Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Do You Love America?

When we were in Israel this past visit, we went to visit Beit El, a religious settlement north of Jerusalem. Beit El also happens to be the home of Israel National Radio. While visiting the Israel National Radio studio, we had the chance to meet Yishai Fleisher, the one-man aliyah motivation machine and one of the major forces behind the potently inspiring Kumah website.

I watched Yishai have a conversation with a 12 year-old girl who was in our group. This particular girl has been living in Israel for about 7 years, having made aliyah with her family from America. Yishai asked her if she liked living in Israel and she responded with a comment about the things in America that she still misses.

I thought Yishai’s response to her was brilliant, and it speaks to the rest of us just as well. He told her that he also loves things about America. And that makes the mitzvah of living in Israel that much more powerful. If you hate everything about America and can’t wait to get out of the place already, that’s one level.

But if you like “fill-in-the-blank” about America (i.e. Broadway shows, Walmart/Target, your community, your job, the ability to speak the language fluently, easy access to English books, your friends and family, etc. etc.) and you move to Israel anyway, it becomes clear that your motive for doing so comes from wanting to serve Gd.

It’s the same principle I learned about keeping kosher. When offered a cheeseburger, don’t say, “No thanks. I don’t care for cheeseburgers.” Rather say, “I would love to eat a cheeseburger, but I refrain because Gd told me they are not appropriate for me.”

So don’t say, “I hate everything about America and I can’t wait to leave.” Rather say, “I love many aspects of my life in America. But Gd has a higher expectation for me and that can only be achieved in Israel.”

Monday, February 11, 2008

Books to Inspire You To Make Aliyah and Bring Geula

My new pet project: promoting English language books that teach about the relationship between aliyah and bringing geula. If lots of local Jewish bookstores established a "Moshiach section" - a selection of titles that inspire Jews to take a long view about the world we live in, perhaps it could help bring Moshiach.

Toward that end, here's an annotated bibliography that I've been working on. There are both "feel-good" books about life in Israel and serious Torah among these selections. Ask for them at a Jewish bookstore near you.

Aliyah Stories

Moving Up: An Aliyah Journal
by Laura Ben-David
Mazo Publishers
Moving Up is an easy-to-read, daily account of a family's first year in Israel, from the packing up of their American house to the birth of their first child in Israel a year later.

To Dwell In The Palace: Perspectives on Eretz Yisroel

by Tzvia Ehrlich-Klein
Feldheim Publishers
A thought-provoking collection of articles, addressed to religious Jews in the West concerning the mitzvah of aliyah. I first read To Dwell in the Palace when it was published in 1991 and I was still firmly enmeshed in my Diaspora Judaism. I've reread it many times since then, and it retains its power to move the soul. Do not miss the section called, "Things My Shaliach Never Told Me."

Aliya: Three Generations of American-Jewish Immigration to Israel

by Liel Leibovitz
St. Martin's Griffin
The 2,000 year-old yearning to live in Israel, as expressed in the social history of one Jewish family.

Home to Stay: One American Family's Chronicle of Miracles and Struggles in Contemporary Israel

by Daniel Gordis
Three Rivers Press
The paperback version of If a Place Can Make You Cry, the story of Daniel Gordis and his family's decision to make aliyah after a sabbatical year spent in Jerusalem.

101 Reasons to Visit Israel: And Perhaps Make Aliyah
by Estie Solomon
A lighthearted list of 101 pleasurable aspects of life in Israel, illustrated by full-color photos.

On Busdrivers, Dreidels and Orange Juice
On Cab Drivers, Shopkeepers and Strangers
On Bus Stops, Bakers, and Beggars
by Tzivia Ehrlich-Klein
Feldheim
Three volumes of brief and inspiring stories of everyday life in Israel.

Aliyah and Eretz Yisrael

Eretz Yisrael in the Parashah: The Centrality of the Land of Israel in the Torah
by Moshe D. Lichtman
Devora Publishing
Why do so many Jews still choose to live in the Diaspora? To answer this question, the author analyzes every reference to Eretz Yisrael in the 54 Torah portions, demonstrates the overriding importance of Eretz Yisrael and encourages Diaspora Jews to at least consider making aliyah.

Talking About Eretz Yisrael: The Profound And Essential Meaning Of Making Aliyah
by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
ShaarNun Productions
This book is a forthright argument meant to encourage Torah-observant Jews to urgently consider making aliyah today.

Eretz Yisrael: The Teachings of HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook (Lights on OROT)
by Rabbi David Samson and Tzvi Fishman
Torat Eretz Yisrael Publications
The rabbinic name most associated with Religious Zionism is HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaCohen Kook, better known as Rav Kook, who lived and taught in pre-State Palestine. This book is an accessible English commentary on Rav Kook's teachings about Eretz Yisrael.

