Ziona Greenwald

Grounded For Life

Troubled times in the Diaspora are a trigger for increased aliyah.  So when racial unrest came to a head in the U.S. last spring, talk of aliyah among American Jews hit a high point.  Then the riots cooled off (though not the underlying tensions), and so did the mad dash to get out of Dodge.  In 2020, Americans made up only 10% of new immigrants, and there were 14,000 fewer olim overall than in 2019.

The recent violence in the nation’s capital and burgeoning culture war have some Jews questioning their future in the U.S., but there is no reason to believe that this unease will not again give way to complacency. It’s not that Jews who let their Nefesh b’Nefesh files lapse don’t love Israel, but they don’t love it enough to buy a one-way ticket.

Having made aliyah with my family five-and-a-half years ago, driven not by a calamitous wakeup call but by ingrained idealism, recently I’ve been experiencing a different seesaw phenomenon: a love-hate relationship with the State of Israel which exists alongside a deeply held commitment to the Holy Land.

In responding to the challenges the coronavirus has thrown at the world, Israel, like many countries, has made serious errors. These repeated mistakes have, I believe, caused far greater harm to the country and its citizens than the virus itself.  I have never felt as angry, disappointed, and just plain down on the State as I have these last several months.

Yet I can’t help but marvel at how, in a few short weeks, Israel has managed to lead the world in vaccinations against this virus.  You know we’re doing something right when the anti-Semites are whipped into a jealous frenzy against us.  Israel’s acquisition and swift distribution of the vaccine – America’s example shows that having the doses is not enough – should be a source of pride to all of us.

This does not, however, absolve the government for its ongoing assault on our civil liberties and entrenched reliance on flawed models to squeeze the life out of the economy, the education system, and just about every sector of Israeli society.

Throughout this roller coaster ride (for the record, I hate roller coasters), not for one moment have I regretted my aliyah or questioned my commitment to living here.  And not just because the United States, and my home state of New York in particular, are presently in shambles.  We are here because this is the Jewish homeland, the place where we can simultaneously fulfill G-d’s word and our own destiny as part of the Jewish people.  Neither the decisions of the current prime minister nor the number of times this country goes to elections nor anything else can change that.

Like a romance built on beauty or riches, an aliyah based on Israel’s strengths – of which there are many — will not stand the test of time. Remaining grounded requires ideals as deeply rooted as the trees we are about to celebrate.  Hopefully the coronavirus is having its last hurrah, but there will always be challenges.  Israel (the State) will sometimes fail and disappoint. Israel (the Land) – never.

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald, J.D., a contributing editor for The Jewish Press, is a writer and editor and the author of two children's books, Kalman's Big Questions and Tzippi Inside/Out. She lives with her family in Jerusalem.
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