Archive for the 'Israel' Category

A Funny Thing Happened

Funny story. Make of it what you will.

I was just heading out of the cafeteria from lunch and a man, witting with 2 others, called to me in Hebrew, and asked how I was.

“Fine. How are things by you?”
“Do I know you?”
He grinned and gestured genially. “No, but we’re Israelis!”
I smiled. “Oh, ok. Have a good day.”

And I walked on. The whole exchange was less than a minute long, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the same would’ve happened in the reverse situation – if I had been an American in an Israeli company with a few other Americans sprinkled in.

Under My Skin

Excerpt from my journal:

I’m here on the plane to Israel, about to formally declare myself an Israeli, and it just hasn’t sunk in yet. Something makes me wonder whether it will in any reasonable amount of time, if ever. Perhaps I am going to wake up suddenly in the middle of the night, months from now, and say, “wow, I’m here in Israel. I’m an Israeli citizen living in Israel.” Or maybe I won’t come to the realization abruptly at all; maybe through a series of little pinpricks of experience it will slowly enter my mind or crawl under my skin, the way that cold air seeps through the cracks into old houses in the winter, or like a worn hammock will gradually sap your consciousness from you, until you find yourself dreaming with no clear idea how you got there, but perfectly content to live in the dream for as long as you are permitted.

Leaving On A Jet Plane

Days until departure: 1
No time for too much writing tonight. The time has come to stop counting the lasts (my last visit to NYC before aliyah, my last Shabbos before aliyah, my last time driving before aliyah…)

and time to work on firsts.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Days until departure: 2

I’ll have a better sense of it when I’ve been in Israel for a few weeks, but between my observations when I was there in January and otehr anecdotal evidence, I feel that there was a large number of dati leumi Israelis who have been disillusioned by the Gaza pullout last year. As well they should, because they felt very much betrayed by a government of a country to which they previously felt a deep-rooted loyalty. The widespread wearing of the orange bracelets with the after-the-fact message “לא נשכח ולא נסלח” (“we will not forget and we will not forgive”) points to a terrible feeling of despair and anger. And don’t get me wrong; to the degree I can understand their hurt, I see where they’re coming from, and to the degree that I cannot, I am definitely willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

The question that remains is where this leaves their philosophy, which by some accounts, is in a shambles. Some believed that such a thing simple could not happen, and when it inexplicably did, all Messianic possibilities for (or even religious significance of) the state disappeared. Granted, this may lead to total disillusionment for some, and thereby an abandonment of Religious Zionism altogether. However, I can’t help but wonder whether it will lead to a shift away from the philosophies of ‘Greater Israel’ preached by many of the popular religious leaders, and towards a more moderate (but still dedicated) philosophy, such as one of those preached by R’ Aharon Lichtenstein or R’ Yehuda Amital.

I recall visiting relatives who found out that I went to R’ Aharon’s yeshiva, and immediately dismissed him as a smolani, a leftist. R’ Aharon himself has admitted to being in the peculiar position of being perceived as too Zionist for the American community and not Zionist enough for the Israeli community. This is, of course, unfortunate, as he articulates a clear and firm religious Zionist doctrine, one that can even accept a disengagement when necessary. As for R’ Amital, his (former) association with the left-of-center Meimad party seems to taint him in the eyes of many, even though he also presents a compelling and unique point of view that can withstand an event such as the Gaza pullout. (For an interesting analysis of R’ Amital’s though – whose accuracy I neither vouch for nor deny – look here.)

I happen to know about these two rabbis because I was in their yeshiva. However, I am sure that there are other prominent rabbis who can lead the way in teaching a new model for popular Religious Zionism, some of whom I know of but cannot comment on enough to say much (R’ Yoel Bin-Nun comes to mind), but one thing seems clear: a new philospohy of Religious Zionism must develop if the State of Israel is to retain some of its most dedicated citizens, and if those citizens are to retain their faith – and their hope for a future where we can say “לא נשכח, ונלך הלאה בכל זאת” (“we will not forget, and we will go on nevertheless.”)

Too Much

Days until departure: 3

This is too much. Just too much. I mean, I’ve always wanted to be part of something momentous and grand, but it seems that I’ve gotten my wish in spades. Not only am I making aliyah, and making it during a war that’s turned about 14% of the citizens into refugees and a huge number of reservists into active soldiers. Through a recent article on Arutz Sheva, I also have discovered this about my flight:

On Wednesday, August 16th – the one year anniversary of the forced eviction of the Jews of Gaza – three simultaneous flights will arrive….the planes will depart from Canada, America and England – all arriving simultaneously in the Holy Land.

