The following began life as a blog post, was reworked for an article in a magazine, and now, in light of (good) questions posed by Jameel, Treppenwitz and various real-time friends who have the privilege and merit to make Eretz Yisrael home -most specifically, "why have you not made aliyah?" - has been reworked again slightly to answer that question. I look forward to the discussion it will hopefully provoke....I would appreciate thoughts and comments. Thanks.
Each year since coming back from Israel, I look at the Nefesh B'Nefesh website, feel a pang of heartache watching the videos of families making aliyah, grow antsy when yet another friend takes the plunge, and then...I do nothing.
The issues for me are many, but I can narrow them down at essence to three: singlehood (I am adamant about not making aliyah as a single person - as wonderful as Eretz Yisrael is and as many friends as I have there, once I left yeshiva, all of a sudden I was alone and lonely in a foreign country, and most of the anglo women at my level of religious comfort tend to leave post-seminary if they do not marry, and I would like to marry an anglo), financial viability (I do not need to be rich, but I do not want to have to wonder where my food will come from each month. I have been told to come to Israel with at least $20,000 saved, which I do not have; I do not have a career which is considered viable in Israel and I am not willing to be miserable by becoming an accountant in order to be there, nor do I have parents who are willing to supplement my income every month if I am there (nor do I think they should)). The third - and most compelling - issue for me is family.
I envy those whose parents are supportive of their making aliyah (mine are not), or who have the ability to recognize the greater good of what they are building for the future, and are able to weigh that against parental anguish(I am not).
Though my parents support Israel politically and in charitable giving, Israel was never part of our family lexicon. There were no yearly trips there, no marching in the Israeli Day Parade, no recognition of it as the place for Jews. It has become a part of lore that my parents are the only ones the Israel counselor at my day school was unable to budge when it came to sending their kids on a post-high school year, for fear we would end up wanting to live in such a far-away place. My parents have never been to Israel (my mother has a fear of flying); I was, in fact, the first person in my family to visit Israel in 3 generations. So it did not come as a surprise when they were upset by my recent three year stay there.
My parents cannot bear the thought of not seeing their children on at least a semi-regular basis - and I do understand where they are coming from. Parents raise their children with the expectation that they will always be a part of their lives. After all the love, sleepless nights, financial output, do they not deserve to see their children and grandchildren more than twice a year? Do they not deserve the comfort of knowing that their children are nearby to help them and take care of them in their old age? Shouldn't they be able to reap the joy of being at brisim and watching baby's first steps, instead of receiving e-mail updates and a round of pictures every month? I want these things for them too...I have heard from a number of older friends whose parents have passed on that if they had realized how much their making aliyah had hurt their parents, they may never have done it. I have other, younger, friends living there who refuse to think about it, because of the pain it engenders in their own hearts, let alone in the hearts of their parents. It is so much easier, once you are there, to block out other voices a world away.
My parents live for their kids. We are the most important thing in their lives. Is it worth my parents' heartache and sadness to be in Eretz Yisrael?
The counter-argument is rather simple and straightforward: It's Israel. The Jewish homeland. It's where we belong. If we don't make the move, who will? Someone has to be first. You have to think about what is best for you, and for future generations - in terms of Torah, environment, education, connection to the land and to our heritage.
But even discounting all of that for a moment, there is still the feeling when I am there - the feeling of belonging, of community, of being alive, of walking the same land my ancestors walked. Israel penetrates your bones, seeps into your soul. I don't have such feelings for any other place on this earth (certainly not NY, which I have made no secret of my distaste for). I have been to many beautiful places- Boulder, Berkeley, the coast of Maine, Amsterdam, Brussels, Rome - and a few communitues that I like very much, such as Baltimore, but none of them pull at me or have taken up space in my head and my heart and my soul like Israel has. I love it despite its backward third world ways, rude taxi drivers, and anti-pedestrian mindset.
How can you give up the chance to be in the land we were promised, the land we fought so hard for? Living there affords the opportunity on any give day to wake up and daven at the kotel, visit the kever of the Ari and ma'arat hamachpelah; to celebrate the chagim en masse with Jews from all over the world, to live a simpler, more spiritually-based life - are these opportunities to throw away? They say there is no Torah learning like the Torah learning in Eretz Yisrael - the kedusha is extraordinarily present there, in the trees, in the air, in the soil. And I want that, with such a longing, I want that for myself, for my future wife, for my children (be"H). I want that for my parents too...
I realize that much of this is based on how they were raised. It is a New York phenomenon. If you grew up in the five boroughs in my parents' generation, moving away means Long Island or Teaneck at the furthest. There is no need to go anywhere else. It is not like Denver or even Los Angeles, where until very recently, if you were Jewish and even marginally observant, it was a given that at some point you'd be sending your child to the east coast or to Yerushalayim, if only to expand the prospective dating pool. My parents and their circle stayed in NY, just as their parents and their grandparents did. But why should I be bound by their choice?
My grandfather has suggested a compromise, such as moving to Baltimore or California, which would at least get me out of New York. But what room is there for compromise when it is not distance I am after, but Israel itself, and when it is not Israel per se my parents take issue with, but the very concept of physical distance? I come from a long line of stubborn people. I don't know how this will be resolved. The one certainty, though, makes me quite sad - no matter what I choose, the Israel issue is going to make one (or both) of us miserable...
It breaks my heart that I am not in Israel. I think about it every single day - literally. But for me to make aliyah, at least at this point, would require me to be married, have a viable career for Israel, and have the ability to make frequent trips to the states to see my family, or live 4 months of the year in the states. Impossible? I suppose not. But all easier said than done...
For now, the best I can hope for is that I will encourage my own children (if I am blessed to have any) to make aliyah, and join them when I am able to retire, though it makes me sigh even just to write that...it seems so far off....