Sunday, July 27, 2008

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

Over Shabbat, I heard this story. It seems that, a few years ago, parents in a religious community in North America (not Baltimore, although it could have happened there) began to notice that their children were returning from their post-high school year in Israel all fired up about Shana Bet (returning to Israel for a second year of Torah study) and about aliyah. Anxious to put a stop to this behavior, these parents appealed to the administration of the local day school and to the local rabbis.

A community meeting was held where three or four speakers addressed the topic of how parents could deprogram their children. The goal was to get these young people to give up the idea of returning to Israel and "start their lives" by attending the colleges and universities the parents had picked out for them.

If I hadn't heard this from a parent who actually attended the meeting, I wouldn't have believed it. It's scary how profoundly we forget that we are in galus.

How Do You Suppose Gd Feels?

Bumping into people we know from America while strolling around Jerusalem



is kind of a common event around here, so it's no big surprise when it happens. Recently, just such a thing happened and we started talking, asking the usual questions. "What brings you here?" and "How long are you here for?" and, of course, my favorite, most intrusive question to ask people visiting from America is, "So, when are you making aliyah?"

Usually, people respond by talking about how much they wish they could, if only, if only. I'm kind of used to that. But this time, what I heard kind of knocked me for a loop.

"I could never live in Israel. I could never live in an apartment. What can I say? I'm spoiled. I need a house. And the people here are so rude. They bump into you on the sidewalk and don't even say excuse me. And the government! It's so corrupt. I could never live in Israel."

It's not that the person who said all this is the only one who feels this way. Of course, I know that some people, many people, are thinking these thoughts. And I recognize that it's a very, very early, unsophisticated response to the question I posed (some might say to the question with which I assaulted her). To be fair, these are religious American Jews on vacation, not people who have already signed up for their pilot trip, so to some extent, it's an unfair question to ask.

Eight years ago, I might have said something similar. Now, I noticed how much it hurt my heart to hear a religious Jew proffer such a vacuous answer.

And I wondered, how does Hashem feel when even a religious Jew from America so spurns Hashem's gift by clearly not having the least intention of even considering that Israel could be a place to call home?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

While On The Plane

We just arrived in Israel yesterday morning, after 24-hours of relatively stress-free travel, thank Gd. On the plane, I realized that I was feeling some anxiety about coming back to Israel. In America, I so long for this place. But sometimes, memory can cloud reality. I was worried that, when I got here, I would be disappointed because it wouldn't be as meaningful to me to be here in reality as it is in my head, in my heart and in my soul when I am outside the Land.

I make myself laugh.

It's ten times more wonderful here than I remember. And I'm saying that even though pretty much all we did on Day One was unpack, nap (okay, it was for seven hours), grab some pizza and shop for groceries. We spent a few hours later in the day with my brother who lives just up the street. He has grown to a whole other level in his relationship with Hashem since we were here just a few months ago. Even his Hebrew is getting better.

My wonderful, supportive, loving husband stayed up with me until 2 AM watching the Nefesh b'Nefesh video of yesterday's Welcoming Ceremony.



We had friends on that flight but couldn't be there to welcome them because we were landing in Israel ourselves at the same time. Watching the video while tears ran down my cheeks, I felt so proud to be part of this people who come out by the hundreds to clap and cheer and wave flags and welcome their family Home. I mean, who else does that?!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Power of Coming Home

Tamar Weissman and Chanina Rosenbaum from Baltimore made this film as a gift to Noah and Risa Lasson, who are making aliyah next week. It's a 22-minute long love letter about Israel and the power of Coming Home.

If you haven't got time to watch the whole thing, make sure to see the first few minutes and the last part where Chanina is speaking, first to Noah and Risa and then to the rest of us (this part starts 19 minutes in).

May we all merit to have people in our lives who care so much about us and about bringing the family (literally in Tamar's case) Home.

I'd Rather Wallow In It

Last week, I had a lengthy interview in a very, very non-Jewish environment. The position for which I was interviewing is an excellent one, well-suited for my professional skills and education.
Nevertheless, I felt incredibly sad to think that Hashem pulled me from a profoundly Jewish environment to the point where I am interviewing for jobs that are so, so far from the Jewish community.

This job search process has truly been an opportunity to develop emuna. I have no hard feelings towards my previous employer. They treated me as respectfully as possible under the circumstances and I recognize, with my newly developing sense of emuna, that they were shlichim for Hashem's intention that I move on.

Books (my favorite way of enhancing my spiritual growth) that strengthen my emuna muscles are suddenly "appearing" in my life. On my 16th day of unemployment, I have extra time to read and learn and find that the new ideas I am learning interlock.

Hashem runs the world. Hashem has the power to give us everything we need and prayer is the key to unlock Hashem's storehouse. If we pray for the things which we truly desire, Hashem has the capacity to provide them to us. What is withheld from us is withheld in order that we pray and ask Gd, to further demonstrate for us that Hashem runs the world.