The August 16, 2006 influx will constitute the largest number of Jews in history making Aliyah to Israel from Western countries in a single day….
Arutz Sheva, Aug 09, 2006, by Ezra HaLevi (emphasis added)

I don’t know. Maybe it’s self-centered or something, and I never thought I’d say this, but it’s just too symbolic – being part of such a historic event (and anniversary) and not really knowing what I did to deserve it, not knowing how to deal with it, and not knowing whether I can live up to the demands implicit in it. I mean, Should I see myself as part of the salvation of the country, however small a part, or is that too grandiose? And if I don’t see myself that way, is it somehow an abandonment of responsibilities inherent in my place in all of this? These are definitely not questions I can answer now, but you can be sure that they are important ones for me to think about in the coming days. I suspect that, like most of the important questions in life, they have no sure answers, but thinking about the questions can have a more profound effect than answering them ever would.


Days until departure: 13
On the application for Nefesh B’Nefesh (the organization helping me move to Israel), it asks you to write a brief essay telling them anything else you want them to know. I didn’t really know exactly what to put in that section. I had already written in an earlier section about why I wanted to move to Israel, so writing an essay about that seemed redundant. So I wrote an essay explaining why I thought I deserved to make aliyah. It was a bit of an odd question, and I crammed a lot of really nice ideas into the one page I wrote. But they weren’t really well-connected; the whole thing kind of jumped from idea to idea. It wasn’t great, but it was good enough. Nevertheless, months later, NBN contacted me to let me know that they want to make a book of essays, and they want to use mine. I was flattered, to say the least, but I reread the original essay, and I thought I could do better. So after putting it off for a week and a half, I finally sat down two nights ago and in less than an hour, I produced something I was proud of, encompassing a lot of ideas from the original, along with stuff that had been percolating for a while. I don’t think it’s prize-winning writing, but I liked writing it, so I hope you enjoy reading it:

Last September, I was talking to a friend, an oleh who had moved temporarily from Israel to America. We were discussing the recent disengagement from Gaza, and how painful it was. Regardless of whether it should or shouldn’t have happened, no matter how I looked at it, it all just made me sad. My reasons for making Aliyah felt, well, insufficient.

Yes, I had reasons. I knew them well, and I believed in them, and I believed hard. They’re classic reasons – fulfillment of a national identity, aspirations of personal and religious growth, and a feeling of attachment to a homeland – but they all fell short. They all felt far too idealistic to talk about in the same breath as the messy, complicated reality. I couldn’t bring up these reasons to my friend. So I just asked, “Remind me again why I’m moving to this country?”
“I don’t know. I look at the news and I’m reminded of why I left,” he replied. I was dumbstruck. I was expecting something uplifting, perhaps a tired sigh as he recalled his first love affair with Israel years ago, or a swell of pride for his time served in the IDF. Not this. I didn’t expect this. I mean, he moved to Israel, didn’t he? But he just felt that it was too painful, too difficult to deal with.

Time went on, and in January, I visited Israel. I was reminded of all of my lofty reasons for my upcoming move, but something still gnawed at the corners of my mind. Several people—taxi drivers and potential employers included—asked me why I was moving, especially now, during such a troubled time. I didn’t answer them. I couldn’t answer them. The words felt wrong coming out of my mouth, because I knew I would sound naïve or childish, listing ideals and high-minded morals. Our generation has been trained to be instinctively skeptical, to look at the world with a cynical eye. Telling these Israelis that I was coming “to be in the Jewish Homeland” or “to fulfill my national destiny” would be almost laughable. So I left Israel, still seeking a clear, rational reason for my upcoming Aliyah, one that I could feel smart and sophisticated explaining at a job interview.

I didn’t find one. Because in the view of the cynic, they’re right to question me. What I’m doing makes no sense. I would, in all likelihood, make more money, be relatively safer, and would still have a viable Jewish community in the United States. But then again, modern-day Israel is a country that simply makes no sense. Despite all the cynicism all around us, deep down, Israel is still swimming against the current and trying to make this crazy experiment called the Jewish State a success. So perhaps it’s a good fit – an irrational decision for an unlikely country.

You see, I finally realized that my original reasons were good enough. Maybe we need to tell the modern skeptics that it can be done. We can dream with both feet on the ground, messy reality and all. And what about the pain, the hurt that drove my friend away? I disagree with his view. Making Aliyah is about embracing Israel as a complicated reality, not just as an ideal. If I am to make Israel my home, it isn’t just for the happy times. Situations can be too painful to deal with, but not this one. If your family is rejoicing, you rejoice with it, and if your family is crying, then—especially then—you cry with them. You comfort them. During good times and bad, you always go home, and find an embrace. Sometimes they’re mourning at home, and sometimes they’re dancing, but you always, always go home. That’s reason enough.