During my career as both a pulpit rabbi as well as a principal of a day school, I visited Israel many times. I led numerous tours and personally visited Israel to celebrate the bar mitzvahs and weddings of my children and my grandchildren.
Each time I visited I was filled with the passion and the desire to live in this beautiful land – the miracle of our generation – and to breathe in the air of our beautiful country, Eretz Yisrael. Each time I departed, my heart was filled with sadness and melancholy for I knew that this is the place for the Jew and this is the homeland of our people. Eventually, five of my children would come to live in Israel; I visit them, but not as often as I’d like.
There is no comparison between visiting Eretz Yisrael and actually making the commitment to live there. Psychologically and physically there is a huge difference.
When one visits Israel, one maintains his/her connection with his/her community outside of Israel. Your name and reputation is known in your community, and your contribution to the particular community that you reside in is known and appreciated.
When you come to Israel to live, however, your life starts anew. To a great extent you are existentially alone. Though you have friends and acquaintances in Israel when you are visiting, you can’t help being challenged: How can I contribute to this great society that we call Israel? How can I help – at least in a small way – to the growth of these remarkable people.
So now my wife and I have moved to Israel.
I have to admit that if not for the help and encouragement of the Nefesh B’Nefesh organization, our plight in making aliyah would have been substantially more difficult. They are there for those who wish to move to Israel in every way, from the very beginning, when you are preparing your papers, to when you step off the plane and arrive to an emotional welcome (which I shall never forget), and to their clear and encouraging way in guiding you through the various offices and documents that need to be signed and executed.
Thank G-d, when Americans arrive in Israel they are coming because they want to be in the holy land. They are not being forced out of their land – they are comfortable where they are – yet they make the supreme sacrifice of making aliyah, packing all their belongings, selling many of their possessions, because they want to, because they know that living in Israel is obligatory for a Jew. And they know that no amount of rationalization can answer the question: Why are you not living in Israel?
I often feel that Israelis really don’t appreciate the great sacrifice that an American makes when making aliyah. Life in America is much more comfortable with much less daily pressures. We make aliyah because we know that almighty G-d wants us to be here and we are prepared to make the sacrifice.
My wife and I live in Israel now. This has been our lifelong dream. This is where we belong! This is where we want to be!
But the transition is challenging; you are starting all over again. For two months the packing and the boxes everywhere, the living in neighbors homes, the lack of comfort and the knowledge that you are entering the unknown. It is all very strenuous. It drains you both physically and spiritually.
I remember the first time I pulled into the local gas station to fill my car with gas, the attendant asked me where I was from?
“I’m from America,” I responded. “I just came here on aliyah.”
“Why didn’t you stay in America,” he said. “Prices are cheaper there, life is easier, no hassles. Gas only costs two dollars a gallon as opposed to here where you are paying eight dollars per gallon. There are crazy terrorists here. Why would you leave America?
“You see, my friend,” I responded. “You don’t understand. This is my land. This is the land that G-d gave to the Jewish people. I choose to be here! I choose to be connected to my roots in this land! I know that to live as a Jew, the land of Israel is vital and is on an equal par to studying and learning our holy Torah, for this is the very essence of the Jew.”