“I’m sorry but Israel doesn’t think you live in Israel. You really live in America.”
I was incredulous and couldn’t believe the words I was hearing. I had “made Aliyah” and become an Israeli citizen fifteen years ago. I was studying in Kollel and watched my colleagues get called up for reserve duty to serve in Jenin in the aftermath of the Park Hotel Pesach massacre. I couldn’t justify my exemption from army service and signed up to be Israeli and hopefully to be drafted soon afterwards. Yet the army rejected my offer to join (rejection number one).
Two years later we moved back to America but always yearned to return to Israel. After sojourning (think Yaakov in Egypt) for a short-long ten years in America, three years ago – 1,030 days to be exact – we fulfilled our dream again and moved back to Israel. Although I knew the army wouldn’t take me, I wanted to give back to the State. That first summer I wrote to many members of Knesset asking for a five minute meeting to see if I could play a voluntary role helping them out. Only one of my letters was answered (thank you Hilik Bar!) the rest were ignored or answered with a curt rejection. It seems every Knesset member and their staff was too busy to meet with me. (Rejection number two)
While I lived in America I traveled close to thirty times to Israel on what is called a “Teudat Maavar,” a traveler’s permit. Not a passport, this official looking booklet allows Israeli citizens to enter Israel. When I moved back to Israel I thought I’d finally merit an actual Israeli passport. I was disappointed to learn that the official policy was that I was to only receive another Teudat Maavar for my first two years in Israel, after which time it would expire and I could apply for a passport.
That’s how I found myself sitting in the lovely misrad hapnim (Interior Ministry) satellite office in Ma’ale Adumim applying for my first actual Israeli passport – 14 years after becoming an Israeli citizen. More than a bureaucratic step, receiving an Israeli passport was actually very meaningful to me. It represented more than having to renew my travel document every two years instead of the ten a passport allows; I saw my passport as a rite of passage into the great Zionist tradition.
It was painful to be told, “I’m sorry but Israel doesn’t think you live in Israel. You really live in America. You will only receive another Teudat Maavar.” I’m not embarrassed to admit that although normally calm, I got very emotional in front of two of my children while trying to understand why “The State of Israel” represented not by Prime Minister Netanyahu, but by a 9 AM to 2:30 PM bureaucrat was telling me that I didn’t actually live in Israel.
This nice but firm woman told me that she didn’t know why I fabricated my Aliyah, but as far as the State of Israel was concerned I didn’t live in Israel. When I asked her what possible benefit could there be to faking an Aliyah, she told me she didn’t know, but plenty of wealthy Americans bought homes in Israel and continued to live in America. I tried to persuade her that not all Americans were wealthy, I being an example of such an American, but her firmness outweighed my persuasiveness and I left with another Teudat Maavar and still no Israeli passport. Worse, the Jewish state rejected me again (rejection number three).
I’ve had a year to contemplate my numerous rejections and how this state I’ve dedicated so much energy to helping doesn’t seem to accept my efforts and commitment. Rather than reciprocating its rejection, I’ve embraced Israel. Paraphrasing President Kennedy, Israel isn’t here for us, but we are here for her. As Jews it is our responsibility to ensure its success so that it can protect our fellow Jews from the enemies that rise up against us in every generation.
Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai said that there were three great gifts God gave to the Jewish people, but all come with pain and suffering. The land of Israel was one of those gifts. I don’t consider myself to have suffered during my Aliyah, in fact, I think I’ve been living the dream. These small rejections hurt, but they’re part of joining my people in their land. Israel can keep rejecting me; it’ll only make me love it more.