Dear fellow Jews in exile,
Time to wake up.
You should’ve been awake already, but more so now than ever.
It’s not a coincidence that I began writing this last Thursday, two days before the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I was writing to my fellow Jews in exile, reminding them not to get too comfortable. Reminding them that no matter how cushy life may be in exile, particularly in places like the United States, Canada, and Australia, we don’t have long. This is what I wrote last Thursday, and what I feel is eerily more applicable now than it was a mere four days ago:
Don’t get too comfortable.
These are the words that have been playing a steady beat in my head, over and over again, the message conveyed by a powerfully symbolic dream I had a few nights ago.
To preface my thoughts, and before I describe the dream, I want to say that I, too, am in exile. I am in Egypt. I am in Babylon. If we’re getting technical, I’m in the United States. But this isn’t just for the Jews in the United States. This is for the Jews in Europe; the Jews in Australia; the Jews in the United Kingdom, South Africa, New Zealand… the list goes on.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: life in exile is pretty comfortable. Generally speaking, we are not facing extreme governmental persecution. Anti-Semitism is around, as it’s always been, but it’s a bit different nowadays. We’re living a pretty nice life in places like the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. It is very easy to be lulled into a false sense of security.
But we know how it goes. We may want to lie to ourselves, but we can’t – not for long. We can do whatever we can to fight against the rising tide of anti-Semitism in far right and far left politics (as we should), but at the end of the day, we’ve read the history books, we’ve talked to our grandparents, relatives, and friends who faced persecution in a very real way. We know where this story of exile goes. If you’re a self-aware Jew living in exile, the trends should be disconcerting. We know what’s happening in Europe – already, so soon after the Holocaust. We know what’s happening in the United Kingdom. We know what’s happening here in the United States, where we have the second largest Jewish population in the world (Israel being the first).
This is not meant as fearmongering; this is a warning. This is a reminder of who we are. No matter how “secular” you might be, you are still Jewish. Throughout history, it has not mattered one whit whether you consider yourself religious or not. In Nazi Germany, one Jewish grandparent was enough. You think you can distance yourself from Judaism? To those who despise Judaism and all that it stands for, you are Jewish, and that’s the end of the matter.
So again, I say to you: don’t get too comfortable in exile. We are God’s people, and whether we know it or not, it is fact. And God’s people belong in the land He designated for us. While the world may be trying to take that from us as well, we know that we will never relinquish the Holy Land. It is our true home. We have no other. These places outside of Israel are not home, they are stops along the way. We are all returning home, whether we do it voluntarily, whether we are dragged there kicking and screaming, or whether we are forced by our current hosts. The Jewish people belong to the Land of Israel, and it belongs to us. We have no true home outside of it, and the more we try to forget that fact, the more God will pressure us to remember.
Listen closely. The clock is ticking. We know, without a doubt, that our time in exile is drawing to a close. It’s not that we should all flee to Israel right away. I do believe unequivocally that the return to our homeland is a necessary and inevitable step in the near future, but that does not mean we shouldn’t stay and fight. So many of us have families here; we have established ourselves, our families, our communities, our businesses. We have planted our roots – and some of us will not budge, I know that. And personally, I don’t blame anyone for it. Despite my ongoing love affair with Israel, one which I pray to God will someday culminate in a lifelong relationship, I know with increasing clarity that it is not my time to go yet. There are many indications and hints that my unique and vital mission, for now, rests here in the United States. Because despite hearing the call to go to Israel, I will be doing a disservice to my people if I do not attempt to guide them home as well. I believe that many of us will ultimately play the role of the captain on a sinking ship: we must get the passengers to safety before we can even think of saving our own skins. And unfortunately, some of us will go down with the ship.
This is not a command for American Jews to flee. I am not using this sickening attack to make a case for aliyah, or to project my views on guns (which are more right-wing anyway), or anything of the sort. No, what I am trying to say to my fellow Jews, whether in America, Europe, South Africa, or anywhere else in the world, is what I started to write last Thursday: don’t get too comfortable – and remember who you are. Sure, we might be established here, but we are not any less Jewish. And believe you me, even if you may try to forget that fact, others won’t, and they certainly won’t let you. In Nazi Germany, they didn’t care if you were eating pork, celebrating Christmas, or raising your children in the Christian faith. If you had a Jewish grandparent, you were Jewish, and that was that.
Don’t get too comfortable. Look at the writing on the wall. Keep your finger on the pulse and be vigilant. This is not the end, but if we read the Tanach, or if we simply read a book on Jewish history, we will see clear patterns emerging. And those patterns aren’t pretty.
This is a call for us to remember who we are. We are Jewish. We are God’s people, and He chose us. He is constantly speaking to us, even when we don’t listen. And He gave us the Land of Israel, where we ultimately belong. The Holy Land, where we know we will be in the days of Mashiach.
Several nights ago, I had a dream. I was on a boat, looking for a place to sit. I couldn’t find a place, but I saw other Jewish people sitting around, quite comfortable. I knew in my mind that at some point, this boat was destined for Israel, but I wasn’t sure where this particular part of the journey would end up. I approached the captain and asked him where we were going, and asked if we were going to the namal, the port (I asked in Hebrew). As he began to speak, it became noisy. It seemed that a combination of the crashing waves and the voices of others around me drowned him out. I remember watching his lips move and trying to understand him, but I couldn’t hear him. I woke up before finding out where this boat would dock.
We all know the final destination: it is Eretz Yisrael, the ingathering of the exiles in our Holy Land, the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash and the complete revelation of Hashem to the world. But for now?
We are on a boat, bobbing in the sea. The storms will come, and waves will toss the boat around mercilessly. We may be at sea for a long, long time. The voice of our captain, Hashem, may, at times, be drowned out by the noise of reality.
But ultimately, we know where we are going. And we can’t get too comfortable.
The destination is still to come.