Detoxing From Israel
On a recent trip to America from our home in Israel, I read a handful of local Jewish publications. I want to tell you about a particular advice column I saw that jolted me. It made me realize how much where a Jew lives influences the way they see things.
In this particular advice column, a Jewish mother expressed concern. Like many young Jews from religious homes, her daughter had spent a year after her high school graduation studying Torah in Israel and has spent the last two years since her return preparing to make aliyah. It is very distressing to the mother and father that their daughter won’t date anyone who doesn’t want to live in Israel.
The mother wrote, “she has not ‘settled down’ or given up her dream as most of her friends have done.” She asks the advice columnist, “What should we do?”
Before I reveal how the advice columnist responded, it’s important to mention that I was born and raised in America. On September 11, 2001, it became clear to me that America was not going to be my permanent home.
On that dramatic, traumatic day, I came to view America as the latest chapter in the long history of Jewish exile. I understood that America would be the last host country for me; my husband and I made aliyah in 2010.
It’s certainly true that life in Israel is uniquely challenging and that things would have been much easier, and certainly more lucrative for us, had we stayed in America.
L’fum tzara agra is a Jewish teaching from Pirke Avot 5:23 (commonly known as Ethics of the Fathers). It means “according to the effort is the reward”. It’s been my experience that life in Israel has many challenges that life in America does not have, but the rewards – in meaning, in spirituality, in being connected to the larger movements of Jewish history - are infinitely greater.
That’s my perspective, after having lived in Israel for nine years. It’s a perspective shared by tens of thousands of Jews who made aliyah and started new lives in Israel.
So what did the advice columnist say? She opened her response with this quote: “Every girl has dreams, and every girl comes back very idealistic from her one or two years in Israel. It takes her a while to ‘detox’ and come back to reality...”
The idealism, the spirituality gained by living and studying Torah in Israel, the desire to live in the Land God set aside for the entirety of the Jewish people and miraculously returned to us after nearly 2,000 of foreign rule, is something from which a young Jew has to detox?
This response shocked me.
I know that most American Jews, even religious Jews who study the Torah, who know that Jerusalem is mentioned more than 600 times in the Hebrew Bible, who read and study the innumerable prophecies about the return of the exiles to the Land of Israel, are not likely to move to Israel anytime soon. It’s heartbreaking to me, but I am well aware that it’s the reality for the vast majority of American Jews.
Even so, the suggestion that the desire of a young Jewish woman’s soul for the intense spiritual life that can only be achieved by living in the Holy Land is something to get over, is something from which she needs to detox, shakes me to my core.
From my perspective, for a myriad of reasons, it’s long past time for American Jews to anticipate a robust future in America for generations to come. You have no desire to live in Israel yourself? Fine. You’re not uncomfortable enough with rising antisemitism to leave? Fine. You can’t make aliyah now? Fine.
But to discourage young Jews from coming home? To tell them it’s not realistic to hold out for a partner who wants to join them and build a life in Israel? To see them giving up the dream of life in Israel to “settle down” in America as desirable?
That’s an atrocity.
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