Besides learning and strengthening my emuna, I also have time to have lunch with friends. I have a small collection of women friends with whom I can long for Israel. I realized, with some sense of irony, that all of them, all of us, are either ba'alot teshuva or converts. Not sure what that means, but I suspect that it's not coincidental.

The longing for Israel, and for geula, is intensifying as time goes on. As I build emuna, I try to find a way to understand why I have to stay in America for five more years. Obviously, I understand the pshat reason. But what is Gd's reason for keeping me here when so many around me are able to leave?

I sat in front of the computer this week, looking at the pictures Jacob Richman took of the arrival of the most recent aliyah flight, and tears rolled down my cheeks. Why them? Which really means, why not me? Why don't I get to go?

Am I contradicting myself? If I believe (and I really do) that Hashem runs the world and it is His will that I remain in America for now, am I allowed to feel sad that I have to look for yet another job in America? Does my belief that Hashem wants me here for now invalidate my right to cry because I cannot leave yet?

A man with whom I have a long-standing, close relationship told me recently that he deletes all the emails I send him about Israel. He also longs to be in Israel, but his family circumstances prevent him from making that move now. So he deletes my emails because it's too painful for him to face his longing.

Me?

I'd rather wallow in it.

Monday, July 07, 2008

What Yishai Fleisher Said

The Baltimore Chug Aliyah and the Israel Aliyah center sponsored a talk by Yishai Fleisher in Baltimore last night. It's a shame you weren't there, because what Yishai said was so close to my own thinking that it really resonated for me.

He talked about the four real reasons why Americans don't make aliyah: money, family, security and cultural differences. He talked about the two stages of aliyah from America - #1 - detaching from America and #2 - arriving in Israel. He gave people permission to love America while, at the same, understanding that America is not our home.

He talked about Jewish destiny and how it is completely connected to the Land of Israel. He characterized the modern State of Israel as a tool as opposed to an end in itself. . The job of the State is to get Jews to be able to live in Israel by building roads, providing electricity and bringing Jews home through the work of the Jewish Agency.

He also spoke about the fact that Americans who make aliyah should not be so worried about acculturating and "becoming Israeli". The fact that they are living in Israel is good enough and if they want to live among Americans, there is no harm in that. In fact, he said, there are many American ways of doing things that Israel can benefit from, not the least of which is learning how to form a line while waiting for a bus or for service :-)

And, in a brief discussion of demographics, he said something that is so powerful that I am going to try to capture it exactly. "Each Jew who makes aliyah counts twice. To make aliyah means that there is one more Jew in Israel, of course, but it also means that there is one less Jew in the diaspora."

Parshat Chukat 5768

This week, we read Numbers 19:1-22:1, known as Parshat Chukat. Torah portions almost always take their names from the first important word to appear in Hebrew. In Parshat Chukat, the first seven words are formulaic. The word chukat is the ninth word and refers to statutes of the Torah that God is explaining to Moshe (Moses) and Aaron with the goal of having Moshe and Aaron explain these statues to the rest of the Jewish people.

But the major thing for which Parshat Chukat is known is the incident referred to as Mei Merivah – The Waters of Strife, which is told in Numbers 20:2-13. Miriam, the only sister of Moshe and Aaron, has just died in the desert. The miraculous source of water, which was provided in her merit to the Jewish people since the Exodus from Egypt, dried up upon her death. The people demand that Moshe and Aaron provide a new source of water immediately.

In their panic over a lack of water, the people say hurtful, insulting things to Moshe and Aaron. God tells Moshe to gather the Jewish people around a certain rock. God instructs Moshe to speak to the rock in the sight of all of the people and water sufficient for all their needs will begin to flow from the rock. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moshe gathers everyone together and, in a fit of pique, smacks the rock with his rod. Water pours forth and the people and their animals drink their fill.

The punishment comes swiftly. In the very next verse, God informs Moshe and Aaron that they have lost the privilege of leading the people into the Land of Israel. Not only will they not lead the people into Israel, they will not have the privilege of entering the Land of Israel themselves. A natural question is, what did they do that was so wrong? Surely anyone can understand that Moshe smacked the rock out of anger, even righteous indignation.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808-1888) provides us with a way to understand. At this point in the Biblical narrative, the Jewish people are about to enter the Promised Land. Much like today, life in the Promised Land was going to be a challenge. It was going to be much harder than life in the desert had been. God wants to strengthen the people’s faith. Even though their future life in the Land of Israel is filled with challenges, the same God who makes water flow from a rock will be with them, helping them face their uncertain future.

In that single moment of Godly theatre, Moshe was supposed to teach that one who has faith in God can flourish in Israel, despite the apparent challenges. By hitting the rock instead of speaking to it, Moshe lost the opportunity to make this clear to the Jewish people.

Today, when a family announces to friends and loved ones that they are making aliyah, that they are moving to Israel, they are often met with the question, “How can you even think about moving to such a country??” But those who have learned this story know that a good life is possible in Israel exactly because God offers the Jewish people closer, more personal supervision in the Land of Israel than anywhere else in the world.