I made a fool of myself at my wedding. It’s tough to admit, but I was an arrogant 21-year-old, coming off of three years of post-high school study in Israel and had returned to America for my wedding. As is customary, I spoke at my chasan’s tish, and with a return to Israel scheduled for two weeks after my wedding, I lectured people much smarter than me about their need to move to Israel. Thankfully, the speech was recorded on VHS tape and will never be watched again. Six years later I ate crow when I moved back to America for ten years.
Thankfully, I am now “living the dream” in Israel. Six-and-a-half years ago my family and I were able to remake Aliyah and live a wonderful life in Mitzpe Yericho. The Talmud instructs, “A person should always live in Eretz Yisrael.” Even the Rambam, the sole rishon who maintains living in Israel isn’t a mitzvah, quotes that same passage from the Talmud. It is undeniable that it is better for a Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael than outside of Israel.
American Jews who made Aliyah love talking about living in Israel. We’re very proud of ourselves for the sacrifices we made. We gave up the comfortable life we were accustomed to and moved to a land with a very different culture, a foreign language (for the most part) and no Amazon Prime. We know the Jewish future rests in Israel, and we’re excited to play a part in it. Unlike those we left behind in America, we made the tough, but correct choice, and we feel everyone should follow our footsteps.
There is a way we should be encouraging Aliyah. We should talk about the positives of living in Israel. We should talk about the wondrous chagim, when everyone celebrates Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim and Pesach, and not Halloween, Christmas, and Easter. We should talk about the solemn Yom HaZikaron and the festive Yom HaAtzma’ut. We should tell American Jews about living in the place of our ancestors. We can start the morning at the Kotel, take a walk through the shuk, spend the afternoon skiing at the Hermon, and end the day at the beach in Tel Aviv. There is so much to boast about in Israel, and we should exude that excitement.
We should never shame and guilt American Jews about living in chutz la’aretz. There is no prohibition to live outside of Israel. In fact the Rambam wrote, “A person can live wherever they choose except Egypt.” It is wholly unjustified to rebuke someone when they’re doing nothing wrong. It is also counterproductive to guilt people to move to Israel. I don’t know anyone who speaks of making Aliyah out of guilt and shame. Why would anyone want to move to a place where the people are judgmental and obnoxious?
America in 2021 is not Germany in 1938. While anti-Semitism is on the rise, most Jews are safe and haven’t personally experienced anti-Semitism. Judging America as a dangerous place based on news reports is the same error that frustrates so many Israelis when Americans judge Israel to be a dangerous place based on news reports of terror attacks. Israelis are out of touch when they tell Americans they need to move to Israel before it’s too late for them. Americans rightfully ignore Israelis and their warnings.
Aliyah is important, but it isn’t one of the most fundamental mitzvot of the Torah. Listening to some Israelis you get the sense they consider Aliyah the 14th fundamental of Jewish faith. In last week’s Torah portion, we learned of the mitzvah of rebuking a Jew who is acting improperly. Like every mitzvah there are rules about when and how to rebuke. Unfortunately, there are many mitzvot not observed properly today, and many of those mitzvot are more important to correct than Aliyah. I’m fascinated by the psychological phenomenon that leads Americans who made Aliyah to reprimand American Jews for not making Aliyah. If their rebuke was based on Torah values, they’d be talking about other mitzvot before encouraging Aliyah.
The 500,000 American citizens living in Israel should encourage the five million Jews in America to make Aliyah. Living in Israel is a wonderful experience, and every Jew should get to enjoy it. To successfully inspire American Jews to move to Israel our messaging must be positive. We should never shame an American Jew for living in America. By publicizing the beauty of Eretz Yisrael we’ll encourage more Americans to join us – and if we’re successful enough, maybe Jeff Bezos will open Amazon Prime here too.