Following in the Footsteps
I used to wonder why people who made Aliyah felt the need to convince everyone else to do it too.
I get it, you’re so happy with your life choice. It is beautiful- really. Why isn’t that enough validation for you? Why do you need me to come too? Don’t you know people can’t just pick up and turn their lives upside down? How will we make money? It is so nice that you were able to make it work. My kids are too old. I’m just too American. I don’t want my kids to go to the army. משיח isn’t here; we are still in גלות. I don’t believe in the Israeli government. There is no decent Chinese food.
The list can go on forever, and for me it certainly did.
How about you make the decisions that are best for you, and I’ll make the ones that are best for me, and we can all live happily ever after?
And then I made Aliyah.
I was convinced that we would not become those people.
Oddly enough, when we did make Aliyah, my reaction to people expressing interest in Aliyah was far from convincing them to do it. Oh, you want to make Aliyah- are you sure? Not G-d forbid that I wanted to talk them out of it, but rather having been faced with the reality myself, it was important for me to explain to others the constant struggle that is Aliyah. Being an immigrant, even in your ancestral homeland, is a big deal. This reality aside, I can honestly say that my mindset has shifted over the last two years, and if nothing else, this in itself is the proof of my expanding level of maturity and growth.
I fell in love with Israel as an 18 year old. I felt a connection and a purposefulness that I had never experienced before. I started looking at life in America from another perspective and I couldn’t wrap my head around the point of it. And then as they say, I slowly came out of the “clouds” that seminary girls often find themselves floating on, and I (surprisingly) quickly got lost in life in America once more. I still had fond memories of ארץ ישראל, and I didn’t exactly forget what I experienced there, but I was left with only the memories of the memories. I was no longer able to access the feelings of my experiences, to the extent that I could allow myself to be convinced that Israel wasn’t where I needed to be. I got married. We started a family, began raising our kids, bought a house, and became a part of a community. After 9 years or so, we realized that as parents, we wanted our kids to know about ארץ ישראל. We felt a tremendous responsibility to expose them to the alternate reality that exists only there, and if I’m being honest, I wanted to remember it too. With a colossal amount of סייעתא דשמיא, we were blessed with the opportunity to bring this dream to fruition. We brought our kids to celebrate סוכות in the Old City. What transpired was completely unexpected. Being thrust back into the world of higher consciousness, a palpable experience of the עולם הרוחני, and the overwhelming sense of connectedness to עם ישראל and the destiny of the Jewish people, was enough to dissolve a decade of excuses for why we lived in America.
To say our concerns completely disappeared is untrue. They were still there, no longer front and center, but visible enough. Suddenly the questions of what if and when about a future we didn’t have control over anyway, seemed absurd in light of the truth of right now. We never know what the future will bring. Our responsibility is to make the right choices with what we know to be true. We don’t have the luxury of avoiding struggle. We don’t have the luxury of “ideal”. We do have the luxury of being honest.
Our ability to convince ourselves that we are in גלות and can’t live in Israel as long as conditions are not ideal, is a direct function of us being disconnected to what ארץ ישראל truly is and its role and place in our lives. When we are there and we connect with the clarity that is only accessible there, all concerns, all doubts, all notions of having it easier, fade. I’m not saying there isn’t truth to these concerns or doubts, or that a more physically comfortable life is something we should just pass up, but that when we truly allow ourselves to embrace how important living in ארץ ישראל is, everything else seems to pale in comparison.
Most of American Jewry has no sense of what it feels like to live among people who risk their lives so that others can live in the land Hashem promised to us. They cannot relate to the constant מסירת נפש that people in ארץ ישראל are prepared to deal with in order to be here. They cannot comprehend living in a reality where every aspect of daily life is punctuated with Jewish life. They can’t fathom living on a higher level of consciousness at every moment. But worse than all of that, they are judgemental of people who choose to live this way. Sure, they know there is something to ארץ ישראל. They think it is so special that other people make Aliyah, and that those other people are so lucky. (Which is true, even if they don’t actually mean it). They are happy to come to visit on vacation, or to send their post high school kids for the year, but do they yearn for circumstances to be different so that they could be there too? Do they feel an obligation to support life here? Do they feel any responsibility to the soldiers that risk their lives to provide an Israel for them to come visit? For the people who are prepared to create Jewish life here which they directly benefit from all of the time? It is very easy to give Israel a special place in your heart.
To consider it an ultimate goal, one day when everything else is perfect, and to look at life here as not Torah ideal. Do they understand that our level of commitment to living a true Torah life requires us to connect to ארץ ישראל in a personal way? Do they contemplate the tremendous gift that Hashem gave us when He allowed for us to return to ארץ ישראל for the first time in 2000 years? That the people who live here not only get to observe the מצוות התלויות בארץ, but are actively involved with the מצוות to live here and cultivate the land? Can they relate to the idea that you can drive through ארץ ישראל and literally see the words of the נביאים come to life? You don’t need to be a Zionist to admit that we belong in ארץ ישראל, that we have an obligation to develop our country and to protect it. You don’t have to be a Zionist to believe that the future of the Jews is here and that if you want a part in that, you need to put your money where your mouth is.
This is what living in Israel has been for me. These thoughts and feelings are my constant reality. I am consistently overwhelmed with הכרת הטוב to the ריבונו של עולם for the opportunity to be here as part of the greater Jewish nation. To be actively yearning for משיח and showing Hashem that we are ready and that we want it. When this is where your mind is, it is hard to hear about other people’s realities elsewhere. Not only do you struggle to relate, but you feel a profound sense of responsibility to share your reality with them. To give them a chance at being a part of it.
Now I understand.
Being a spokesperson for Aliyah isn’t coming from a need for validation for your life choices; it comes from an enhanced connection to עם ישראל and the sense of responsibility that comes along with כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה.
The world is changing. America is no longer the safe haven it used to be for diaspora Jews. Its time as the center of Torah learning and life is fading. It is time to see these things for what they are and to consider the possibility that the time is now. ארץ ישראל is also changing. It has never been easier to make Aliyah. Israel has come a long way in the last 75 years, and it has much more to offer Americans who are used to certain comforts. Choosing to live in ארץ ישראל doesn’t have to mean rejecting everything that you are used to. Now more than ever, you can find like minded people ready to make a life for themselves here. With their support, you have the power to make the best of both worlds. Aliyah is the hardest thing we have ever done in our entire lives, but the constant appreciation for its value has given us the strength to keep working at it, because we understand that there is simply no alternative. I’ve heard people say that making Aliyah isn’t for everyone. I disagree. It is not like the people who take the plunge don’t struggle. I don’t think anyone thinks that being an immigrant is something that is preferable, but being a part of the Jewish future is, and so to that I say:
Making Aliyah isn’t for anyone. No one is cut out for it, but we do it, because walking in the literal and figurative footsteps of אברהם אבינו is what will ultimately give us access to all of the promises ה’ gave to him.