Time to get off the pot

Editor’s note: This piece was written in response to Sara Hirschhorn’s blog post “If you whine it, it is no dream.”

*     *     *

Ms. Hirschhorn:

I thoroughly enjoyed your comments about the new blog-queen, Ms. Sarah Tuttle-Singer, and her comments about the “Land of spoiled milk and honey” (can honey spoil?). You do a great job of term-dropping, demonstrating your intimate familiarity with all things Israeli — from an academic perspective, of course.

Looks to me that you secretly envy Tuttle-Singer, for a very basic reason: she, against all odds, is making it work here in the Holy Land, while you are parked thousands of miles away, for the time being, amongst the high buildings of the Windy City.

I am — you guessed it — a transplanted American in the land of our foreskins, as my dad has quipped. Which brings me my central point. You hit a raw nerve when you talk about aliyah.

I find it interesting that in English, Hebrew, and probably many other languages, there is a construct called reflexive. (You probably know more about this than I, being from the University of Chicago, known for its classic handbook, “Chicago Manual of Style.”) The idea of a reflexive verb: Though you appear to be talking about someone or something else, you are actually talking about yourself.

Your essay is essentially reflexive — that is, everything you hurl at Ms. T-S — you are really directing at yourself. For, just as you criticize her for writing about that tiresome saga of the American in Israel, you yourself are part of the game — and paying big money to a world-class university a continent away from the center of action.

What you seem to be missing is the difference between Sara A (for America), who is living in the US and writing ABOUT things Jewish and Israeli, for credit — whilst Sarah I is actually living them, more or less in line — with no credit other than a life lived to the fullest, on the noblest principles of truth.

And that, to quote the great American poet Robert Frost, has made all the difference.

Like all of us “Anglos” in Israel, I too have a story. In 1988, I signed up to an English-speaking yeshiva in Gush Etzion to take a six-month dip in the Talmudic ocean, and to learn my way through the siddur so I would stop getting lost during High Holiday services.

It was davka one of my non-Jewish female friends, over beers just before I left, who looked me in the eye and said, “Jay. You’re not coming back.”

“Come on!” I said. “I’m just taking a break for six months to deepen my Jewish identity. I’ll be back in the summer!”

“No.” she insisted. “You’re NOT coming BACK!” (You know, even shiksas are bestowed with extra bina.)

When I arrived at the yeshiva, I was ready to begin intensive studies about Judaism. I soon found out that in a yeshiva, you are expected to actually apply the things you are learning to life itself. In other words, you’re not just learning about it, pal; you’re living it — 24/7.

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between Sara (you) and Sarah (her).

After two months in the yeshiva, I realized that I wasn’t going back. Ever. (Of course, I come occasionally to visit the folks and what not, but I get homesick already for this crazy little country before I get on the flight to Newark.)

And now comes the real question: Is it possible that you, a Jewish person in America in 2012, do not feel the ground trembling under your feet? With the rise of anti-Semitism on university campuses, the fallout from the crash of the “Wall Street Jews,” and especially that brilliant character who “made-off” with all the money, haven’t you noticed that it is no longer as much fun to be a Jew in America?

I have felt this for some time now. My parents and siblings in the States think I am delusional, but only time will tell. In my eyes, there is now only one viable solution for my American brethren — to come on home to Israel. Yes, you’ll learn to love the high-pressure politics, never-ending security issues, the battles between left and right, Ashkenazim and Sephardim (not to mention the Yemenites), and — lest we forget — the religious and non-religious.

I have a secret for you, Geveret Hirschhorn. To paraphrase Mel Brooks, “It’s great to be an American in Israel.” Unlike any other Diaspora group, Americans always get respect when they switch to speaking their mamma loshen — on the phone, in offices, in stores. It’s a great fringe benefit that comes from making aliya from the States!

The absolute cluelessness of the bulk of American Jewry reminds me of my college days. Once, I pursued a recalcitrant girlfriend-to-be who was reluctant to cast her lot with me. Someone gave me some sound advice: “Tell her that she has to either shit or get off the pot!” I placed the choice before her, and it wasn’t long before she “went” quite well. (Lucky I didn’t marry her, though, because I would never have left America.)

I am firm in my belief that the time is fast approaching when American Jews are going to be faced with just such a dilemma. I believe our gentile neighbors are fully equipped, as they have for more than 20 centuries, to assist Jews in making the choice between sitting and shitting. It is best to make that choice while it is relative easy, despite the difficulties, complexities and challenges inherent in living in the Holy Land. You can study until you’re a post-doc, but you won’t really know until you come here for yourself — for good.


About the Author
Yisrael Rosenberg is a former New Englander who made aliyah 30 years ago. He lives with his wife and four children in Jerusalem.