"What is the definition of an American Zionist?"
"Someone who believes that other Jews should move to Israel."
As a teenager, I became an American Zionist. I didn't think that I would ever actually live in Israel, yet I thought it was a good idea for other Jews to do so. Like so many other Jews, I prayed for the rebuilding of Jerusalem every day, and at the end of the Passover Seders and Yom Kippur I sang, "Next year in Jerusalem." It was one thing to give lip service to the idea that Israel was central to the Jewish people, but actually going to live there was not something that I seriously considered. I would sooner have gone to live in France than to Israel.
When I got older, I decided that I wanted to live each day to the utmost. Carpe diem -- seize the day -- became my unspoken motto. I realized that there are certain choices that can change our lives forever. Those choices not only affect where our lives take us, they can affect our descendants, our community, and even people we don‘t know. I didn't want to live my life as comfortably as possible while sacrificing my, and my children's, spiritual growth in the process.
We are continually faced with choices every day. Do we opt for choices that will give us maximal comfort or do we make choices that will give our lives the most meaning? Do we want to be passive observers of those who make a real difference in the world, who leave the world a better place for having been here, or do we want to be those movers and shakers? I made a choice that I don't want to stand by the sidelines of history while others are the players.
My husband and I were both successful professionals in America. We lived in a beautiful, suburban community with almost no crime, good schools, lots of public parks and many country clubs. Almost everyone owned their own home, with a large lot of land, and at least two cars in the garage. We vacationed 15 weeks a year. And yes, we gave it all up so that we could make aliyah. But if you ask me, I have no regrets because I'm now living in Paradise.
FOR THE CHILDREN
A married friend of mine, a financially successful professional with children, moved to Israel when I did. When I asked him why he came during the Intifada he said, "I've been watching American Jews during the Intifada, and they've done almost nothing for Israel. They're afraid to visit, they don't send their kids to university and summer programs, they're not investing in Israeli businesses, they're not making aliyah. My daughter was turning 18, it was time for her to go to college. If she would go to an American university, she would end up being swallowed up by American materialism and passivity. I want her to identify with Israel, to know that it's our land, and that as Jews, we need to be part of our own history. One of the most amazing things in history was God giving us back the land of Israel, after our being in exile for l,900 years, just as it was predicted in the Bible. Can I sit back and not be part of this miracle? Can I deprive my children of that, too?"
We can live lives of comfort, or we can partake of the greatest miracle that has occurred in the past 2,000 years.
I wanted my children, now in preschool and first grade, to grow up in our land, and to know that it is our land, the land that God gave us. I wanted them to have the excitement of discovering our history that peeks out from under every stone and building here. I wanted my children to know Hebrew as their language, and not as an ancient tongue that speaks only from the pages of the Bible, or as an irrelevant language spoken by expatriate Israelis living in New York and Los Angeles.
I wanted my children to understand that sometimes the greatest gifts that we get are not so obvious. They don't come gift-wrapped in beautiful paper, delight and tantalize for a few hours, then get discarded. The greatest gifts we receive are those that allow us to actualize our potentials, to live every day to the fullest. Those gifts bring out parts of us that we didn‘t even know existed.
I wanted my children to have the opportunities to give by inviting to our Shabbat table students from around the world, visitors, and soldiers who have no place to go for meals. To pray at the Western Wall every Friday night, and to grow up with the feeling that we live in God's backyard. I wanted my children to see, on a regular basis, what our Temples looked like, that we are connected to 3,000 years of history.
ACCEPTING THE GIFT
If Bill Gates came knocking on our door and offered us a present, we wouldn't leave the door closed and tell him that we're too busy to see what he has to offer.
God came knocking on Abraham's door 3,700 years ago and told him that He had a present to give him. Abraham didn't tell him he wasn't ready, that he had to finish putting his kids through school, that he needed to work another 15 years so that he could finish funding his retirement plans, that he had to first move into the dream house that he had always wanted. God said, "Lech lecha," "Go for your own benefit, Abraham -- I have something very, very good to give you."
