Living and leaving with the upper hand

There are hardships of being Jewish in both Israel and the Diaspora. A gift awaits us at the end, but in only one place.

Why we must ditch the dream of fixing the Diaspora and leave while we’re still ahead.

The rest of the world has valid reasons for hating us Jews. We follow a divine system of morals through the Torah that goes against most of current Western values. We are successful wherever we go, indestructible as a nation and always come out on top. It’s in our name! “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Yisrael, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.” (Bre. 32:29) What incentive is there for them to want us around? Why wouldn’t they want us gone?

This deep-seated grudge has been demonstrated worldwide in correlation with Israel’s operation in Gaza. At the start of the war, my Twitter feed showcased powerful unity among Jews around the world, who came together to pray for Israel and send support for the war and one another. However, the narrative has taken a distressing turn, evolving into a stream of posts expressing fears of being Jewish in America, especially from college campuses.

This deviation sparks two possible reactions. One, as has been thrown around with other Olim with me in reserves, is that even after ten weeks of dodging mortars, rockets and suicide drones on the Lebanon border, America has become completely unsafe for Jews, and we, in fact, are the ones who have “made it out” to safety. On the flip side, it’s possible that while incidents are in fact occurring, they do not significantly disrupt the day-to-day lives of American Jews like we make it out to be, and we’re exaggerating to elicit empathy from the rest of the world.

The only way I can sleep at night is believing it’s the second option. We’ve collectively convinced ourselves that we are victims and must strive to “beat antisemitism” which has evolved to mean pursuing a completely untroubled life in America, enjoying the freedoms that every American deserves, as Jews. Steps towards this ideal involve entering the world of cancel-culture when someone says something we don’t like, lobbying for stricter punishments on criminals, redesigning higher education, or a thousand other ways to “correct” non-Jews’ actions.

However, as we note the unsung part of “Vehi Sheamda” we learn, “But rather in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us,” and we are forced to realize a harsh reality. Not just the past, or even the present, but in the future as well, we will face uprisings and attacks from the other nations. Any solution can only be temporary at best. Therefore, fighting antisemitism just to beat it, means going through hardships for no end purpose, which is the key difference between the battles being fought now in Israel and the Diaspora.

The Gemara (Brachot 5a), teaches that Hashem gave three precious gifts to Bnei Yisrael, and they were given only through hardships, one of those gifts being Eretz Yisrael. What is unique about the hardships in Israel is that there is a national understanding that they are an unavoidable part of pursuing our greater mission. For example, in reserves, everyone has a completely valid reason to not show up, and makes a massive sacrifice to fulfill their duty. Whether they have a family, are enrolled in college, or I, who had wanted to come back to yeshiva and guide Shana Alef students through their first year in Israel, everyone brings their own life story. When I ask people who have many kids at home and jobs how they stay in for so long, they answer so obviously: “אז מי ילחם?”, “So who’s gonna fight?” The hardships in Israel as opposed to the rest of world Jewry are much more accepted, because of the clear greater mission attached to them in Israel.

This isn’t to imply that fighting the hardships is easy. This war has brought awful trauma and tremendous sacrifice to anyone who’s been involved. It’s unfair and no one deserves any of it, but the reality involves clenching our teeth and fighting back, like the mobilization that occurred the day after October 7th. War doesn’t align with my nature. I’ve never liked loud noises, I overthink, I hate formalities and being told what to do. Thanks to Hezbollah, I now flinch at lightning and a motorcycle revving its engine, and can relate to the “No fireworks on Yom Haatzmaut” rule. One time, my whole unit instinctively ducked when a car screeched outside a restaurant.

Yet, I’ve noticed that the more I have given and had to leave my comfort zone, the stronger and deeper my connection with the land and its people have become, and the more I want to give. Hardships lead to giving, and giving sparks a deeper love with the land. Interestingly, the word אהב, love, originates from הב, which means to give – illustrating that love essentially comes from giving. This progression of personal and national hardships, giving, and persevering, ultimately ingrains in each one of us a personal bond with the land.

Since my arrival in Israel in September 2020 for yeshiva, my time has been marked by unforeseen difficulties. I sat through weeks of quarantines and lockdowns, witnessed the Meron tragedy and Guardian of the Walls war, went through the army for a year and a half, and after finally starting to settle down, was called back for war. I’ve moved apartments five times and dozens of times in the army, and haven’t been able to finish becoming an official citizen yet.

However, I, and everyone else in Israel, find enduring strength in the shared understanding that each of us has equivalent or greater hardships in our lives, yet also have not abandoned the pursuit of Judaism and Israel’s greater mission. The mission of providing a safe and purposeful future for our children here, and recognizing the Divine presence of Hashem in our daily lives. Throughout this war, I’ve merited witnessing miracles that prompted my entire base: religious, non religious, commanders and officers, to admit that only the Hand of Hashem could have safeguarded us, living through the prophecy of “Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.” (Zec 4:6)

A crucial choice lies before us Jews still in the Diaspora. And that choice is where we want to navigate through our hardships. We can give and invest our efforts and resources in the Diaspora, and keep sweeping the problems of living with people who hate us under the rug. In this, chase the dead-end dream of living free from oppression in the diaspora, leaving out the bigger mission of Judaism. Or, we can shift our efforts to the daunting task of learning the job and housing market, language, communities, and every intimidating task of moving to a new country. Waiting for the perfect moment to make Aliyah, and expecting the solution to every last detail to fall into our lap, disregards the reality of how Hashem granted us Eretz Yisrael, and doesn’t allow for Hashem to be there for us. As long as we go through the challenges with the mindset that they are from Hashem and are the conditions for acquiring Israel, we will each attain a deeper, more personal connection with the land and the people weathering the hardships there right now.

There are challenges of being a citizen and challenges to becoming one, and doing both at the same time is sometimes extremely overwhelming. As an Oleh, it’s never having a document work the first time, spending entire days trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment, and giving up the convenience of American products. And as a citizen, it’s arguing with your platoon who had a mortar hit closest to them, sending your kid off to fight in Gaza, and never knowing what’s coming next. There’s a cynical phrase in the army that goes “don’t expect anything and still get disappointed.” But there’s also one that goes “We got through it there, and we’ll also get through this.” Because we know at the end we will come out on top.

We can theoretically persevere through the hardships and “fix” America. We speak really well, have unarguable facts and logic, and have each other’s backs. But, that limits us to the generosity of non-Jews and neglects the hardships and sacrifices of all the soldiers and families in Israel, fighting for our divine gift of a limitless future for all of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael. We must all go through this together, on a personal and national level, to receive the gift of Israel in its truest form.

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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