Monday, 3 June 2013

this world and another

Ok ok. There's been a lot going round the blogosphere about the crisis - or, if you are on the other side of the fence, totally fine state of affairs - in the attitude of (particularly US) jews towards making aliyah. To sum up: first Hannah Dreyfus wrote this article about why she's scared to make aliyah. Then Aryeh Younger wrote this article about why he sees no need to make aliyah. Then my friend tagged me to read this article, by Rabbi Rothstein about his angst about not making aliyah and the fact that many of his acquaintances don't want to, either.

Here's my two cents (pence, agorot, whatever) on making aliyah. Since i did, not yet even a year ago.

The main thing i think is wrong with all these people who confess to not wanting to make aliyah, or not wanting enough to make aliyah, is short-term-ism and only thinking about this world. But let me expand on that.

For all the years that i spent in England before we made aliyah, and all the time when i thought we wouldn;t be able to until our children were grown up, i always insisted it wasn;t a question of if. it was a question of when.

we thought it might be 20 years. 20 years is a long time. especially when you are in you early 20s, sometimes 20 years seems like it's not far different to never. But there's an important difference between 20 years and never. the difference is in the desire.

when we left Israel 7 years ago after a year living in jerusalem, and i was distraught at leaving my land, my wonderful rebbetzin, Rebbetzin Altusky, reminded me of rashi's comment on the beginning of parshas vayechi. 'vayechi yaakov b'eretz mitzrayim' - and rashi comments, yaakov really lived a good life there. all of his time in israel had been dogged with worry and stress. in egypt, in exile, he rested and enjoyed a good quality of life. with all his family united around him, and no financial concerns (that's my expansion of rashi). he was happy there, and chazal do not censure him for having been happy there. yaakov in egypt is the model for the 'good exile'; in a way, in many ways, a model for all those jews living happily in american now. she meant for me to not worry, i can live a good life as a good jew in england. as so many do. are.

but the thing that made yaakov different to hannah dreyfus and aryeh younger is that he always knew that he was in exile. he always knew that he was not where he belonged, and so he planned to return to his homeland. he made arrangemetns to be buried in eretz yisrael. he knew it would be tricky, he made his children all swear to return his body to his home. Likewise, my rebbetzin always said 'don't worry, you'll come back. if you want to, you'll come back.'. and every time i spoke to her, after she asked how we are and how the children are, she would ask 'and how are your plans to come to israel, how are they looking?'.

It seems to me that all the jews who are living so happily and comfortably in america, or elsewhere in the diaspora, have forgotten that although yirmiyah tells us to settle down in exile and build homes, we are not meant to forget that it is exile. There is a yearning for our homeland which is what has kept us going as a nation throughout our centuries of exile. Every time that we as a group have forgotten where we belong, something - someone - has come along to remind us.

All of these people who say that they do not see the need to live in israel: they have lost sight of what matters. They have forgotten that we are a nation that dwells apart, forgotten that we have our own land which was crafted by G-d to suit us, forgotten above all that Moshiach will come one day - yes, he will. they are focusing on this world, on their jobs and incomes and achievements for the duration of their lifetimes. not on the lifetime of our nation, which requires us to yearn and to actually move to israel to bring moshiach.

I'm not trying to cast blame at anyone. it took us 7 years to get here, and it might have taken us 20. I'm not castigating anyone who has not made aliyah. there are sometimes good reasons to stay out of israel - sometimes a family really could not support themselves in israel, sometimes people have obligations of care to parents or siblings, sometimes a person is having more impact on the Jewish nation by living in the US or england or wherever. sometimes it is just not the right time. But i do castigate those who don;t want to. everyone should have an intention to make aliyah. everyone should want to come. it might take 20 years, like i thought it would for us, but everyone should acknowledge that this land is where we belong, that this land is the land of our destiny.

I have to admit: making aliyah is scary. let's all acknowledge it. we most of us leave our family, leave our support network, leave a place where we are familiar with the way that things work, and are able to read the small print if we aren;t sure of what is going on, leave our jobs (sometimes), and take a giant leap into the frightening unknown. So i am fine with people who say 'i want to make aliyah, i wish i could, but i am scared. one day i want to get there, but i am scared'. i would take your hand and agree, yes it is scary, yes it is frightening, but you'll come here when you are ready. when the time is right, you will come, because you wish it.


there are two canards which i often hear regarding aliyah, and i want to dispel them. one is that it is too dangerous in israel. well, i would have thought that after the 9/11 world trade centre attacks, US Jews would abandon this claim that living in israel is so dangerous. but it seems not. israel is dangerous. it's dangerous because there are people in the world - a lot of them - who wish us dead. they wish us dead because we are jews. they are showing more and more that they are happy to attack us in every country in the world. what can save us? Hashem. G-d. i promise you, He works in israel (no employment trouble for Him!). do US jews really think that they will be safe in america? i know it's been said before, but i'm saying it again: G-d runs the world.

