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Laying the Groundwork for our Children

Zakai Berger (right), Ethan Birk (middle), and Noah Merkin (left) at Kotel. (Zakai Berger)
Zakai Berger (right), Ethan Birk (middle), and Noah Merkin (left) at Kotel. (Zakai Berger)

“‘Leaving everything behind’ now, becomes an investment in our future, both for our nation and future families…”

“The lesson from Rabbi Zeira is clear: if we don’t seize the moment now, who knows when our next chance will come?”

“We are the proud generation alive today, the ״חי״ in עם ישראל חי, to honor the sacrifices of those before us.”

It was hard for me to really connect to Yom Hazikaron this year, because honestly, every day since October 7th has been a type of Yom Hazikaron in my head. Every time I saw that another soldier unfortunately made the ultimate sacrifice, I really tried to not just gloss over it, but instead recognize that each loss was an entire world. Another brother, son, father, who left behind people who loved them and a life outside of protecting our country. These people must be remembered every day for their pure desire to protect Am Yisrael. I didn’t feel the “Survivor’s Guilt” that some soldiers experience. Instead, I felt more of a deep responsibility to keep going and do whatever I can to continue what they fought for, whether inside the army or out. When you hear the eulogies and letters written by fallen soldiers, they often express their wishes for others to continue their fight, to stay strong and not cower, in line with the Pasuk we say every day: “They collapse and lie fallen, while we rise and gain strength” (Tehillim 20:9).

The heightened emotions this time of year for me stem significantly from this legacy left by those who came before us. On Yom Hashoah and Yom Hazikaron, we express gratitude and become inspired by the ones who fought for their lives and gave everything for the preservation of our nation. This gratitude allows us to dance and celebrate on Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Yerushalayim. During these days, the adrenaline runs high and our greater, collective purpose of being part of Am Yisrael is finally tangible. These days evoke much greater feelings of both sadness and joy, compassion and excitement, and most importantly an intense feeling of pride for being part of the greatest and most miraculous nation in history, Am Yisrael. It’s these intense emotions that for the first time make Aliyah the obvious choice for many of us, joining that collective purpose as a nation.

Ami Roseman, Kohen, with Red Heifers being raised in Shiloh. (Ami Roseman)

On the other hand, one of the most common hesitations that looms for making Aliyah at a young age is our fear of “leaving everything behind,” particularly our families and the familiar lifestyle we were raised with. Both of these fears are of course legitimate given our upbringing, which often lacked emphasis on sacrificing for our nation as much as it does for Israel. However, if we look at the positive ramifications of Aliyah from a more of an Israeli angle, it reveals a much more compelling picture. “Leaving everything behind” now, becomes an investment in our future, both for our nation and future families — a consideration that often goes unrecognized.

What is unique for young Olim is that their mission goes beyond contributing to the existing nation in Israel. By beginning their journey young, they pave the way for future Olim, setting examples of what works and what doesn’t, and normalizing the idea of moving to Israel in general for potential Olim. Each passing year brings new insights and different paths to success, leading to the improvement and creation of better supportive systems, such as the many programs for lone soldiers that have opened up in just the past few years. Our children will be born and raised in Israel which allows them to integrate from the start, sparing them the difficult transition later in life that many parents experienced themselves, and prevents them from that same difficult decision of leaving their family behind that we deal with now. We are struggling and sacrificing now for our future nation and family, not even just for the nation right now.

A recent interaction I had illustrates well. Before Pesach, I told my friend that I had to have the Seder on the Lebanon border —one of the hardest times to be away from home. He jokingly said, “There’s your next article: ‘If I can do the Pesach Seder in the army, others can at least make Aliyah.’” But I told him it’s actually the opposite. If you can’t handle doing the Pesach Seder in the army, then you can’t make Aliyah. Although it was difficult and inconvenient to be on base for the Pesach Seder, one has to understand that making Aliyah means shifting to a mindset where you put the nation ahead of yourself every day, with the vision of our future nation and family’s safety and well being in mind.

