We’re making Aliyah! My wife and I are leaving behind our life in New York, three kids, three grandchildren, siblings, parents and countless extended family and friends to move to Israel. The difficulty of the move will be ameliorated by us joining one parent and three siblings long ensconced in Israel plus fourteen nieces and nephews, some of whom have kids as well. We are blessed to have many close friends living there, Sabras and olim. We are both fluent in Hebrew and of course have been to Israel many times, as tourists, students and in my wife’s case as an olah some years back. So we go perhaps with a few advantages over other olim.
Everyone has a story or shall I say every oleh has a story and this one is mine. The sole purpose of this journal is therapeutic, for me. I’ve no intention of producing a feel good story though I’d welcome it turning into one, nor am I trying to write about getting a new start, reinventing myself or any such cliche. This story is still being written and my past, recent or further back is relevant only in the context of how I got here.
My Zionism does not come from a particular movement. I attended some Bnai Akiva events in my youth and belonged to the Beitar movement for a bit during my college days but neither imbued in me my love of Israel, I already had it. My Zionism, my knowledge of Hebrew, my love of the land, my grasp of its history and my cultural attachment to Israel emerged from the vision of a Jerusalemite who came to the United States in the 1930s to teach Hebrew to Jewish Children and ended up inculcating in the most beautiful and meaningful way thousands to speak Hebrew and to love Eretz Yisrael.
Shlomo Shulsinger (Shar-Yashuv) along with his wife Rivka founded Massad Camps (there were three in its heyday) in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains which he loftily described as Eretz Yisrael B’zeir Anpin (זְעֵיר אַנפִּין). Zeir Anpin is a Kabbalistic term in Aramaic which translated means “lesser countenance” but in Shlomo’s literary telling, meant “in miniature.” And it was.
Buildings in Camp Massad had names like Hertzl, Bialik and Senesh. Campuses were called Emek, Sharon, Galil and Yizrael. The lake was the Kinneret. Our heroes were Ben Yehudah, Trumpeldor, Agnon, and Weitzmann (among countless others). We spoke Hebrew while playing baseball and basketball. We wrote ditties for color war and other competitions in Hebrew, lyrics most of us can recite by heart still today. We sang Hebrew Zionist songs from before Israeli independance as well as the latest hits from Yehoram Gaon or Kaveret. Massadniks learned more about the Biluim, Niluim, Migdal V’Choma, the Haganah, ETZ”L, Aliyat Hanoar and the first Zionist Congress in Basel than most Israeli schoolchildren ever did.
Many of those friends I mentioned earlier, who I will be joining in Israel are among the hundreds if not thousands of Massadniks who made Aliyah in no small part because of their summers in Massad. Others of those friends are sabras who came from Israel as staff to camp. Massad closed its doors in 1981 but the close relationships endured.
Thus my Aliyah is not an unlikely one but I am also cognizant that I am moving to Israel in an era when doing so requires less sacrifice than it once did. The Israel I sang about in my Massad days was emergent, Socialist and overly reliant on military alliances like those with America. Wars were existential and luxuries scarce. The Israel I’m moving to is a world power, it’s the startup nation, it has Ben and Jerry’s and H&M. My Aliyah is not romantic, I won’t be roughing it so to speak. I’ll have hot water and heating when it’s cold. I’ll have a phone, Internet and Zoom. My kids will be 6000 miles away but I won’t be waiting for a weekly aerogram as our only form of communication.
Aliyah from North America brings a few thousand people a year. The Jewish Agency is anticipating as many as two hundred and fifty thousand olim over the next five years (including a 91% increase from North America) in what I gather will be known as the Corona Aliyah. My Aliyah is not very unique or surprising.
Aliyah, whose literal translation is “ascent” has been used at least since Talmudic times in reference to ascending to Israel. The Torah teaches us about “Aliyat Regel” which means “pilgrimage to Jerusalem” and the ascent might be literal as Jerusalem is some two thousand feet above sea level. The Talmud in Ketubot discusses how one may compel his family to go up to the land of Israel but not to leave. We call someone “up” (Aliyah) to make the blessings on the Torah. All of this implies a certain spiritual rise. My Aliyah however, is intended towards personal meaning rather than spiritual renewal.
I spent two gap years in Israel after high school and at some point believed that just by being in the land I was fulfilling my obligation to live life as a good Jew. Religion and practice not only were secondary but unnecessary. Circumstances brought me back to America and at some point I found my way back to religious practice. At different stages I found varying levels of spirituality within the framework of my religious lifestyle. The meaning of life for me was about dedicating myself to my marriage, my children, my family and community. But that meaning had a prevalent economic burden that had me focus on career, business and earning enough to maintain it. I’m not knocking it, I’m just stating a fact.
My wife and I have been discussing this move for quite some time. I’ve had reasons for postponing it most notably having a ninety one year old father living in New York. Then Covid hit. Like it did to many, it upended my life and rendered my usual optimism and dreams moot. Life it seems will never be the same and I am facing a complete life reboot. With my father’s blessing and the comfort of knowing he is cared for by a loving wife and has two other children living in the area we accelerated our timetable. Meaning is something completely different now. What that is remains remains to be seen. That too is a story still being written.