This summer, our family will be leaving Cleveland and moving East, and I don't mean the East Coast. We'll be going very East – right on over to the Middle East. In July, with God's help, we'll be making aliyah to Israel.
At first glance, we are certifiably insane. In Cleveland, we live an almost idyllic life. We are blessed with wonderful schools for our children, where they receive excellent Jewish and secular educations. My husband and I both enjoy good, stable jobs that challenge and enrich us. Real estate is wonderfully inexpensive, and we could easily afford to buy a large house in the warm, supportive neighborhood that we currently live in. We have friends and family who we depend on and delight in. In our four-floor rented house, we have amenities like a dishwasher, instant hot water, and sprawling front and back yards. We own two cars (okay, they're '92 and '88 respectively, but a car's a car!) that get us where we need to go quickly and efficiently. We are involved in a fair bit of Torah study and are committed to living reasonably God-centered, spiritually-enhanced lives.
So why are we leaving our great life in North America and moving to a region battered with terrorism, bloodshed, and civil unrest?
We've been asked this question, accompanied with looks of sheer astonishment, many times since we announced our plans.
Yes, life in Israel is fraught with difficulty and an elevated level of danger, but where does God ultimately want me to build my Jewish home?
I can understand their reaction. Life in Israel is fraught with difficulty and an elevated level of danger. Many of the amenities enjoyed by Americans are difficult to obtain in Israel. Salaries are notoriously low; the shekel seems to fall lower each day, despite the fact that mortgages and rent are paid in US dollars. The educational system is very different from that which Americans are used to, as is the healthcare system, the political infrastructure, and even the tax system.
In Israel, people pay high prices for small apartments with no front lawn to call their own. The Cornflakes taste different and the "diet" cheese weighs in at 12 fat grams per slice. People take buses that make hairpin curves down crowded streets. There is an undercurrent of fear, and school children are trained to be vigilant for suspicious packages.
Believe you me, when the subject of moving to Israel came up, I tremulously voiced the above complaints to my husband. He looked at me for a moment, and then he said something that changed my viewpoint.
"Riva, we have only one life to live. How do we want to live it?"
His statement brought the Telma Cornflakes and the bureaucratic nightmares crashing down at my feet faster than the falling shekel. He was right. It was time for me to look at Israel vs. America from a completely new angle.
If life were about instant hot water and building fancy new homes, then there's no question that I would be jeopardizing my life by moving to Israel. But it's not. Life is about working towards achieving personal potential, and doing God's will. And I firmly believe that God wants me – and all the Jewish People – to live in the Land of Israel.
I am not going out on a limb with this thought. The famous French commentator, Rashi, explains that God chose to begin the Torah with an account of Creation in order to give legitimacy to the Jewish People's right to the Land of Israel. The same God who created heavens and earth chose to give Israel to the Jewish nation from time immemorial. This Holy Land is the place God designated as our nation's home.
ISRAEL VS. THE DIASPORA
But it hits me on a more personal level as well.
I am privileged to have lived in Israel for three-and-a-half years, together with my husband. When we moved back to the United States, I recall standing in the airport feeling like an alien from outer space. I could physically feel the difference between the holy, predominantly Jewish land of Israel and the cold, vapid atmosphere of the Diaspora. What was I – a Jew – doing out of my natural environment?
When I am in Israel, I feel like a new person. Perhaps it's the gorgeous scenery and historic sites. Maybe it's the connection I feel with nearly everyone I meet – from grocer to bus driver to customs official; they are all fellow Jews! When I am in Israel, I feel that my soul is elevated, and my "ordinary" day is extraordinary.
Israel is tuned in to a spiritual frequency that the rest of the world cannot access.
What I am experiencing is nothing new. Our Sages tell us that "the air of Israel makes one wise." There is a tangible aura within the Land which affects all its inhabitants.
When I compare and contrast Israel with the Diaspora, I see a vast chasm between both worlds. Somehow, the pull of materialism and trivial pursuits seems greater in the Diaspora than it is in Israel, although the Holy Land definitely features some decidedly unholy elements. Yet there is a certain innocence and beauty inherent in Israel that is both indescribable and undeniable. There is a spiritual pull in Israel – a feeling that spirituality and holiness is ripe for the picking. This sensation – although present in various communities across the world – is largely watered down by the larger American culture. It's as if Israel is tuned in to a spiritual frequency that the rest of the world cannot access.
So we're moving to Israel for its spiritual richness. By consciously making this decision, we feel that we are following in the proverbial footsteps of generations of committed Jews who have followed the call that Abraham embodied when he did God's will and traveled to Israel. Yet unlike countless Jews who risked life and limb, traveling for months on difficult, hazardous journeys, the privilege of moving to Israel has never been easier. Organizations like Nefesh B'Nefesh and AACI voluntarily hand over the gift of Israel on a silver platter to all those who desire it. We are happy to be counted amongst those who desire it.
VOTING WITH OUR FEET
We are taught in Jewish tradition that when a soul returns to its Maker, it is asked three questions, one of which is: Did you wait expectantly for the Redemption? This is a reference to the coming of the Messiah, when the entire world will recognize the reality of God and strive towards spiritual perfection. Our family regards moving to Israel as a form of "voting with our feet." There is a general consensus amongst contemporary Torah leaders that we are living in the End of Days when the ultimate Redemption seems just around the corner.
We dream of being there in the Holy Land when the Third Temple is rebuilt. Our family talks about what life will be like with the Temple in our midst. We are building a different reality, one that is God-centered, hopeful, and precious; a reality that could not exist in the Diaspora. When we first talked to our children about plans to move to Israel, our five-year-old son asked, "Will we be going on an airplane or on an eagle?" (He was referencing the famous verse "I will carry you [after the Messiah comes] on the wings of an eagle.")
We are going to Israel with our eyes wide open. We know about the dangerous security situation. We are concerned about the political instability and pained by the in-fighting between Jews. We know it will take a fair amount of conformity if we are to "fit in" and become part of the culture. Learning Hebrew will at first be difficult. It will be hard to adjust to living without a car. Sending a lift of our personal belongings is an exhausting and expensive undertaking. We are aware of all these challenges, and yet we know that God will help us deal with them. The expression "Nothing good comes easy" comes to mind, and we are experiencing what our sages meant when they said, "The Land of Israel is acquired through hardships."
But what keeps us going is the guaranteed spiritual returns on our investment. Through committing to doing God's will by living in the Land described as "the Eyes of God are upon it," He is sure to help us in our endeavors. We know that living in Israel is a valuable mitzvah – every four steps a person walks, he receives reward for observing the positive commandment of settling in the Holy Land. Where else in the world does one receive eternal reward for simply walking the streets?
So our family is moving East. We are a family like thousands of others. We have no special circumstances or advantages that make moving to Israel easier or more appropriate than anyone else. We don't have a large financial cushion; we don't have dazzling jobs set up for us. We're really just a regular, down-to-earth family who has decided to alter our future by making a spiritual move.
The same opportunity that we have grabbed is available to every Jew today. We urge you to take it and come with us to our true home, where the streets are abundantly paved with spiritual gold. There will be pitfalls and inconveniences, but that's where the Nike approach kicks in: "Just do it."
Imagine what would happen if Jews from all over the world joined forces together in the holiest place on earth? Imagine how it would change the spiritual landscape of the entire universe!
There's only one way to find out: Follow your heart and come home.
Photo Credit: Dinu Mendrea. Click here to visit his gallery.