Zakai Berger (right), Ethan Burke (middle), and Noah Merkin (left) at Kotel. (Zakai Berger)

There’s a story told in the Gemara about Rabbi Zeira, who was on his way to move to Israel. When he arrived at the Jordan River, he couldn’t find a boat to carry him across. Undeterred, he grabbed hold of a flimsy rope bridge and made his way over on his own. A Sadducee who witnessed this act of determination heckled him, questioning “Why didn’t you simply wait for a boat?” Rabbi Zeira responded, “Even Moshe and Aaron didn’t merit entering Eretz Yisrael; who says I will?” (Ketubot 112a) He was unwilling to risk any delay, fearing that even a moment’s hesitation might prevent him from reaching the Holy Land. He knew he had to get there, no matter what it took. In our current situation, many of our hearts feel the same urgency to return home. The lesson from Rabbi Zeira is clear: if we don’t seize the moment now, who knows when our next chance will come? We’ve seen flights canceled, Jews denied basic services, and even attacked. As uncertain as things may be in Israel, the uncertainty of being outside is even greater. If we don’t take the initiative now, it will just be our children facing the challenges of making the move, instead of us, and who knows if it will be even harder for them?

While I hope and pray daily that we will see the fruits of our labor in our lifetime and are indeed in the times of Mashiach, it’s also possible that he may come later. Yet, like David Hamelech, we can, at the very least, look back on our own lives that were dedicated to the future of our families and the Jewish people, making ourselves and Hashem proud for what we achieved. David Hamelech was not allowed to build the Beit Hamikdash, but begged Hashem to at least let him lay the foundation, saying “I will not enter my house, nor will I mount my bed, I will not give sleep to my eyes, or slumber to my eyelids, until I find a place for Hashem…” (Tehillim 132:3-5)

Adam Berkowitz and Dovid Weinberger conquering Har Shlomo in Eilat (Dovid Weinberger)

Divrei Hayamim (Divrei Hayamim I 28:11-21) then portrays how David urgently gave Shlomo all the blueprints to build Beit Hamikdash, down to every last detail and material included. He just couldn’t hold back. The Midrash then teaches that “when Hashem saw him standing in distress about the Temple, he immediately sent the prophet Gad to him and… he found there the Mizbeach upon which Adam, Noach and Avraham had offered a sacrifice. As soon as he found it, he began to measure, saying, ‘From here to here is the courtyard, from here to here is the Holy of Holies’…For Hashem does not foil the spirit of the righteous, but rather he gives them whatever they ask for…” (Pesikta Rabbati 43)

Although David didn’t merit to actually build the Beit Hamikdash due to extenuating circumstances, he still earned the honor of it being called the “House of David.” His vigor and restlessness to do as much as he could led Hashem to provide him with opportunities to prepare the future of Am Yisrael, actions that will never be disregarded. So too for us. Even if we do not merit to see the building of the Beit Hamikdash in our days, we still must demonstrate to Hashem how much we desire it. By doing so, like David, He may grant us continuous opportunities to prepare for the future, ensuring that our efforts will always be remembered by our children and future generations.

Along with everyone else in Israel, I always become so excited whenever I hear of someone who wants to stay. For those still undecided, know that you are not only wanted, but needed here, laying the groundwork for the future. Our names will never be forgotten if we continue the legacy of every soldier, Holocaust survivor, and original pioneer and settlers that have gotten us to today. We are the proud generation alive today, the ״חי״ in עם ישראל חי, to honor the sacrifices of those before us. Let us continue what they started, if not for ourselves, then for our future families, our future communities, and the future generations of Am Yisrael.

About the Author
Brian Racer grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey and made Aliyah to Ramat Beit Shemesh in 2020. After learning in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah for a year and a half he drafted to the IDF as a Lone Soldier, serving as a sharpshooter in the Nachal Brigade. Afterwards, he returned to his Yeshiva where he is currently a Madrich for incoming students.
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