My good friend Becky just returned from a trip to the United States. She went for her niece’s wedding and to visit an elderly aunt. It was her first trip back to the “Old Country” in seventeen years and despite her ongoing connection with her American family, the culture shock took her by surprise.
“Everything is so big there,” she said. “The stores are humongous; the houses are huge; the highways have so many lanes; the buildings are so tall and there’s no end of places to go and things to do. Even the grass is so green!” (Note: grass tends to get brownish in Israel’s dry summer).
“Well, America is a big country,” I replied with a shrug. “So what else is new? What are our Jewish brethren up to nowadays?”
“You won’t believe it,” she answered. “They’re drowning in things. They have everything. Things they can’t possibly need. Things they don’t even want. Even people on tighter budgets are drowning in stuff. And the kids! No matter what they have, there’s no way you can keep them happy. There’s always something new out there they absolutely must have. There’s no end to it. It’s like a non-stop merry-go-round you can’t get off.”
“Come on,” I replied. “You’re getting a little carried away, aren’t you? We don’t exactly live on bread and water here in Israel either. We buy stuff we don’t need and there’s always something on sale or something new in the stores.”
“There’s no comparison!” she said firmly. “There’s so much of everything there. Every day is Sales Day. You can’t escape buying. They bombard you.”
“Well,” I said philosophically, “if they don’t like being bombarded and surrounded by all that stuff, they can always come here and buy less.”
“No way!” She was emphatic. “You don’t understand. For most people, Eretz Yisrael is in the Chumash and the siddur but it’s not on their List of Things to Do. A special few would pack up and come tomorrow if they could, but for most, Israel is a nice place to visit or send your kids for a year – and to make sure they return! Don’t get me wrong. They care about Israel. They worry when things get noisy here and they wish us well. But they’re perfectly happy where they are and have no intention of picking up and leaving. A visit to the Kotel or Kever Rachel once every few years suffices.
“Besides, why should they come? What can we offer them? They have everything they need – schools, yeshivas, summer camps, institutions, old age homes. They have jobs and family and friends. There are kosher restaurants, Jewish affairs, concerts, dinners, and community functions to enjoy. Those who need them can even get food stamps from the government. Everyone has cars and lots of families have more than one. Even the food-stamp people drive!”
“Sounds great,” I said, laughing. “Don’t advertise it. People here might be tempted to try it!” But Becky wasn’t laughing.
“I haven’t even begun to describe how easy and convenient everything is,” she went on. “Imagine… everything is in English! No Hebrew Ulpan to worry about. And the entire country is customer- and service-oriented! There’s no competing with America for ease and comfort. There is nothing, but absolutely nothing,” she reported with great finality, “that can convince the vast majority of American Jews – not even the religious ones – to make aliyah.”
I shrugged. “So they won’t,” I said. “It’s their loss.”
“Yes, it is,” she agreed. “But it’s our loss too. They’re such great people. They’re frum, warm, caring, involved. Full of Torah and chesed and sharing. They could change the face of Israel in just one election. They could bring Mashiach!”
She finally ran out of words.
In the end, she shortened her trip and came back earlier than planned. When I asked why, she said, “If I had stayed, I would have been there on Tu B’Shevat. Everyone would have been eating figs and dates from California while extolling the virtues of the holy fruits of Eretz Yisrael. I just couldn’t sit there and hear talk about the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael while I was in chutz la’aretz. I just had to come back home and be here!”
And so she came back home … to be here.
So how do we explain what’s so unique, vital, and rewarding about living in Israel? How can one describe the blessings and benefits to be gained from living in the Holy Land?
Everyone knows that Eretz Yisrael is where Jews are supposed to be. They also know that Israel is a modern, advanced country. That jobs and schools and health services and everything else one needs exist in Israel as well as in Boston or Houston or Chicago. (And now that half the world is being produced in China, you can find China in every Israeli store as well as in New York or California.) They see that when one member of a family moves to Israel, chances are others will follow in their trail. Entire clans have relocated here, one after the other, and are now happily at home in the Holy Land.
Everyone adapts. Younger kids are quicker; teens take a bit more time. Eventually, even adults learn the language. It may take a few years, but the vast majority of olim find their place in the Israeli sun, even if they land up with less money in the bank, a smaller apartment, and a larger mortgage. There is a sense of inner peace and spiritual belonging which one finds only here, under the wings of the Shechinah.
A Jew grows and lives differently here. And anyone who really wants to be here, once he or she gets through the initial adjustment, will do fine. Chazal teach us that the ratzon – the underlying will and desire of a person – is what drives, propels, and defines our lives.
All in all, Becky had a great time with her family and was duly impressed with everything and everyone she saw. She wished her American cousins blessings and joy and promised to return their hospitality the next time they visit Israel. And she couldn’t wait to get on the plane and come back home.
While her family and friends are waiting patiently and comfortably for Mashiach to arrive, busy building their lives in the lands of the Exile, Becky and her family and friends are busy building the Jewish future in the God-given Land of the Jews.