and that siad, here's the other canard. it's one that i used to subscribe to. it goes like this: if G-d wanted me to make aliyah, He would make it possible. He would send me a job there, He would make my family all learn ivrit, He would smoothe the way for me. it's a lie that we all indulge in in many areas, i think, not just about aliyah. we hide behind hashgachah pratis (divine orchestration of our lives). but there are no open miracles any more. If you pack up your belongings, if you research aliayh, if you investigate employment opportunities and practise ivrit, then you will have created the vessels ready for G-d to pour in His blessings of employment and knowing hebrew and smooth acclimatisation to Israel. Our sages tell us that the way in which a man wishes to go, in that way he will be led. i used to think 'why is it that so many of my friends have merited to live in israel, and i haven;t? why can they, and not me?' until the obvious answer made its way into my brain: it's because they tried. so i tried too.


Next point. my lovely friend Jonathan tagged me in that article (i think) because he claims that there is not enough aliyah education going on in the UK. Rabbis do not talk often enough (or at all) about the importance of aliyah and israel. schools do not teach zionist principles. and this is why more people do not make aliyah.

so i think that you are right and earnest, but i disagree. you don;t need zionism to know that you are meant to live in israel. i didn;t get much of a zionist education. well not really any of a one, what i know about zionism and early modern-israeli history is cobbled together from sem, from reading, from here and there. i don;t think of myself as a zionist (shriek, horror!). i'm a jew. and i live in israel, i want to live in israel, because i learn torah.

If you learn torah, you'll notice that most of the action takes place in israel, if you learn torah, you'll notice that there's a large chunk of mitzvos that can only be done in israel. if you pay attention to the cycle of the jewish year, you'll notice that it was designed to be observed in israel (those of us who have worn gloves in the sukkah will not have failed to notice that one). if you understand what you say when you daven or bensch, you'll notice that we ask several times a day to be returned to our land.

living in israel isn;t a political issue. it's a religious one. never mind the whole settlers, west bank, obstacle-to-peace issue. never mind all this fulfillment-of-our-nationalist-dream. this is our country becuase it's our country, and we belong here because we belong to the land.

most days, in mincha, we repeat the words of david hamelech. He sinned - never mind how - and was faced with a choice of three punishments: he could either lose to his enemies, or suffer a devastating plague, or ... now i've forgotten the third one and am in a hurry to finish up. ok. or something else which i can;t remember. he chose the plague, saying 'better that i be in Your hands, G-d, than in the hands of man', since man might choose to continue his cruelty beyond that which he was decreed to suffer, but G-d would only exact precisely the amount of punishment required.

in israel, we are in the hands of G-d. we know that there are people living all around and amongst us who wish to huirt us. we know that the economy freewheels merrily along the fine line of improbability. we know that finding a job is tricky and having enough money to last out the month is in the realm of a divine miracle.

In the US, people rely on homeland security to keep out terrorists. they have good jobs which they rely on to pay their bills. they rely on the govt to keep them safe. they rely on rich men to bankroll their yeshivahs and are adament that everyone must pay a lot for healthcare.

in the book of devarim, there is a central phrase about how we will look at all our wealth and say 'b'kochi uv'otzem yadi assiti et haosher hazeh'. ie we will think that all our achievement are our achievements, that we from our own abilities created the bounty that we enjoy. but this will be punished with exile. we must remember that it all comes from G-d.

i think that this is the central mistake of all those US jews who do not yearn to make aliyah. they reverse David's sentiments, choosing 'better to be in the hands of man than in the hands of G-d'.
and they prefer to rely on man - themselves and their democratically elected officials - than on G-d.


Last point. Hannah dreyfus' article, as well as being about why she is scared to make aliyah, said that it was too big a sacrifice. let me answer that one briefly. i've given up a lot. i've given up my friends and family just near by, i've given up undesrtanding (more or less) the way things work, i've given up knowing which shops to buy what at. but i don;t think i've sacrificed a thing.

there are only two parallels i can give ot making aliyah: getting married, and having a baby. for both of those things you give up an awful lot. when you get married you give up shopping around, give up flirting with whoever wanders across your path, give up the possibilties that could lie around every corner. but you don;t feel you sacrifice anything, because of all that you gain.

with a baby even more so. like with making aliyah, you plan and prepare, and then the event comes (usually with alot of tears) and you are totally pole-axed. your life turns upside down. a baby even more takes away your social life, your freedom of movement, your ability to sleep well at night, etc etc. but it's worth all that you give up.

and in both cases you might well complain  - quite a bit someitmes. just like with our beloved country, you notice faults in your beloved spouse, and you might point htem out occasionally. someitmes even to other people. but you know that there's no one else you'd rather complain about. and you only complain about him/her becuiase you love them so much. so as a side poin ot htose who complain about olim who complain about israel - it's only becuase we love it so much. we did choose it, after all, and gave up all our other possiblities to live with it with loyalty and love, but we still reserve the right to complain when it leaves the cap off the toothpaste (metaphirically speaking).

So far, the scariest about about making aliyah, was making the decision.

1 comment:

Tell me what you think