One of the biggest changes during this year of COVID has been to show us we can Zoom social contacts for which we always thought you had to show up. Weddings, funerals, celebrations of a brit milah, birthday parties, and many more, both joyous and sad, are now Zoomed.
The same is true for communal prayer, educational classes, dramatic and musical performances, and many other activities for which we once had to be there. Now we not only do not have to come, we are not allowed to.
As many have noted, Zooming has brought both losses and unexpected gains. You can join events you never would have made it to, just sent a note and a gift card. For affairs close enough to attend, the advantages of Zooming have been immense: no need to drive, park, or fish for excuses to leave.
You also don’t have to dress up. You can telecast your sweats and living room décor in grainy video, or else present yourself via a handsome, twenty-year-old photo. Better yet, you can appear in front of an amazing array of backgrounds. One gent who Zoomed in to our morning minyan is a New York Knicks fan. Each time his photo flashed by, we all saw a packed Madison Square Garden. Try that in your beit midrash.
The other big advantage of Zoom, of course, is that you can show up as a black square with your name in white letters. You can then take part in whatever you joined while answering email, eating dinner, or bagging material for recycle pickup. In a classroom or concert hall, you can do none of those.
Contemplating all this has given me a novel idea: Zoomaliya! Actual aliya, as observers have long noted, is a complex and costly business. Not only do you have to depart familiar people and surroundings, but you must often take leave of family members. That can be a serious drawback for all but those for whom it is a distinct advantage. It is no surprise that people not actually compelled to make aliya have often found excuses to skip making it.
Zoom has now brought us what we never dared dream of: public participation in private! Aliya turns out to be a logical extension of what we have been doing for a year.
The advantages to the individual Zoomoleh are obvious: no packing, no forms to fill out and notarize, no vital records to apostille, no FBI background checks to update every six months while the Jewish Agency reviews the other documents. (This is a great advantage for criminals.)
But ask not what Zoomaliya can do for you. Ask what Zoomaliya can do for the State of Israel! The answer is clear. Absence has always made the heart grow fonder. In this case, absence is the point.
My wife and I, for instance, are old Americans. Does Israel really need more old Americans? Why? To snarl traffic, clog healthcare resources, or drive up the price of real estate? If you shop for produce at Mahane Yehuda, do you really want to jostle a pair of befuddled Anglos fighting with their mobile translation app and calling out, “Honey, how do you say cucumber?”
You might ask: other than the space they have graciously agreed to not take up, what do Zoomolim have to offer the State of Israel? The answer: what many generations of non-olim have always offered: sympathetic commitment from a safe distance.
For instance, my family will commit to using only Israeli venues as background to all Zoom calls, images from the length and breadth of the land: beaches, hills, wadis in flood, Jerusalem cats, the kotel thronged with celebrants, waterfalls, Tel Aviv gridlock, mosques at Ramadan, museums, demonstrations, Members of Knesset yelling at each other, orange groves, high-rise luxury apartments in Herzliya, ibexes on crags, old-age homes, high-tech startups in garages, military installations, though only at low resolution. The opportunities are endless. We can have our grandchildren – remotely, of course – show us how to do this.
There will of course be details to work out. Taxes, for instance. My suggestion is something simple and easy to administer, say a non-enforceable promise to buy an Israel Bond every few years or to attend Zoom meetings of a Zionist organization and pay dues, or at least pledge to pay them. Those interested can make Zoomaliya while the authorities work on this.
A Zoomoleh cannot of course vote, yet that may not be a great loss. Israelis can vote, yet do not seem to get very far through doing it repeatedly.
To the State of Israel we Zoomolim say – we are with you, Israel! We are with you in the same way we are with our families, with our friends, with our synagogues, with our organizations, with all the people we are profoundly committed to but never have to see. Think of us whenever you find a parking space we might have occupied.
Over the centuries great Jewish minds have pondered the question of how the End of Days will differ from today’s days. I don’t wish to sound immodest – why would I do that? – but might it just be that we are nearing the time when the exiles shall all be ingathered from the four corners of the earth without leaving their living rooms? And why just the earth? I must contact Elon Musk.
To be borne on eagles’ wings has been the promise that kept us going as a people all these years. And what do eagles do when the wind blows beneath their wings?