Sunday was a day in Israel known as Yom HaAliyah. This day occurs twice in Israel. The first is on the 10th of the month of Nissan, the month of Passover. It is to commemorate the Jewish Nation entering the Land of Israel after the Exodus. The second Yom HaAliyah comes to the week where Jews read the section of Bereshit (Genesis) where Hashem (G-d) commands Abraham to leave the land of his birth and emigrate to Israel; Genesis 12:1–17:27.
The name of the parsha (section of the Torah-first five books of Moses) is called Lech Lecha. Literally translated, it means “Go for you!” Hashem was telling Abraham he needed to, “Break the incestuous ties of blood and soil,” paraphrasing a quote from Erich Fromm, in order to accomplish his achievements. Abraham’s realization and action has led to the three major monotheistic religions practiced today by over 57% of the world population include Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Many who contemplate the making Aliyah in modern times are concerned that they will not have the comforts of their current home. I read on Facebook many posts by Jews outside of Israel questioning what they are giving up if they leave today. I highly doubt the fact that there is no Trader Joe’s in Israel is truly the reason why people do not make Aliyah. And if Trader Joe’s Bagel seasonings is the reason, let me assure everyone, there is an abundance of all the ingredients in Israel to make a much tastier home mix!
I have made Aliyah. But as I contemplate the decision that many are considering making Aliyah, I am struck by the contrast of faith that Abraham had in following Hashem’s commandment. Although he would have to trek far by foot, with no easy means of communication to the people he was leaving behind and embarking to a place where it was unknown how he would survive, he went. His faith told him that him this was the right thing to do.
Hashem’s commandment to “Go For You” was not solely given to Abraham. He left a note for future Jews about returning to Israel. In Devarim (Deuteronomy) chapter 5 verses 1-5 Hashem told us:
“And it shall come to pass, when all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt bethink thyself among all the nations, whither the LORD thy God hath driven thee, and shalt return unto the LORD thy God, and hearken to His voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul; that then the LORD thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion upon thee, and will return and gather thee from all the peoples, whither the LORD thy God hath scattered thee. If any of thine that are dispersed be in the uttermost parts of heaven, from thence will the LORD thy God gather thee, and from thence will He fetch thee. And the LORD thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and He will do thee good and multiply thee above thy fathers.”
Today we are not faced with the hardships that our forefather, Abraham faced when he left his place of birth. We can return within a day on an airplane. We can see and talk to the ones we left behind every day on WhatsApp. We can get anything we want on Amazon. I am so bold as to say, anything you need is available in Israel to keep you happy. For as Ben Zoma said, “Who is happy? One who rejoices in his own portion;” Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) Chapter 4 verse 1.
I find the timing of this Yom HaAliyah to be quite important. Coming just a few weeks after the Holiday of Sukkot (Booths) where Jews around the world leave the false security of their homes to dwell and live in a structure that could easily be tipped over with a strong wind, demonstrate their faith in Hashem. Although we believe we have safety and security within the walls of our dwelling, in truth, only Hashem can grant us safety and security. Thus, by leaving those structures we are saying, “There by the grace of G-d go I.”
Jews who live outside of Israel must heed this message of Sukkot. Security for Jews is not a guarantee anywhere in the world. History as demonstrated time and time again that Jews forced out of one area, settling in another, are only safe for a limited period of time. Eventually, safety fades leading to persecution forcing Jews to migrate once again.
One of the weapons many Jews believe at their disposal in the diaspora is assimilation. If we cease to be seen as Jews, then we will be immune from persecution. This view, as history has shown many times, has failed. From the Converso’s in the Spanish Inquisition to the secular assimilated Jews that Hitler marched into the gas chambers, assimilation has never been an effective deterrent or defense.
Security is not guaranteed in Israel. The difference in Israel, as laid out in Theodore Herzl’s vision of a Jewish State, is Jews are no longer in the minority at the whims of the people around them. They can act for their own best self-interest. They can defend themselves and most important of all, they can live their lives the way they want in peace.
There are so many advantages for Jews living in Israel, it would take an entire book for me to begin to list them. Fortunately, there are many books on this and related subjects. The one I find today most important is #IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution by Camil Fuchs and Shmuel Rosner. Professor Camil Fuchs is a leading Israeli statistician and pollster. Shmuel Rosner is a highly acclaimed Israeli columnist, editor and researcher.
The two set off to explore the attitudes and behavior of Jews in Israel. They then compared and contrasted it Jews outside of Israel; especially those in North America. The results were striking. Jews in Israel, regardless of their religious practice and affiliation center their lives around a Jewish Calendar and a Jewish way of living. Theirs is one of family gatherings and meals weekly on Friday evening whether they keep the Sabbath or not. They light bon fires on Lag B’Omer and they stop in the middle of highways and stand silently to remember those who sacrificed their lives as the horn sounds on Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day for those who perished in for the State of Israel) or Yom HaShoah (Memorial Day for those who were lost in the Holocaust). Their religious practice might vary greatly, but their sense of Jewish Identity is strong. And their likelihood to marry and raise a Jewish family is much greater because of their surroundings.
This contrasts with Jews outside of Israel. There they are faced with fitting into two worlds. The first being their surrounding environment and the second being their Jewish heritage. Herman Wouk captured this tension best in his novel Inside Outside. In it he shows the tension between his Jewish and surrounding secular world that starts when one is born. Many Jews, including me are given a name that fits into the surrounding society and in addition given a Jewish name, frequently not the same. Lag B’Omer fades away but Halloween becomes a time to decorate your house, dress up, go to parties, and distribute candies.
Sadly, statistics show, that after 3 generations, the desire to affiliate strongly with Judaism erodes greatly. Lag B’Omer disappears completely and Halloween becomes a precious annual ritual. That which has kept us complete from ancient times fades away.
I understand the decision to make Aliyah is a personal one. And although I believe strongly in the Herzlian view of Zionism, that all Jews should make Aliyah. I say this not from a religious perspective. I believe that Israel is the only place where Jews can be truly safe in this generation and in all future generations exactly because Jews are in the majority.
My wife, however, points out that Aliyah is not for everyone and there are many advantages to having Jews around the world to provide support for Israel. So instead of being the proto-typical Oleh Hadash (new Israeli immigrant) cajoling all to make Aliyah, instead I will leave you with this thought. Will the lives of your children, and their children truly be better where I live today, or can I improve it by emigrating to Israel?
If you do come to the conclusion, as my wife and I, and all our children who independently made Aliyah as young adults, that Israel has a brighter future for you, then I encourage you to begin your journey, For You, and for your future generations. And when you get here, reach out to me and I would be happy to invite you to our Friday night Shabbat table.