Friday, February 23, 2007

On its website right now, the Orthodox Union has the results of a recent poll. The question was, “Have you thought seriously about making aliyah?”

Of nearly 1800 responses, 32% said, “I have plans in the next 2 years.”

Nine percent said, “When my kids finish school.”

Fifteen percent said, “When I retire,” and 25% said, “When Moshiach comes”.

Nineteen percent of the respondents of the Orthodox Union poll, presumably all Orthodox Jews, actually said, “No. Moving to Israel is not for me.” Even when one of the other options was, “When Moshiach comes.”

That’s scary.

Last night, we had a meeting of the Baltimore Chug Aliyah. At the same time, in another part of the synagogue, the annual banquet for a rather right-wing, yeshivish Orthodox synagogue was being held. While waiting in the hallway for a maariv minyan to gather, one of our chug aliyah members overheard the following conversation:

Banquet Guest: "Are all these people making aliyah?"

Chug Aliyah Member: "Yes, they are. Why don't you come join us?"

Banquet Guest: "I will go when Hashem tells me to go."

Silent Chug Aliyah Bystander: I had to walk away biting my tongue. I was thinking, "He did already tell you. It's called the Torah. Do you need an engraved invitation?"

It’s more than plausible to me that one of the reasons why Israel is in such a difficult position, and why the Arabs seem to be gaining ground, is that they have demonstrated over and over that they’re willing to die for Israel.

Most American Jews aren’t even willing to live there.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

In My Mind

A few nights ago, my husband and I went to hear Gail Rosen, a local storyteller, tell the story of Hilda Stern Cohen, a Holocaust survivor. At one point in the story, after the war, when Hilda had resettled in America, Gail relates that, while Hilda was standing at her sink in her American home, she was here, caring for her her family… but part of herself was not here. She was still, mentally, in the camps, in the horror of the Holocaust.

That passage stood out for me in sharp relief. I’m here, going through the motions of my life. But sometimes, I feel that I am not here. Often, I am more in Israel, though only in my head. On most Shabbat mornings, when my husband is busy with his shul responsibilities until 2 PM, I read about Israel. I transcend my physical life here and I live in Israel, in my mind, for those few precious hours each week.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Born in the USA

Gd forbid that I leave the impression that I despise America or am ungrateful for its many kindnesses to my family. America has been a haven of the highest order, shielding my direct family line from the Holocaust and the pogroms that preceded them. In the early 20th century, three of my grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe as young children; the fourth was born here. All eight great-grandparents and all four grandparents, as well as my own father, alehem hashalom, are buried here. My children are fourth-generation Americans.

America has been a critically important chapter in the history of my family. Here I was born and raised. There is nowhere else where I feel completely competent as an adult. Here, I have mastered the nuances of the language. I understand the culture. I know how to get things done.

At the same time, living as a Jew in America is rather like visiting a really nice resort. The facilities are lovely, maybe even nicer than your own house. The staff treats you well. You have a great time whenever you’re there. You look forward to visiting again.

But, ultimately, it’s not home.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Back in the U-S-S-A

The real test of the impact of my time in Israel is how I feel several weeks later, when I have re-embedded myself into the rest of my life. I still find it hard to hold onto the elevated sense of spiritual potential that I experience there after I am back in the media-drenched, conspicuous consumption, narishkeit culture of America.

In a bookstore in the Old City of Jerusalem, I recently came across a volume of Jewish thought by Rabbi Meir Kahane. While some find him too politically incorrect for words, I am drawn to his passionate defense of Jews.

In his book Or Hara'ayon, he speaks of a barely-mentioned consequence of Jews living as minorities in other people’s lands. He says that the purity of Jewish culture becomes tainted by the overwhelming influence of the surrounding culture. In other words, the media-drenched, conspicuous consumption, narishkeit culture of America actually hurts our neshamot.

There are those who argue that one can live as fully a Jewish life in America as one can in Israel. One of many arguments against that point of view is that, of the the 613 mitzvot that Hashem set aside for the Jewish people, nearly half are dependent upon the Land of Israel. That’s clear evidence that Judaism lived in America is, by definition, deficient. It doesn’t make it completely without merit. But it isn’t the fullest expression of Jewish potential.

There is an aliyah-advocacy organization called Kumah. They promote this concept in a humorous message:
Dear America,
Thank you and Shalom.
We have to go Home now.
Your friends,
The Jews

Even when I am doing ordinary things in Israel, like visiting friends or buying fruit, I have a sense of elevation. When I walk the streets in Israel, I tell myself that I am walking in Gd’s Beloved Garden, even when I am walking to the dumpster to toss away our trash.

To feel elevated in Israel, all I have to do is walk outside. This spiritual amplification is simply not available to me outside the Land.