Reflections on Aliyah

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After hearing or reading my talk on how aliyah is a mitzvah (click here to read), I heard from several people with questions…like: so if it’s not because it’s a mitzvah, why ARE you making aliyah?  Aren’t you worried about the situation there?  Where are you going to live and what are you going to do?  What does the family think? All good questions–I’ll answer them one at a time:

Why we’re making aliyah:  I hate to steal too much of my own thunder, since I plan to have a really good High Holiday sermon on the topic, but the short answer is two reasons:

1) The modern state of Israel is the most important thing to happen to the Jewish people in 2000 years.  I want to be a part of it.  I think of how when Cyrus came in (early 6th c. BCE) and kicked out the Babylonians, and so many of the exiles chose to stay in material comfort in Bavel instead of going home to help rebuild Israel, and I find it depressing.  The same thing is happening today.  Once again the Jewish people have a home of their own.  How could a serious Jew not want to be a part of it?  I want my children and their descendants to be a part of it.  Besides, as JTS Chancellor-elect Arnie Eisen said, Israel is far too important to sit on the sidelines and watch other people blow it.

2) It’s home.  For an observant Jew there is no easier place to be Jewish.  In Jerusalem there is a synagogue on every corner, of every flavor, and a kosher restaurant down the block.  It’s amazing to live in a place where our holidays are the national holidays, where you don’t have to worry about Shabbat competing with soccer games or gynmastics.  Sunday is Monday and December 25 is just another working day.  Living through the annual holiday cycle in Israel is a completely different experience than in the diaspora.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Israel is an amazingly beautiful place, steeped in history with a great climate and a strong economy…but there are other places that have those characteristecs and I’m not running to move there.

Aren’t we worried about the security situation?  Not really.  We lived there in 2000-2001, when the current round of violence broke out.  It was a little scary at first, but you get used to it.  The truth is, Israel is a very safe country.  We would let our 13 year old daughter and niece walk home unaccompanied from a friend’s house a mile away at 11pm without a second thought.  No way I would do that in New York–or even Toledo.  There is a fascinating report available on Memri which points out "While the U.S. homicide rate declined slightly in 2004, it was more than 25 percent higher than Israel’s combined rate of deaths from crime, suicide bombings and intifada-related military casualties."  In other words, Israel is safer than America as far as your chances of dying a violent death.  Go to http://www.mideastweb.org/log/archives/00000396.htm to read the whole report.

Where are you going to live?  Lauri and I haven’t made a final decision, but probably Jerusalem.  While the cost of real estate in Jerusalem is quite high, it’s also the most intensely Jewish of the major cities, we have friends there, and it’s where we can find the kind of community we want to be a part of — religious, but pluralistic.  And the Mishnah in Ketubot tells us what a great merit it is to live in Jerusalem.  Work of course may have some impact on where we live.

What are you going to do?  No idea.  Probably not a full time pulpit–opportunities for Conservative rabbis in Israel are few, the movement has been struggling to pay the rabbis it has.  I may go back into the high-tech world; I may do something in aviation (converting my commercial pilot’s licenses to Israeli will be a pain, but doable).  Maybe something in management of a non-profit.  Whatever else I do I certainly plan to ALSO do something "rabbinic," e.g., teach, write, maybe have a part time pulpit.  My soul would dry up if I did nothing but go back to running a high tech company — that’s not why I left Silicon Valley in the first place to go back to school and become a rabbi.  Lauri will probably go back to work in the law and continue to write.

Fortunately, it’s never been easier to make aliyah.  There is a lot of help available.  The goverment’s Ministry of Absorption (http://www.moia.gov.il/english/index_en.asp ) provides financial and other support, the Jewish Agency provides lots of assistance with everything from ulpans to temporary housing (http://www.jafi.org.il/forum/ ) and for people from North America (and now the UK) Nefesh b’Nefesh (http://www.nbn.org.il/ ) provides a great deal of assistance–not just financial (grants are available for those who qualify) but also help finding a job and figuring out where to live. 

What does the family think? The kids are very excited about the idea.  Well, at least the three youngest. They love Israel.  Before we went there for our year in 2000-2001 one of them said "when we live in Israel, we’ll be VERY Jewish." 🙂 One of the main reasons we decided to make aliyah next year instead of waiting longer is to make it easier for our children’s integration into Israeli society.  My two oldest are staying in California…#1 daughter doesn’t quite understand why we’d want to move to a "war zone."  #2 daughter thinks it’s cool she’ll have to visit Israel every year.  My mother is a little bummed because she thinks it means she’ll see less of her grandchildren…but our idea is she’ll visit less often but longer, so no net loss in Grandma time.

I heard of a rabbi in Queens who is making aliyah this summer and bringing something like 50 families with him.  Anyone want to join us?  🙂

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

One thought on “Reflections on Aliyah

  • May 25, 2006 at 12:46 am
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    Yes, we want to go with you!

    Reply

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