The Cap’n and I often hear Jews in America say, “Well, I’d really like to make aliyah, BUT…” and after the “but” give lots of reasons. Some of them make sense (elderly parents to care for, well-established careers that it would be impossible to replicate in Israel or to continue remotely or by commuting) but some of them are downright ridiculous. Here is a list of the top 10 dumb excuses people give for not making aliyah:
1. Parnasah. One of the reasons one needs so much money in the US to be Jewish is because a house in the eruv, Jewish day school, Jewish summer camp (if you take advantage), kosher food, shul dues, regular entertaining, and getting hit up for mikvah renovations cost a lot of money. In Israel, one can save around 95% on tuition. Real estate (outside the main population centers of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) is not nearly as insane as in frum neighborhoods in the US. Camps are cheap and plentiful here. There’s a shul (or two, or fifty) in every neighborhood, and dues are a fraction of what they are in an American shul. Kosher food is available everywhere here, and shopping in a shuk can save a family a lot of money. The government pays for mikva’ot and their maintenance. And guess what? You can AFFORD to have more kids here because of it. Those who live in America and have to make their child-bearing decisions based on their finances would be free here to choose based on what they want and what Hashem gives them.
2. The rabbinate’s treatment of converts. As if the American rabbinical establishment loves converts so much. If certain Batei Din aren’t bad enough in the way they conduct conversions, there have been many American rabbis who have notoriously abused their positions of power with regard to women, children, and converts (including talk of revoking conversions for women who wore pants after conversion—the brazen hussies!). There are mean people everywhere.
3. Hebrew. Duh, you’re Jewish. It’s your JOB to learn Hebrew anyway. Why not use the Holy Tongue everyday rather than just for special occasions?
4. Fear of terrorism. Ahem. September 11, London Tube, Madrid commuter train, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur,… And no one with the name of Umar who paid cash for a one-way ticket and had a bomb stashed in his underpants would have been allowed on a plane bound either to or from Israel. Period. It is interesting to note that despite all the awful stories that make it out of Israel, life expectancy in Israel is higher than in America.
5. Fear of IDF service. This sticks in lots of people’s craw. But there are a few things to consider. One is that besides gan, this is one of the great social foundations in the life of an Israeli. Boys become men there, friendships are formed, skills learned, all while ensuring every day that Israel continues to exist. Everyone wishes that service in the IDF wasn’t mandatory, but no one can deny its necessity. You may be familiar with the observation credited to Shira Sorko-Ram (in the Maoz Israel newsletter, May 2004), “If the Arabs put down their weapons today there would be no more violence. If the Israelis put down their weapons today there would be no more Israel.” Need I say more? And if someone doesn’t agree with the role the IDF plays in turning settlers out of their homes, there’s nothing like being a fully enfranchised citizen to give weight to one’s opinions.
6. Israel’s hostile neighborhood. True, Israel doesn’t have many friends in the Middle East. Over time, however, that may change. In the meantime, thanks to peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, there is a bus that departs from central Jerusalem for Cairo every day, and Petra is only two hours from the border crossing at Eilat. In addition, beautiful beach holidays in Cyprus and Turkey are available, Europe is only a time zone or two away, and Israel itself boasts plenty to keep a family busy on the holidays.
7. Expectation of downsizing. Many people don’t like the idea of coming to Israel because it may mean having to live in smaller quarters than they have in America. This is true for some, but certainly not for everyone. We increased our square meterage from what we had in the US when we made aliyah to a rented apartment, and again when we bought a cottage (semi-detached house with garden). Some people want to live in a McMansion, however, and there are a number of neighborhoods with such absurdly large houses here in Israel. Rampant consumerism has gained some traction in Israel for those who wish to adhere to it as a value. But most people find they can do with less, and the upside of that is that cleaning for Shabbat takes less time.
