In the months leading up to our aliyah, it seemed as if our decision was public property. Anyone who wanted to felt that they had the right to comment on our upcoming move to Israel.
One woman told us that she had always been a die-hard Zionist and that aliyah was a non-negotiable for her. But now that she has three boys, she realized that as a good mother, there was no way she could move her sons to a place where they would be drafted to the army. I kept my mouth shut and held back the tears. I have four boys.
Many people asked how I could leave the Jewish communal jobs I had in New Jersey to go teach in Israel — a job that was clearly in their eyes something less meaningful and significant and that wouldn’t contribute nearly as much as they thought I was contributing at the time. I told them that while I was flattered, I begged to differ with their assumption. No one can ever know where he or she will make the biggest difference. All we can do as human beings is to try to make the best decisions that we can. And for us, we thought that meant moving our young family to Israel.
And then there was the educator who was visiting from Israel. After exchanging hellos in the hallway of the school where I taught, I was completely caught off guard when the next comment was: “I heard you are making aliyah, throwing American students to the dogs and moving to Israel to steal other people’s jobs.” After the initial shock and sting wore off, I let this person know that there was a great job opening in my current school just waiting to be filled.
Making aliyah is not an easy decision for anyone. It is not easy on many levels. We personally made aliyah because we wanted to mark a turning point in our own family history so that our children would know Israel as something close and familiar and never experience the tension that so many Jews in the Diaspora face. We made aliyah because we realized that the dream was attainable for even ordinary people like us. We could go to work, send them to school, order pizza and live life like typical families everywhere — but live it in Israel. We wanted to raise our children in the place where our Torah and our traditions are an inherent part of the environment. We wanted the history they learn to be Jewish history and the national holidays to be Chanukah and Pesach and Sukkot. We believed strongly in the importance and significance of the State of Israel, and taken to its natural conclusion, we asked ourselves why other people’s children should go to the army to protect it and not ours? Why should other families live here and not us? We, too, wanted to be part of the fulfillment of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy of “v’shavu banim l’gvulam.”
And yet, we are very well aware of all of the factors that enabled us to make a successful aliyah. Our kids were relatively young, our parents were thank G-d healthy, and we had decent jobs waiting for us, siblings who had already made the move, and a community that we were thrilled to be joining.
Which is why I am also very well aware of all the reasons that the decision to come here is complex and multifaceted. Over the past two weeks, many loved ones in the US have reached out to family and friends in Israel to tell them how much they are thinking about them during these very challenging days. It has pained me when I see olim responding cynically to these overtures. “Instead of thinking about us, why don’t you come join us?” “Don’t stay in the stands!” “You can buy your own house and move here too.” “You can never really understand what it is like to be here.” “Thanks for sending your best from your cushy home in America.”
No one ever made aliyah because of some remarks they heard from “Aliya Snobs.” These comments are hurtful and off-putting. They question people’s sincerity, deny them an opportunity to share empathy, make light of the complexity of these life decisions, and certainly don’t inspire anyone to jump on the next plane.
No one likes to be judged. Not for making aliyah. Not for not making aliyah.
I hope that if we judge each other a little less and empathize with each other a little more, perhaps we will merit the ultimate redemption a little quicker.