Despite fear, uncertainty, and
hardship, I am home in Israel.
Three months ago, I landed at Ben-Gurion Airport. I have been there several times before but this time was different. This time, I came with a planeload of American and Canadian Jews who chose to throw their lot in with the Jewish state and the Jewish nation, and become citizens of Israel.
This time I was greeted by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu who chose to welcome us as the future of Israel. Despite the tumultuous security and economic matzav (situation), these leaders chose to take time out of their busy schedule to welcome 450 North American Jews who chose to leave the comfort and freedom of prosperous North America for the uncertainty of the Middle East.
In Hebrew, Jewish immigration to Israel is called aliya – which literally means “going up.” We, members of the Jewish nation, of varying degrees of ritual observance, all chose to fulfill the ultimate Jewish and Zionist commandment – that of moving to Israel. Despite 2,000 years of exile, we came home.
In our immigration, we each declared “Ani Tzioni – I am a Zionist.” University-educated, raised on Western values and firm believers in democracy and human rights, we did this because there was no other option. We had to come home.
We love America and, in many ways, will always remain Americans. We are American, even though most of our parents or grandparents immigrated to America from Europe. Personally, I shed as much tears of joy hearing that Washington, DC was getting a baseball team after decades of absence as much as I did over Hatikva – Israel’s national anthem, calling for Jews to return to Israel after millennia of absence.
In fact, some of us even made our move precisely because of a commitment to America as Israel and America fight the same fight against terrorism and share the same values of democracy and freedom. Did you know that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East?
For all of us, we cared about the direction Israel was facing as she faces an increasingly hostile world less than 60 years after a third of the Jewish population was murdered by enlightened and educated Europe.
As Conservative rabbi, Dr. David Breakstone notes, aliya “allows for the most direct involvement in shifting Jewish values from the realm of theory into the practice of statehood.”
Aliya is nation-building at its best and we knew
that if we were concerned about the direction Israel was facing, as she tries to shed off a long-history of socialism and as she pursues peace, a path that Israel has been taking since before being re-constituted as a nation state, that aliya was the only choice we could make if we truly cared about peace and if we truly cared about Israel.
So, three months ago I left the comforts of America (and believe me, you don’t appreciate the gifts and comforts of American-living until you left it) for the chaos of the Middle East. Believe me, it has been the hardest three months of my life – from the diplomatic and capitalistic
America to a forthright and socialist Israel (but thankfully things are beginning to reform here).
Despite having visited Israel several times and living here for a year in 2002-2003, living here is different. Where other people have their extreme sports to challenge and strengthen them, I have aliya. Except for one difference – in the end, the mountain biker puts away their mountain bike, the rock climber climbs down the mountain, and the surfer gets out of the ocean.
But not me. Israel is real. My escape is to walk up the stairs to my Jerusalem apartment, cheap by American standards but posh for Israel. So, three months ago, over 1500 well-educated North American Jews immigrated to Israel. I was one of them. Despite fear, uncertainty, and hardship, I am home.
Why aliya? Simple: There is no other place I belong as much as I belong in the land that my people have been pining for since we our exile. I came home. What about you?