I have had three homes in my life. My first home was Ukraine: the place of my bones and blood where I was born. The place where my ancestors are buried either from natural death, illness, or antisemitic violence. The place my family fled from thirty years ago this August when antisemitism was once again out of control. The place my heart bleeds for now as the Ukrainian people – led by a Jewish president – fight to maintain their sovereignty and democracy.
My second home is the United States – my physical home. The place my family fled to as Jewish refugees and have lived in for nearly thirty years now. The place where we are sold the “American Dream” which more and more of us are growing disillusioned with by the day. The place where I grew up, broke down, and work on rebuilding myself every day.
And my third home – Israel. The place of my soul and heart. The place where my soul is at ease while mind and heart can sync together in calm serenity. The place where our people came from and where our ancestors have prayed to return to for millennia. The place I dream of and pray for every day.
At some point, you have to ask yourself if your dream will stay just that – a fantasy in your head – or if it will become reality. For most Jews, a part of our hearts resides in Israel. For those of us in the Diaspora, Israel is our safe place; it’s where we know we can go if G-d forbid antisemitism explodes again – a danger we are inching closer and closer to. It’s where we can go when we need to recharge our souls and take in the peace of being surrounded by other Jews from all walks of life. It’s where we go to just feel at home.
And every single time we need to leave, a part of our soul feels as though it will shatter until we can return. But what if we didn’t have to leave? Aliyah has two definitions. The first is to be called up to read from the Torah – our holy book. The second is to immigrate to Israel – our holy land. Regardless of whether you are a religiously observant Jew or not, the pull of Israel is in our Jewish soul, heart, mind, and bones.
Aliyah. The word rolls off the tongue with natural ease. Aliyah. The dream of our ancestors as they endured exile. Aliyah. The return home.
Obviously, it is not easy; only a fool would think moving to and living in Israel is a constant walk in the park on a sunny day. But we’re Jews and we can’t afford to be fools. Life in Israel can be hard. Really hard. Israeli bureaucracy is notoriously inefficient. Call centers are frustratingly unhelpful. Traffic (especially in Tel Aviv) can make you rip your hair out. And the vendor at the shuk trying to hustle you is enough to turn the most ardent Jew into an anti-Zionist. Okay, the last one is obviously meant to be facetious but the point still stands. Not to mention the exorbitant prices, the real possibility you’ll probably never be able to buy your own home, the depressing fact most of the world hates you, and oh yeah, the constant threat of rockets, missiles, bombings, and the random terrorist attack.
And yet, people willingly move to Israel. More than that, they are more than willing (note that I did not say happy) to deal with Israeli bureaucracy and the call centers and sit in traffic (I’m from New York City, traffic doesn’t scare me). They’ll go to the shuk and hustle with the vendors for that overpriced shirt or container of strawberries or bag of pita and bottle of wine. They’ll face the very real and very dangerous threats Israel and Israelis face every day. Why? Because at the end of the day Israel is our home. Our birthright (which is how many of us first experience Israel). Israel is the miracle of our people: an indigenous group returning to its ancestral roots after millennia of pogroms, genocides, expulsions, and dhimmitude. It is the manifestation of everything our ancestors prayed for three times per day.
Israel – a teeny tiny country, just a fraction of what it once was long ago – is a leader in technological and medical advancements, environmental justice, military power, art, cuisine, and culture. In seventy-four years, Israel has proven it can defeat any enemy that comes after it because the Israeli people know what is at stake. Jews know what is at stake. History has taught us what it means to live as a Jew in a world without Israel. Jews in the Diaspora know what it means to live as a Jew outside of Israel. The reason Israelis serve with pride and honor is because Israel is the pride and honor of the Jewish people (and we will be eternally grateful to non-Jewish Israelis who serve and to lone soldiers from all over the world who answer the call within themselves to stand up for Israel).
Israel is not perfect. To claim it’s perfect is naive at best and disingenuous at worst. It’s a work in progress just as most other countries are. But Israel has something most countries do not: a people who know what it is like to not have their own country. A people who treat each other as family. They can fight with one another and scream at each other all they want but at the end of the day, they will stand up and defend their family, cry with their family, celebrate, mourn, and love with their family. When someone comes after one Israeli, they came after every Israeli. And every Israeli comes together for the one.
So, Aliyah or Ali-don’t? Nefesh B’Nefesh, we’ll be talking soon enough. And to my fellow Jews in the Diaspora who ever think about Aliyah: yalla, let’s go.