I will never forget a family trip to Washington, DC, when I was almost 8 years old. My parents took me and my 5-year-old sister to see the sights. My favorite cousins were living there at the time and they went with us to see everything. I think I was more excited about being with them than I was about the sights. At one point, we were in the Capitol building and one of my cousins told me that we were about to enter a room that was so beautiful “it will knock your socks off.” Just as we were about to enter, my other cousin told me “hold on to your socks.” Well, we saw that room and I don’t remember much about it except that it was beautiful.
Fast forward 10 years. I had graduated high school and I went to Eretz Yisrael for the first time to spend a year studying there. From the moment I arrived, the beauty of Eretz Yisrael took hold. That beauty goes beyond “knock your socks off.” It gets into your bones and doesn’t let go. And it’s everywhere. From the modern buildings in the city to the quaint old-fashioned places, from the holiness of the Kotel to the ordinariness of classes and notes, from the people I met on campus to the friends and distant relatives I found off campus, you can’t escape it. I didn’t want to escape and even when my year ended, I knew I’d be back.
In June of 2003, I did go back with my husband. We went to Yerushalayim for our cousin’s bar mitzvah. Thanks to my husband, I gained a huge passel of relatives who live in Eretz Yisrael and I had a chance to meet many of them. The beauty of Eretz Yisrael was still there, but now it had an even stronger hold. This was not just because of my new family, but also because of friends who had made aliyah. All we wanted was to join them. But it’s not that simple.
“All Jews belong in Eretz Yisrael.”
“Eretz Yisrael is our homeland.”
“Jews are not safe in Chutz LaAretz.”
I’ve seen many of the above ideas preached on social media. To me, they’re a bit triggering because they remind me that my family and I are not there yet. But I’m not going to argue with them, because I agree with all of them. However, it can go wrong, as with these:
“All those reasons for not making Aliyah are just excuses.”
“I made Aliyah with just $500 and a backpack and if I can do it, so can you.”
“I sold everything I owned and made Aliyah with the clothes on my back. If I can do it, so can you.”
“Live frugally. You don’t need to buy a house or car or take a fancy vacation. Put that money towards Aliyah.”
I’ve also seen those and they do make me angry. When people say these things, they think they’re encouraging Aliyah. But are they? Not to me.
My husband and I have been wanting to make aliyah since before we were married. If we had known then what we know now, we would’ve done it right away. But only hindsight is 20/20. By the time Nefesh B’Nefesh showed up on our radar, we had debts and bills. NBN advised us to save money but that’s easier said than done, especially with yeshiva tuition. And we don’t even own a house or a new car or take fancy vacation trips.
It helps a little to know that we’re not alone. We know other people who want to make aliyah, but who have financial issues that keep them here. We know people who have health issues that would require a lot of accommodations just to travel to Eretz Yisrael. We know people who are healthy themselves but who have parents or other relatives who are in poor health and need care and can’t travel. We know people who have adult children who can’t make aliyah just yet and who don’t want to leave their grandchildren behind. There are plenty of people who want to make aliyah, but who are facing the above difficulties or others.
One answer that we got was to try what I call the “Nachshon ben Amminadav” approach. That is, just start making active plans for aliyah and see where it goes. One friend of ours in Eretz Yisrael pointed out that at least we’ll be one step closer. Another friend in Eretz Yisrael pointed out that we can back out if need be but we should at least start the process. We’re not ruling out this advice. In fact, it’s the best advice we’ve gotten mainly because it comes from a place of understanding. Ironic, yes, but there it is.
One thing I appreciate very much is the understanding that comes from friends and relatives who made aliyah. Most of them get it. They know that making aliyah is difficult even without the financial and/or health difficulties. And they don’t take it for granted. Two different friends said that they feel privileged to have made aliyah successfully. It’s true — successful aliyah is a privilege and a brachah from Hashem and must not be taken for granted.
There are two important messages here. First, to all Olim, please don’t take it for granted that if you can do it, anyone can. That’s not the case. Second, please don’t take your aliyah for granted. I heard of Olim who had difficulties but who kept in mind that “Baruch Hashem, we’re here,” and that gave them the koach to plow through and not give up. Always keep in mind that Hashem gave you a wonderful brachah that many of us do want.
May Hashem bring us all Home very soon.