Thursday, March 26, 2009

More on Responding to the Economic Crisis

What follows is a recent letter, written by a brilliant friend of mine. The letter writer is a deeply committed, unusually well-educated Jew who made aliyah from Baltimore and is passionate about the need for Jews to live in Israel. She wrote this letter to her former rabbi from Baltimore, seeking advice on how to deal with the frustration she feels with American Jews who will not consider making aliyah. With her permission, I am sharing her letter here, having edited out all personal references.

Dear Rabbi,

I’m writing mainly because a close friend and I are seeking some perspective on an issue that continues to trouble us greatly. First, a little background: Baruch Hashem, our families have been blessed with the near-constant appreciation of just what a remarkable gift Am Yisrael has been given in our generation. Our special friendship is built on a mutual understanding of how we must never take this gift for granted and on encouraging each other to constantly acknowledge how profoundly fortunate we are to share this daily miracle: the flourishing of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. We can look at each other with complete and shared sincerity: Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu u’mah yafeh yerushateinu!

As much as we rejoice in our fortune, though, we are truly vexed by an issue that is quickly becoming a michshol in our quest for Ahavat Yisrael. The longer we live here and are absorbed into the holiness and essence of Eretz Yisrael, the more difficult it becomes for us to relate at all to Jews who choose to live in America. We mean specifically those Jews who are Torah-observant, who received Jewish educations akin to the ones we both received in Bais Yaakov, and who are committed to raising growth-oriented, frum Jewish families. It’s becoming increasingly more challenging for us to understand why Jews would invest in Jewish infrastructure (schools, shuls, mosdot) in America as opposed to focusing all of their energies and attention in determining how to make their lives here. We mean specifically those young families whose roots are not yet sunk deeply enough in Chutz la’Aretz that uprooting and planting elsewhere would not cause serious trauma to their children.

Why aren’t they with us? Why are they committed to being stretched to the breaking point just to remain in Chu”l? Why are they deciding on how large their families should be based on the tuition factor alone?

The most apt mashal that we can think of, which closely aligns with our experiences, is that of a single person who remains in that state solely due to fear of commitment, of change and of leaving his comfort zone. He has chances to marry and to change his reality, but that would require taking a leap into the unknown. He is told, though, by married couples, that their metziyut (though at times challenging) is profoundly more rewarding than when they were single. Yet he refuses to taste of what Hashem has intended for him, preferring to tread water in his reliable daled amot rather than “leave his birthplace for the Land Hashem shall show him.“

We continually try to think of appropriate shidduchim for our single friends, knowing that they too wish to change their metziyut and commit to someone in their lifetimes. It’s hard for us to enjoy the rewards of a loving relationship and the joy of raising children knowing that there are others who are still looking for that fulfillment in life. But for those who shun opportunities due to fear of commitment or change, all the while believing that they belong somewhere else…well, what kind of a life is that?

I am not, chalilah, intending to cause you any personal hurt. We are still inspired by the drashot and shiurim that we were privileged to hear from you during our stint in Baltimore, and we are truly humbled by your clear love and care for Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. Halevai that we could love so deeply! We understand the need for wonderful rabbanim to remain in Chutz La’Aretz for the time being to encourage their kehillot on towards vibrant, committed lives in Eretz Yisrael.

We are basically seeking eitzah as to how to relate to this segment of Am Yisrael in a healthy and productive way. Right now, it is hard for us not to feel pity for the frum community in America. And overwhelming frustration with the widening gaps in basic hashkafot within the olam Torani. And, in all honesty, anger at what we feel is a basic failure of the chinuch given to young people in chutz la’Aretz in this generation. Why is Am Yisrael so utterly unfazed by the tremendous gift that Hashem has charged us with?! It is NOT acceptable in the 21st century for a young frum Jew to think it’s ok to strike roots and stay in America.

Neither of us wants to pity wonderful people, greater than us in their Torah learning and pure lifestyles. It doesn’t seem right. We are not arrogant people, and we know that we have many faults. But we can’t seem to square our concern for the future of Am Yisrael with the ongoing lethargy of a diaspora Jewry who are turning their backs on this Divine opportunity.

Rambam, Ramban, R’ Yehuda HaLevi, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh, R’ Yehuda haChassid, the Vilna Gaon – they all attempted to move here or sent their disciples to live here, when the situation in E”Y was almost impossible. Now we have such an easy time of it relative to the hardships of our preceding generations. What is wrong with us as a nation? Kol Dodi dofek v’dofek v’dofek…and we here are very worried that He’s given up on knocking at our door, in our time, because we just can’t collectively get ourselves out of bed to answer the call.

At the community meeting tonight to address issues of economic straits and strategies to weather these times, will anyone be raising the possibility that maybe this is another knock on the door, and that we should flood E”Y as soon as possible with a mass aliyah of committed Jews? Will this be considered as a “practical initiative?”

Doesn’t the rabbinic leadership have a responsibility at this critical juncture to promote aliyah to young families?

Or will all talk tonight be of salvaging and sustaining the diaspora?

With tremendous respect and anxiety that I might have caused offense,

But with a stronger anxiety that Am Yisrael is missing the boat,

Yours truly,

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If your friend gets a response, I hope that she will give permission for you to post that as well. I would love to see it.