8. No Sunday. When can you go to the mall/make day trips/get together with friends from out of town? I know, this is a tough one. But if a family can be shopped by Wednesday and cooked by Thursday, then Friday (especially in the warmer months) is a great day for that. People usually only work half-days during chol hamo’ed (if they work at all then), and life is short enough that everyone bailing on work and school once in a blue moon could be nice.
9. I already spent a year in Israel. Why should I live there? Because you probably came as a young person and enrolled in one of the many fine programs that allow young people to experience life in Israel in a well-structured, guided, sheltered environment. Those are great, but to ask why you should live here, especially if that program year was a great year for you, is like asking, “I went on a date with this great guy. But why should I marry him?” Because he’s great. Because he is your soulmate. Because Hashem created him just for YOU. And because he loves you more than anyone ever will. How many people can you say THAT about?
And the biggest, all-time dumbest reason not to make aliyah:
10. Concern about the noise of IAF flyovers. (I swear I am NOT making this up.) I’m afraid I have no response.
I know there are people who will read this and think, “But I still don’t want to go. I like Israel, but not as much as where I am living.” Okay. But let’s break it down a bit more.
For those who believe themselves bound to perform mitzvot, this is a biggie. So big, in fact, that it’s the one exception to the laws against writing on Shabbat, allowing a Jew to instruct a non-Jew to write in order to purchase property in Israel.
Another blogger (I can’t remember which one; chime in if it was you, and give a link to your post) once wrote about why more people don’t make aliyah. For every reason listed, she determined that fear was at the root of the reason. This is compelling. Even the excuse of inertia, for people who would like to come here to live but never seem to think it’s the right time, is a form of fear. Some reason that their finances are not in order, or that the kids aren’t the right ages, or their career is just taking off. These, when examined closely, often boil down to a type of fear.
The Cap’n and I took years to come to the decision to make aliyah. We had many of the excuses others have, plus perhaps a few more. But we also had a strong desire to live here. It was only after a Kol Nidrei d’var Torah given by a friend that we reframed our thinking. He defined timhon levav in the liturgy as refraining from doing that which one knows to be right because it is easier to stick to the status quo. When we heard that, we realized that the time had come to look into aliyah seriously. The following Yom Kippur, we were in Israel.
I need hardly say that Israel is special. As I’ve said many times, Israel may not be the only place for Jews to live, but in my opinion, it is by far the best place for them to live. Israel is by, for, and about the Jews. Nowhere else is. It is flawed in many ways, and one of the best ways I can think of to find solutions to those flaws is to have bright, principled, well-educated Western technocrats come and build, develop, and improve the country.
When I look at my life in the context of the rest of the world, I felt my existence in America to be very small and inconsequential. Outside my immediate circle of friends and community, my life made very little difference at all. Here, however, an individual can rise to make a tremendous difference, both to the country and to the Jewish world in general. To be part of it is to be part of one of the greatest experiments in Jewish history. The last time Jews returned to Israel in any numbers from an exile was the return from Babylon in 536 BCE. Even then, after only 50 years of exile, people were comfortable, established, and totally unmotivated to return to the land where only a half-century earlier the Jews had wept to leave. Now, after nearly 2000 years of some of the most dolorous years in Jewish history, and some of the most shameful years in human existence, to have this land to return to is (to my eyes) clearly the work of Hashem. Some might smile and say “thank you” politely, but decline the gift. To me, though, the right thing seems to me to accept the gift and cherish it.
It is true that coming as adults (as opposed to kids, or young singles), we are limited in some ways in our ability to fully integrate as Israelis. I can converse in the language, but have few Israeli friends. But I have a wonderful English-speaking community which feels blessed to live here, and I feel very much a part of society here despite my own limitations. Our children, however, are one of the main reasons we came here to live, and they feel very much Israeli. While we are instilling in them the manners and values of Western society, they are fluent in Hebrew, have Israeli friends, and have few memories of America. They will be the first generation of true Israelis in the family.
Like the old man who planted a carob tree knowing he would not live to see it bear fruit, we have brought our children here to bloom in their own lifetimes.