One of the most wonderful gifts of being religious is the opportunity to tell the world goodbye for those 25 hours a week. Whatever happens “out there” is beyond the realm of my world. For those amazing 25 hours, my world is shaped not by miles, but by meters. A 20 minute walk just outside my neighborhood marks the most likely boundaries of my Shabbat – a little more, and sometimes a lot less.
Today, I barely made it out of the house – but that was fine. All that I needed for this period of time was here, or close enough to reach if I wanted to.
With the blessing of Havdalah [ceremony that ends the Sabbath], reality and the world returns and whether it is a mad dash for the radio or a slow boot up of the computer, within a short while, I feel the growing need to be informed of what happened beyond my borders. I catch up…and most often, am that much more grateful for having had the time away.
A rabbi was stabbed in the neck in Antwerp. A neo-Nazi party in Dortmund, Germany has demanded a list of the city’s Jews. These are in the news now. While last week, it was reported from Johannesburg that the words “Jews will burn” was painted on an elevator in a mall frequented by many Jews and a Jewish teenager wearing a kippah was attacked in Paris.
Anti-semitic graffiti was found the week before that in Maryland and Massachusetts, Turkey and Argentina. This month alone (which is two weeks), there have been anti-Semitic incidents in Brazil, Germany, Scotland, Norway, France, the United States, Portugal, Russia…and more.
In October, there were incidents in Costa Rica, Russia, Greece, Germany, Egypt, France, Germany, Britain, United States, Norway, Hungary, Netherlands, Uruguay, South Africa, Belgium, Denmark, Argentina, Austria, Spain, Poland, Sweden….and more.
And, as many attacks as there were in October, there were even more in September.
The chilling reality is that anti-Semitism is alive and well, thriving in many countries. It is acceptable and perhaps even healthy to ignore the world for 25 hours here and there, but we cannot continue to pretend that the world is very different than what we know to be the reality and denying it or explaining it away is almost as dangerous as the disease itself. At least that, we should have learned by now.
Each time I hear of another anti-Semitic attack, my answer is the same – come to Israel. Now. And slowly, very slowly, there are those who are coming to the same conclusion. I do not understand attempts to rejuvenate the Jewish communities in Poland, Austria and Germany. Recently, in the news, there have been articles about Israelis relocating to Berlin. This past week when I went shopping, I was handed a flier and at the top, it said, “With prices like these, who needs to move to Berlin.”
Aliyah is not comfortable and easy. Beyond the economic challenges that we do face here, it isn’t simple to uproot yourself, your family. Hard to leave behind those who cannot come now – for whatever reason. I did it at a time when there was no Nefesh b’Nefesh, no safety net below.
I was met at the airport, not by the Prime Minister and several Knesset members, music and cameras, but by a lone woman from AACI who had made the trip and waited for me – basically to say welcome and then direct me to a door where I would be processed. I never learned her name – I was too tired and stressed to ask. I never saw her again to thank her or tell her that two decades later, I still remember her.
I left behind a grandmother I would only see one more time, in-laws who would both be gone within 14 months. My parents still lived in the States then, though the weight of having two out of three of their children and eight out of eleven of their grandchildren eventually brought them to Israel a decade later.
As hard as making the decision and the transition can be, living in Israel can be harder. No, we don’t have the same foods and yes, we drive differently. It will never be cold enough, hot enough, wet enough or dry enough for some. Israel will never be America (thank God), nor will it be Americanized. It will never be Europe (thank God), nor will it ever become European.
We work on Sundays, yes we do, and most of us don’t work on Fridays (thank God). When it rains, it often floods; and when it’s cold, the very stones of your house freeze. We have all of two days of spring and two days of autumn and for many, even the winter isn’t real.
Banks are open when they want to be, more often than when we need them to be open. Post offices change from branch to branch and day to day and you need a calendar to remember when they are open. We don’t have automatic checking out at the supermarkets but you can still get bread that was baked fresh today, vegetables that were just taken from the fields. Yes, our kids call their teachers – and their commanding officers – by their first names and that really doesn’t indicate or incite a lack of respect.
We are unashamedly and proudly unique in who we are and what we are and that isn’t going to change. Yes, the bureaucracy can kill you but so what. It is a most glorious ride, a wonderful life. We are free and even more important, so are our children.
Would you let your five year old walk alone to the store? Would you ask a stranger to watch your two month old while you stepped into the bathroom? When bad news comes over the radio, do you comfort the stranger sitting next to you on the bus, or take comfort from the person sitting next to you on the train?
And while some Palestinians may hate you and want to kill you, the army and security forces of the Jewish State of Israel does all it can to prevent it. Based on sheer percentages and crime rates, what you most likely won’t experience here in Israel is the senseless, mindless murder for a few dollars in your pocket, the violence of crime as it exists in so many countries.
You will not experience the poison of anti-Semitism that is rampant in Europe. Jewish cemeteries in Israel are not abandoned and overgrown, or worse, desecrated.
The answer to anti-Semitism in Europe really and truly is very simple and it has nothing to do with changing the Europeans’ behavior or beliefs. Gone are the days when you had to walk home, when the roads were dangerous or there was famine in the land of Israel. The swamps are gone, the desert all but tamed.
The hardest part of aliyah is that first step – admitting to yourself that you can no longer live where you are; that somehow, someway, your destiny is tied to Israel. From there, it is about packing your bags and getting on the plane.
And yes, you will find that economically in Israel, you are challenged. If you are a doctor, you may not be able to earn the same amount as you are earning now – but your children…oh God, your children will be so much more of what they should be. They will be stronger physically than you ever imagined; they will walk taller and straighter and they will never understand why you would have remained there so long. Your grandchildren will have Jewish…Hebrew names and Hebrew will be their mother tongue. For that alone….
They stabbed a Jew in Antwerp, shot a Jew in Miami. They beat a Jew in Paris and raised the swastika again in Germany. The neo-Nazi party in Dortmund wants to know where the Jews are – and I think we should tell them. Tell them we are here in Israel and we so dare you to try to do something about it, you sniveling cowards!
If I write that you should make aliyah now, there are those who will say that I was lucky and had it easy. I could give you a list of things that happened that were very hard for us. It was never easy but yes, our aliyah was blessed every minute of the way. We too left behind careers and trained for new ones; we left family and prayed they would understand. We came with very little money and worked very hard to get where we are.
Aliyah isn’t about money – it isn’t about possessions. It isn’t about culture or democracy or diplomacy. It is about the essence of who you are and what you want your children to be. If you place having a Jaguar in your driveway in Golder’s Green instead of that, you won’t come to Israel. If you want your kids to get a “good foundation” in English or you are saving up until you have x number of dollars in the bank, you won’t come to Israel.
You can stay where you are – and hope and pray your children and grandchildren will date and marry Jews (and continue to ignore the statistics that tell you otherwise); you can remain where you are – and hope and pray that the next beating, the next bullet or knife doesn’t touch your family; the next swastika isn’t painted on your synagogue.
Or you can get on that plane, ready to do whatever it takes to live here. You might not be able to do accounting anymore; unlikely you can be a lawyer but there are thousands of people who have moved here and opened businesses. They are running organizations, offering their services to the hi-tech industry. We are catering and baking and tutoring and writing.
Some have brought their jobs here with them, others are retraining and learning new things to do in our new home.
Until 20 years pass and you see your children and grandchildren and know with a certainty that eases any last vestiges of doubt…you did the right thing. You came home.
You came home…so your children would never have to struggle as you did. You came home…so your children would never have to leave their parents and grandparents behind. You came home – it is the best answer, the only answer. Come home.