intended it.

And then, one day, it happens.  After many years on the waiting list, you receive word that there are tickets available for you and your family to attend a special midnight screening…IF you can afford the exorbitant prices.  After reviewing your finances, you realize that you can make it work.  Everything is falling into place.  That is, until you reach the theater.

Upon your arrival at the theater, you are asked to wait with the rest of the moviegoers – the lucky few – on the stairs outside the main viewing room.  Just then, the lights go out.  You stand there for hours in the dark, uncomfortable and afraid.  As the time passes (ever so slowly), you wonder if you made the right decision, if this was even worth the trouble.

In a flash, the lights come on and you are ushered towards the concessions.  At this point your family is starving, and you ask for one of everything.  As the cashier rings you up, you realize that your snacks cost more than all of your movie tickets combined.  You have no choice but to spend the last of your savings to feed your family.

Finally, it’s time to enter the screening room.  An usher greets you at the door and asks you to follow him to your seats.  After what appears to be the longest possible route through the screening room, you are seated in the back row…behind a pillar.  A short delay follows and then the lights dim.  The movie begins.  You crane your neck to view the screen from behind the pillar.  As the picture comes into view, you are captivated.

Though the images are so familiar (after all, you have watched the DVD at least 300 times), it is as though you are seeing the film for the very first time.  The colors are so vivid, the musical numbers explode with rich tones and the audience participation brings the theater to life.  For the first time in a long time, you feel alive as well.  There is no doubt that this is the way the producer intended his film to be screened.

The movie ends and you are escorted towards the exits.  As the theater empties out onto the street, the crowd rumbles with excitement, swapping favorite moments, realizing that they were all just part of something special.

The next day, and every day after that, you and your fellow moviegoers recount the experience – the awful beginning and the magical ending – to each other and just about anyone else who will listen.  The experience was so profound, full of so many contrasting and extreme feelings and emotions that you can’t help but think and talk about it all the time.  It shapes your life and refocuses your priorities.

Aliyah is a cult classic.

Being Jewish means having to hear about “the film” ad nauseum, both from those who watch it on DVD as well as those who have actually seen it in the theater.  It doesn’t really matter that “the film” doesn’t interest you, that you can’t afford to see it in the theater or that you can’t seem to find the time to put yourself on the waiting list for tickets.

The fact of the matter is that those of us who spent our savings on tickets and craned our necks to watch the feature just need to be able to talk about the experience.  So, please be patient with us.  Listen to what we have to say.

Who knows, you might even learn something about what the producer intended.

About the Author
Elie Klein (aka "the Donut Guy") is a proud papa and a non-profit public relations specialist living in Bet Shemesh. Prior to "the big move," he served as the North American Director of the Jewish Agency for Israel's Na'ale/Elite Academy Program.