Thursday, July 23, 2009

Aliyah Season

It's July and aliyah season is upon us. All around me, people are clearing out the detritus of their American lives, sending lifts, talking about their upcoming flights and where they'll be living, ulpan and schools for their kids. At the same time, hundreds of teens from my community are leaving soon for their year in Israel or for their Shana Bet. Some days, it seems that everyone I know is going to be living in Israel next year.

But not me.

In July of 2002, my husband and I went on a pilot trip together. A year later, as a gesture of shalom bayit (because I wanted to move to Israel and my husband didn't), we bought an apartment. On that trip, we hardly knew anyone in the country. Now, seven years later, as we're about the leave for my 21st trip, it seems we have more friends in Israel than here in America.

Of course, my perspective is a bit skewed. But I definitely inhabit two worlds and belong fully in neither.

One is the world of olim, both chadashim and vatikim. The ones who, season after season, leave Baltimore and start lives in Israel. Friends who, year after year, write beautiful prose about their lives in the Holy Land on their aliyah anniversaries. These are the friends who see what I see. Who don't think I'm crazy for seeing big change coming. Who believe what I believe about where God wants us to live. And some of these are even more strident than I am about getting their friends and family out of America. The ones who see evil intentions in the White House. The ones who quake with fear for the safety of their loved ones in America.

The other is the world of friends and family whose roots are deeply embedded in American soil. The ones who are redoing their kitchens. The ones who might visit Israel this year, but look forward to seeing Hawaii next year and Australia the year after. The ones who tell me I talk about Israel too much. The ones who find things I say offensive and, doggone it, unAmerican.

I love both sets of friends. There are things to value and appreciate about each person in my world. But there is no escaping the reality that it is as if they inhabit different planets. And I can't fully inhabit either.

I recently watched the 2003 film Out of the Ashes, a movie about the life of Dr. Gisella Perl, a Hungarian survivor who wrote the book I Was a Doctor in Auschwitz. The most extraordinary scene plays out as the Nazis have already entered Hungary. There is a heated family discussion. Dr. Perl wants her family to leave for Palestine while the family still has enough money, connections and time to get out of Sighet, Hungary. Her father absolutely refuses to believe that the people of Hungary, that his fellow citizens of Sighet, will allow the Nazis to harm the Jews. As a stern patriarch, he insists that the family stay together in Sighet.

Of all her family, because she was a doctor, only Gisella Perl survived Auschwitz.

Although a film is not real life, the discussion was truthful. It happened in hundreds of thousands of home all across Europe as the Nazi threat spread. To stay or to go?

God-forbid anything like that should ever fall upon the remaining Jews in America! But there are changes in the air and they require vigilance. Minimally. Today, numbers of American olim are measured in the thousands. But how swiftly that could change if, unlike Gisella Perl's historically blind father, tens of thousands would only wake from the poppy field in their pursuit of the Emerald City.

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