Thursday, July 23, 2009

Aliyah Season

It's July and aliyah season is upon us. All around me, people are clearing out the detritus of their American lives, sending lifts, talking about their upcoming flights and where they'll be living, ulpan and schools for their kids. At the same time, hundreds of teens from my community are leaving soon for their year in Israel or for their Shana Bet. Some days, it seems that everyone I know is going to be living in Israel next year.

But not me.

In July of 2002, my husband and I went on a pilot trip together. A year later, as a gesture of shalom bayit (because I wanted to move to Israel and my husband didn't), we bought an apartment. On that trip, we hardly knew anyone in the country. Now, seven years later, as we're about the leave for my 21st trip, it seems we have more friends in Israel than here in America.

Of course, my perspective is a bit skewed. But I definitely inhabit two worlds and belong fully in neither.

One is the world of olim, both chadashim and vatikim. The ones who, season after season, leave Baltimore and start lives in Israel. Friends who, year after year, write beautiful prose about their lives in the Holy Land on their aliyah anniversaries. These are the friends who see what I see. Who don't think I'm crazy for seeing big change coming. Who believe what I believe about where God wants us to live. And some of these are even more strident than I am about getting their friends and family out of America. The ones who see evil intentions in the White House. The ones who quake with fear for the safety of their loved ones in America.

The other is the world of friends and family whose roots are deeply embedded in American soil. The ones who are redoing their kitchens. The ones who might visit Israel this year, but look forward to seeing Hawaii next year and Australia the year after. The ones who tell me I talk about Israel too much. The ones who find things I say offensive and, doggone it, unAmerican.

I love both sets of friends. There are things to value and appreciate about each person in my world. But there is no escaping the reality that it is as if they inhabit different planets. And I can't fully inhabit either.

I recently watched the 2003 film Out of the Ashes, a movie about the life of Dr. Gisella Perl, a Hungarian survivor who wrote the book I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz. The most extraordinary scene plays out as the Nazis have already entered Hungary. There is a heated family discussion. Dr. Perl wants her family to leave for Palestine while the family still has enough money, connections and time to get out of Sighet, Hungary. Her father absolutely refuses to believe that the people of Hungary, that his fellow citizens of Sighet, will allow the Nazis to harm the Jews. As a stern patriarch, he insists that the family stay together in Sighet.

Of all her family, because she was a doctor, only Gisella Perl survived Auschwitz.

Although a film is not real life, the discussion was truthful. It happened in hundreds of thousands of home all across Europe as the Nazi threat spread. To stay or to go?

God-forbid anything like that should ever fall upon the remaining Jews in America! But there are changes in the air and they require vigilance. Minimally. Today, numbers of American olim are measured in the thousands. But how swiftly that could change if, unlike Gisella Perl's historically blind father, tens of thousands would only wake from the poppy field in their pursuit of the Emerald City.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Political Correctness

A few years ago, I bought a book in Jerusalem's Old City. When I got it home, I realized that the book was part of a 2-volume set. I had, unwittingly, bought the first volume and all the chapters I most wanted to read were in the second volume. So I returned to the store, only to find that the second volume was out-of-print.

These past few years, I have tried every means at my disposal to locate a copy of the second volume of this work. I coveted it on the shelves of friends, one of whom told me he bought both volumes at a used book sale for laughably few shekels. I researched every used book site on the Internet. On a subsequent trip to Israel, we even drove to a used bookseller in Beit El who listed the set on his website, but, alas, the book was ultimately unavailable.

Two weeks ago, I got an email that an ex-library copy had been found and was available for $35. Without making a conscious decision, I flew over to the Amazon.com site and, miraculously, the book was now available there. Amazon had a tiny number of copies in stock and they were selling for less money than the used copy. I ordered one right away.

The book is Or Hara'ayon by Rabbi Meir Kahane. In English translation, it is titled The Jewish Idea.

This book sings my song. The Torah in this book speaks right to my soul.

And it cheeses off my friends and neighbors.

Recently, we had a Shabbat meal with religious neighbors. The conversation turned, as it often does, to Israel. Because I had recently begun reading The Jewish Idea, Volume 2, I shared some of the thoughts of Rabbi Kahane as I understood them. Today, I have the benefit of having the text before me, so I can quote him more precisely:

"Eretz Yisrael was given to the Jewish People not as a privilege that they could forgo by saying, 'we do not wish it,' but as a duty that cannot be dispensed with." (p. 553)

"What a Chilul Hashem is this refusal to leave the servitude of exile and enter the Holy Land!" (p. 555)

"For this sin [refusal to ascend to Eretz Yisrael] which recurs in every generation, Israel are still suffering, G-d's wrath is poured out on us, and His hand remains raised high." (p. 557)

"Mitzvat Yishuv Ha'aretz, the mitzvah incumbent upon every Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael and not in the exile," is a, "Divine foundation of supreme importance." (p. 557)

"So terribly has the cursed exile warped our nation, that they not only see no personal duty to leave the exile but they do not at all consider it a punishment! What a perversion that is!" (p. 572)

These are some of the ideas I communicated in our Shabbat table conversation about Israel and aliyah. I also said, "I don't know why, but I know very clearly that Hashem calls me, shouts in my ear, making it absolutely imperative that I come Home as soon as possible. And I am doing everything I can to get my family there."

And my friend said, "That's clear. But that doesn't mean that He doesn't send different messages to other people."

I well understand that the politically correct thing to say would have been, "Of course. You choose your path and I choose mine." In reality, it seems that only one of us can be correct here. Either Hashem truly wants all of us to leave the exile, to stop volitionally living under non-Jewish rule and to move to the Land he set aside for us, or He's fine with each of us deciding as we see fit.

How can it be both?