As my family and I have been preparing for our aliyah this summer, I’ve been trying to soak in the import of this self-imposed upheaval and mine its spiritual underpinnings.
Life’s milestone events call for heightened mindfulness so as to maximize the opportunity for personal growth that a major life change presents. Yet with the maelstrom of planning involved, it’s hard to find time to sit down – let alone to sit down and reflect upon the big questions.
It’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty details, the stress of sorting and packing our belongings, and the fretting about products and conveniences (ah, my beloved Amazon Prime) that will soon be out of reach. Olim have been known to hoard cases of Bounty and Ziploc bags on their lifts, and I, too, am stocking up on many items (Mrs. Dash, bless her heart, is conveniently petite).
But what I really want to do is… let go. Let go of the focus on stuff and comfort – or lack thereof, as I’ve been repeatedly warned to expect – so that our appreciation of our new life will not rise and fall solely on how closely we can replicate what we are used to here in New York.
The ancient call to settle in the Promised Land, much like the call of return a ba’al teshuvah answers, requires leaving some things behind – many of them well-valued – for a higher purpose. “Come back to me now,” goes the rousing Moshav Band song that never fails to fire me up about aliyah when the worries creep in.
Some hard-core Israelis and would-be olim believe there is no life for the Jewish people outside of Israel, period. No future, and a not very meaningful present either. I reject that view. Besides being exceedingly condescending, it dismisses the monumental contributions of great Jewish leaders and communities in the Diaspora to Jewish life and learning from time immemorial to right here and now. For example, the kiruv and kiddush Hashem performed by the ubiquitous Chabad outposts around the globe spread more light than the entire Israeli electrical grid.
In my own community on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, as in cities and towns across the world, there are one-person chesed powerhouses, great talmidei chachamim, vital institutions of learning, worship, and charity, and other living manifestations of the Divine Presence in this world.
Standing at our festive community-wide Lag B’Omer bonfire a couple of months ago – organized by one shul but attended by almost everyone, including searching, unaffiliated Jews – I felt uplifted by the ambience of achdus and Jewish pride, just as I had earlier in the year as I watched members of several different minyanim join together in the street to dance, with notable decorum, on Simchas Torah night.
And yet… With our aliyah plans in the works (though still uncertain) at the time, and the question of “Where will I be this time next year?” on my mind, I found myself contemplating how much richer the celebration of these occasions must be in the Holy Land. Not having to keep our voices down. Freer – like a bird, once captive, now released into its native habitat where it can spread its wings and soar.
When a holiday, or indeed any mitzvah, can be performed closer to the place where the history that gave rise to it unfolded, where God’s covenant with Abraham was sealed, how could that propinquity not infuse the act with even greater meaning?
This is one of the many reasons Jews pick up and go eastward. No matter how vibrant and committed it may be, every community outside Israel is a satellite office to the headquarters of our faith. How elevating it must be to live in the only country where our Jewishness is not just another –ism but the matrix of the entire society! To live among family – the family of Klal Yisrael. To forge a stronger bond with our fellow Jews and with the Almighty than we ever could here.