Sunday, February 11, 2007

Back in the U-S-S-A

The real test of the impact of my time in Israel is how I feel several weeks later, when I have re-embedded myself into the rest of my life. I still find it hard to hold onto the elevated sense of spiritual potential that I experience there after I am back in the media-drenched, conspicuous consumption, narishkeit culture of America.

In a bookstore in the Old City of Jerusalem, I recently came across a volume of Jewish thought by Rabbi Meir Kahane. While some find him too politically incorrect for words, I am drawn to his passionate defense of Jews.

In his book Or Hara'ayon, he speaks of a barely-mentioned consequence of Jews living as minorities in other people’s lands. He says that the purity of Jewish culture becomes tainted by the overwhelming influence of the surrounding culture. In other words, the media-drenched, conspicuous consumption, narishkeit culture of America actually hurts our neshamot.

There are those who argue that one can live as fully a Jewish life in America as one can in Israel. One of many arguments against that point of view is that, of the the 613 mitzvot that Hashem set aside for the Jewish people, nearly half are dependent upon the Land of Israel. That’s clear evidence that Judaism lived in America is, by definition, deficient. It doesn’t make it completely without merit. But it isn’t the fullest expression of Jewish potential.

There is an aliyah-advocacy organization called Kumah. They promote this concept in a humorous message:
Dear America,
Thank you and Shalom.
We have to go Home now.
Your friends,
The Jews

Even when I am doing ordinary things in Israel, like visiting friends or buying fruit, I have a sense of elevation. When I walk the streets in Israel, I tell myself that I am walking in Gd’s Beloved Garden, even when I am walking to the dumpster to toss away our trash.

To feel elevated in Israel, all I have to do is walk outside. This spiritual amplification is simply not available to me outside the Land.

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