Todd Berman
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Has the time finally come to come home?

An invitation for all of Israel's American Jewish critics

“If you will it, it is no dream” — Theodor Herzl

“We were like dreamers” — Psalm 126

Recently, it seems to me, Israel has increasingly come under attack by friends and foes alike. In the wake of, among other things, presidential hopeful Bernie Sander’s remarks regarding what he terms the need for Americans to be more fair minded regarding Israel, others have seen fit to offer their own criticisms of my (adopted) country.

One need not turn to the brazen anti-Semitic (euphemistically termed “anti-Zionist”) rantings of many members of the British Labour Party or the outrageous displays by on college campuses by BDS supporters to hear visceral criticism. As if the smug upstart Peter Beinart opened the floodgates, American Jewish leaders, both young and old, have joined the chorus chastising Israel.

Rabbi David Gordis, former head of the American Jewish Committee and all around Jewish macher, offered a scathing mea culpa declaring, “I conclude that in every important way Israel has failed to realize its promise for me. A noble experiment, but a failure.” The dynamic firecracker Rabbi Sharon Brous in the name of the kohanim of old has decried my home in the West Bank as an illness. And another member of the old communal moneyed establishment, Seymour D. Reich, demands that American communal leaders lead the fight against the Israeli government.

In a year where I have worried that my children might get stabbed or run over on their way to school, these attacks from “friends” sound harsh. It hurts to be told you are a failure. It hurts to be told that your home is an abomination. And it hurts to hear that American Jews should lead the charge in attacking Israel. As I sit here and read about the anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and even on US campuses, I wonder what planet I am living on.

So I have a different idea on how to confront several issues head on.

Once upon a time, Political Zionism originated, at least Herzl’s version, from the desire to avoid anti-Semitism. The French, Yemenites, and many European immigrants are still arriving daily for that reason. We are an oasis for Jews in trouble. For two-thousand years, Jews were at the whim and will of local non-Jewish authorities and citizens of the countries in which we lived. In 1948, everything changed. If a Hitler arose today, we would have flights leaving today and beds ready tomorrow for those in need of safety and shelter. And, if need be, a military response to prove, in the immortal words of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, that Jewish blood is not hefker (cheap). Israel, who is often the first responder to any international disaster and crisis, will, with God’s help and the IDF’s speed, bring Jews under her wing. We all know that — and I hope in that way we have not failed.

But as we approach Israel’s 68th birthday, I think it is time for a different aliyah. Not one of fear, but of hope. Despite the rantings of “friends” mentioned above, our state is a wonder, a miracle in every sense of the word. In fewer than 70 years, Israel has grown to almost 8.5 million people. More Jews live in Israel than were killed in the Holocaust. We have first-rate universities, are considered a technological and innovative wonder, and are spearheading a Jewish intellectual renaissance in every sphere from academia to the arts to traditional learning. Despite war and being surrounded by hostile states, we have a vibrant democracy, intellectual discourse, and relatively tolerant society. Hurdles galore still exist (but, remember, by comparison, 85 years after the birth of America, the United States was embroiled in a civil war that resulted in more than 700,000 deaths). Jewish education and college cost a fraction of what similar or inferior ones cost in the US. Housing isn’t cheap — but my home looks out over the path where Abraham walked and is a stones throw from where the Maccabees defeated the Greeks. So, you pay for the view. And did I mention that the holiest city in the world is accessible 24/7.

So I call upon Rabbi Gordis, Rabbi Brous, and Mr. Reich to come home — make aliyah.

Rabbi Gordis, if we have failed you, then join us in making Israel better. Not by grumbling in New York or New England or wherever you live, but by coming here and bringing your vast knowledge and talents to our country.

Rabbi Brous, I know of few more powerful speakers in the liberal rabbinate today. Yours is a moral voice which attracts young, searching souls to Ikar in L.A. Why not do that here. Bring them. Instead of fighting against racism and gun violence in America, bring your talents to Israel and with those talents, bring your followers. As several Orthodox rabbis have done, create your own community or join an existing one and bring your followers on aliyah. Fight for your vision of a better Israel where you actually can have an impact. If we Orthodox control the system, then challenge us through the elections, not speeches posted on the internet. Watch your children serve in the army and then discuss the best way for the army to be moral. Feel what it is like to run and hide your kids from rockets and then we can discuss the future of the Palestinians.

Mr. Reich, you too. Bring your entire family. Fight for your vision of democracy here not in the pages of the Jewish Week.

My friends in America, the time is now. Not out of fear or need, but out of love. Yours would be a true choice. Imagine the impact 100,000 or 1,000,000 American Jews would have. Your talents, your finances, your love of democratic values and freedoms. We have built something wondrous and beautiful — not perfect — here. Just think of what you could gain and what you could give. Stop bitching and start building. I’m looking at the J Street and the AIPAC types. The Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Humanistic, and just plain ole American Jews. You can be a part of the greatest experiment in Jewish history in 2,000 years! That’s huge. Aliyah is not simple and it comes at an emotional and financial price; but the rewards are incredible.

If you will it, it is no dream — but believe me, you will feel like dreamers.

About the Author
Rabbi Berman is the Associate Director at Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. In addition, he has held numerous posts in education from the high school level through adult education. He founded the Jewish Learning Initiative (JLI) at Brandeis University and served as rabbinic advisory to the Orthodox community there for several years. Previously, he was a RaM at Midreshet Lindenbaum where he also served as the Rav of the dormitory.