I made aliyah over ten years ago and live in Israel with my wife Sara and our four children. Overall, we’ve been extremely happy living here but are now at a crossroad; the next stage of our journey involves returning to the Unites States for a yet undetermined amount of time.
This blog has three main purposes: First, I would like to share my thoughts and experiences with those of you who dream of Aliyah as well as those of you who experience guilt or derision due to a ‘failed’ or ‘failing’ aliyah. Second, after more than ten years away, I will use this opportunity to observe and discuss the changing quality of life for Jews in America. Finally and perhaps most importantly, through the course of this blog I will explore and try to reconcile my own different and sometimes conflicting American and Israeli identities.
It’s my hope that through reading this blog, you will at the very least find some comfort knowing that you are not alone in feeling conflicted or torn between the two countries you love most, even if you have lived here for decades. There are those of you for whom aliyah is not, nor ever will be a realistic option, and that’s alright. You may be wrestling with your identity as being both Jews and Americans who feel an emotional attachment to Israel. This blog is also for you.
As anyone who knows me well can attest; the single experience throughout all of Jewish history that inspires, drives and pains me greatest is the episode of the מרגלים, the spies. This was far more than an historical event, or a story meant to instruct through metaphor. The episode of the spies has had and will continue to have repercussions on all of Jewish history.
Many parallels can be drawn between our own lifetime and that of the דור המדבר , the generation that wandered in the desert. The generation of the desert, the generation which witnessed the Exodus from Egypt before entering Israel, sent spies to scout out the land. The spies returned giving a negative report and causing the Jewish people to fear entering. One of the reasons the Jews of the generation of the desert didn’t want to enter Israel was fear of the inhabitants. Another reason is that they feared losing the positions of power, leadership and physical security which they held in the desert. The spies told the people “we’ll never make it there, it’s not possible, we won’t survive, and maybe we should go back to Egypt. Furthermore, we’re comfortable here in the desert, maybe we should just stay where we are.” We witness these very same concerns playing themselves out over and over throughout Jewish history and with particular force now in our own lifetimes.
Unlike the generation of the desert, today’s olim choose to come here. Many of my friends have made this choice, even in the face of adversity, and some against the wishes of their family and the advice of friends. Many who’ve come here have left behind well-paying jobs, turned down promising career opportunities or put off going to grad school.
A uniquely difficult challenge presents itself to those coming from North America or (every day less applicably) Western Europe. In this case we’re not speaking of people who’ve had to flee religious/physical persecution or hope for an increased standard of living. We are speaking of those who chose to make Israel a central focus of their lives to the point they left all behind and moved here. Just as the generation of the desert longed for the “fleshpots of Egypt”, it is all too easy for us olim to compare our standard of living here in the Holy Land to what we had known in our countries of origin. The constant challenges to those who choose to live here should not be dismissed lightly. Just as the Jews of the desert had to break the slave mentality ingrained though generations of living in Egypt, olim chadashim (new immigrants) must do the same. By the very nature of where we were born, where we’ve spent most of our lives and the society we grew up in, we’ve become enslaved, knowingly or not, to materialism, to the “good life.”
Through my 10+ years personal experience of Aliyah, and comparing it to my anticipated experience once again living in the U.S., I hope to paint an accurate picture (from my personal perspective, obviously) of what it’s like for an American Jew living in Israel versus living in America. In my heart, I would like to draw the conclusion that living in Israel continues to be the right thing for my family and me, despite the many challenges and downsides. But I wouldn’t put money on it just yet.
This topic is complicated and emotionally charged. I would like to present a complete and honest picture of what aliyah is like. I cannot give the full picture as I’ve experienced it, without discussing the many negative aspects of life in Israel.
Giving the whole picture, which I intend to do, may undermine what for the longest time I’ve seen as my mission being a pioneer among my family and friends – that Hashem has given me an opportunity to contribute in a small way to the tikun of the cheit ha’meraglim (rectification of the sin of the spies). But, if I present a dibat tov and raah, a mixed description of both the good and the bad, I risk feeling as though I’ve failed in that mission; and it’s that mission, which has been the central purpose and driving force of my life for the past fifteen or so years.
This dilemma tears me up. And the pain I’m experiencing as I prepare to leave Israel makes me wonder why I am going at all. Why am I giving all this up? Have I come to take everything here for granted or am I so shallow as to miss the material comforts of America after all these years? Are annual family visits no longer enough? Does my responsibility to care for my ageing parents justify removing my children from the nurturing communal environment unique to Israel? Is my identity as an American stronger than my identity as an Israeli?
Of all the sins committed in the desert after leaving Egypt (including the sin of the golden calf), giving a negative report about the Land of Israel is the one sin for which the Jews were condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years. Now, after having wandered the earth for the past 2,000 years, we have a chance to rectify the sin of that generation. The tikun is achieved by seeing past the superficial, seeing past the many hardships and inconveniences of living here. We need to see the true beauty of the Land of Israel; the inherent spiritual beauty, the beauty of the people who live here and the historical significance of this opportunity. We rectify the sin of the spies by choosing to live in Israel. I have. My wife has. Many thousands of Americas have. Have my wife and I been successful? Only our descendants will be able to answer that question.
So, why am I going? Will this be a permanent move? The truth is I have many reasons for going to the U.S., most of which I will discuss through the course of this blog. Whatever the arguments for or against, the reality is that I’ve already chosen to experience life in America once more. And since I am going, I will use this opportunity as a pilot trip – a reverse mission to that of the spies in the desert. I will be scouting out and reporting back on the changing quality of life for Jews in America. At the same time, I hope to make peace with and more wholly integrate my American and Israeli identities.
Please feel free to leave comments or contact me directly at any time. Through creating a dialog, we can make this journey together and find answers to the questions we’ve been silently asking ourselves.