God has sent out the same call to each and every Jew. The land belongs to all of us, and it is a land of miracles.
An old, wise rabbi once explained to me why we have eyes. "God gives us eyes to limit what we see. Our soul can see from one end of the earth to the other. It is almost unlimited in what it can perceive. Our bodily eyes constrain the soul's vision." In order to live in Israel, one has to practice seeing with one's heart and soul instead of with one's eyes. There are many difficulties and challenges which Americans must overcome to make aliyah, but they are surmountable for those who are willing to see the land as a gift from God that has a purpose beyond what meets the eye.
If we see with our soul instead of with our eyes, we will see an abundance of spiritual opportunities and seize them. We will even see miracles -- but only if we are open to letting go of that which is familiar and comfortable to us and stop trying to control every part of our lives. We must replace our personal agendas with a willingness to face the unknown and a belief in something greater than ourselves.
There was once a course given to American army officers about various world battles. Someone noticed that the Israeli army's victories were never discussed, despite their having already successfully fought four wars against incredible odds. When the teacher was asked why he had omitted any mention of Israeli defense force strategies, the officer replied, "The Israeli battles are not replicable by any human army. They were won only with supernatural help."
Israel is a country with more than 6.5 million citizens. One of its many miracles is that Jews from all corners of the world live here, work here, study here, and thrive here. My neighbors and friends come from around the globe, and represent the entire spectrum of religious and secular beliefs. Some of my neighbors are even Christian. We are all united by our love of Israel.
Did I know when I moved here that my children would be safe, that I would never be harmed, and that the Iraqis won't attack? Of course not. I wasn't here three weeks when I went to pick up our gas masks and saw a movie about what to do if there is a biological or chemical attack. On the other hand, I believe that if I take reasonable precautions to stay out of harm's way, God will make my family and me face exactly what we need to become the people that He wants us to be.
In the few weeks that I have been here, there have been miracles every day. Israeli soldiers found a car packed with 900 pounds of explosives and removed it before it could do any harm. A friend who got sick with meningitis had to miss his appointment in the cafeteria of Hebrew University at the time it was bombed. During Succot, terrorists who planned to blow up visitors at the annual parade in Jerusalem were caught before they could harm anyone. A number of Arabs who planned to kill Jews were exploded while they prepared their bombs.
A few months before my husband and I were to make aliyah, the Intifada reached its bloodiest point. One horrible bombing was followed by another, many of them in Jerusalem. I told my husband that I wanted to put our plans on hold until things calmed down.
My husband and I waited with bated breath to see what would happen while everyone around us was saying, "Are you crazy thinking about living in Israel at a time like this?!"
I was tormented day after day. I stayed awake at nights racked with indecision. Finally, my husband said, "Look, you've wanted this for so many years. When people get blown up, I can make a contribution by treating them in the hospitals in Jerusalem. (He planned to work in trauma medicine.) We can't sit here and do nothing when Jews in Israel need us." When we consulted several rabbis for advice, they all told us the same thing: "Go. Just stay away from dangerous places, study Torah and do mitzvoth, and don't worry." Since I have no Israeli psychology license, and my husband is still waiting for his physician's papers to be approved, we are both gainfully unemployed. That has been very conducive for attending lots of Torah classes and doing lots of mitzvoth, especially since we came shortly before Rosh Hashana and the holidays of Tishrei.
Living in Israel, it is easy to focus on apparent differences. Yet what we all have in common is that we moved to Israel to accept the gift that God gave us. We weren't always so sure that this was the gift that we would have chosen had He given us our druthers. By now, though, that gift is our family heirloom. Imagine having an heirloom in your family that was passed down for 1,500 years, and then it got lost for the next 2,000. Suddenly and inexplicably, the heirloom reappears but a generation ago. Wouldn't you want to reclaim it for your family?
If you do, I'll personally welcome you to the land of miracles.