Eim Habanim Semeichah: On Eretz Yisrael, Redemption, and Unity
by Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal
Urim Publications
Rabbi Yisachar Shlomo Teichtal was an Eastern European scholar living during the Holocaust. While hiding from the Nazis in Budapest in 1943, he wrote this lengthy argument on behalf of the establishment of Jewish dominion over Israel, a position that he had previously opposed.

A Question of Redemption: Can the Modern State of Israel be the Beginning of Redemption? Questions and Answers in Halachah
by Rabbi Ya'akov Moshe Bergman
Kol Mevaser
Can the State of Israel really be "The First Flowering of our Redemption"? This book presents the Religious Zionist viewpoint of the State of Israel and the ultimate redemption. I was not able to find this book online. Ask for it in a Jewish bookstore.

Moshiach and Geula

The Ishmaelite Exile
by Yechiel Weitzman
Jerusalem Publications/ Feldheim
This book focuses on Jewish prophecies as they relate to the difficult events facing Israel and the Jewish people in the days closest to geula. The author argues that everything that is playing out in today's headlines about the conflict in the Middle East was predicted by Jewish texts long ago.

Talking About The End of Days: View of Our Times Based on Revealed and Inner Teachings of Torah
by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
ShaarNun Productions
A guide to better understanding the stage of Jewish history in which we find ourselves.

Redemption Unfolding: The Last Exile of Israel, Chevlei Mashiach, the War of Gog & Magog and the Final Redemption
Alexander Aryeh Mandelbaum
Feldheim Publications
This book will help you understand current world events in their larger, Torah context.

Sound the Great Shofar: Essays on the Imminence of the Redemption
by Rabbi Eliyahu Touger
Sichos in English
Based on the public addresses given by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, this book offers answers to many of today's most frequently asked questions on the subject of geula.

Living With Moshiach: An Anthology of Brief Homilies and Insights on the Weekly Torah Readings and the Festivals
by Jacob Immanuel Schochet
Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch
Observations on the redemption by parsha.

On Eagle's Wings: Moshiach, Redemption, And The World To Come
by Rabbi Herschel Brand
Feldheim Publishers
Awaiting the Moshiach is one of the underpinnings of Jewish belief, one of Maimonides's Thirteen Principles of Faith. The author gathers together the teachings of the Sages on this subject in an illuminating and thought-provoking question-and-answer format.

Mashiach
: Who? What? Why? How? Where? and When?

by Chaim Kramer
Moznaim
Based on teachings about Mashiach in the Bible, Talmud, Midrash and Kabbalah, together with insights from the writings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

Do We Know Who We Really Are?

While shopping for food for Shabbat at the mall in Ma’ale Adumim last week, I saw an unmistakable cross-shaped tattoo on the forehead of an Ethiopian woman who was otherwise dressed as an observant Jew. Then I started seeing it on the foreheads of lots of other Ethiopian women.

Apparently, tattooing crosses on the forehead, arm, neck or chest is very common among Ethiopian Christian women. So how did so many Ethiopian Jewish women end up with these same tattoos? Was it religious coercion? A way to hide their Jewish identity? Or some other motivation I’ll likely never understand?

We are all marked, impacted, by the experience of living in exile. For Ethiopian women, the mark is obvious to all who look at their faces. But a tattoo can often be removed.

The situation can be much more dire for North American Jews. The experience of living in exile in Brooklyn or Lakewood or Baltimore very often blinds us to the fact that we are living in, and building up, someone else’s land.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Where Do You Really Live?

DATELINE: Ma’ale Adumim

When Yosef was languishing in prison in Egypt, he began to interpret dreams. In the process of interpreting a dream for Paroh’s cupbearer, he described himself as a member of the Hebrew people. “For I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews” (Bereishit 40:15)." Because of his willingness to identify himself as a proper resident of Eretz Yisrael, he merited to be buried in Israel.

Moshe, on the other hand, did not protest when the daughters of Yisro referred to him as an Egyptian man (Shemot 2:19) and, as a result, he did not merit burial in Israel.

If we consider the matter further, we realize that Yosef was born in Israel, but Moshe actually was Egyptian by birth. It makes sense that Yosef would identify as an Israeli, but why punish Moshe for not doing so when he had never even been in Israel?

On this distinction, Rav Meir Yechiel of Ostrov teaches, "From this we learn that from the time Eretz Yisrael was promised to Avraham, every Jew must see himself as a citizen of Israel."

As Jews, we ought to see ourselves as citizens of Israel, regardless of where we actually live.

Although I can’t find the exact quote, I once read that, when asked where you are from, it is proper for a Jew living outside Israel to respond, “I am from the Land Of Israel but because of my many sins, I find myself living in galut.”

Yesterday, as we were leaving shul, we were engaged in conversation about how long our visit here will be and when we will come back to stay. A casual comment by neighbor totally changed the way I think.

"Don’t say, 'I live in Baltimore and I hope to make aliyah in X years,’ she suggested. "Rather, say, 'I live in Israel, but I am currently on shlichut in America.'"