Last week, shortly after yet another person who lives in Israel told me he's going to America this summer, I updated my status on Facebook to say:
"I feel like I'm the only person I know who has no plans to go to America this summer."
Thirty-six comments later, I knew I had stirred up a controversy. Early responders, all olim from America, used strong language to announce that they have no such plans:
- I have no intention of going to America ever.
- I don't! America is a terrible place to be.
- don't do it!!!
- We are not going there....I cry every time I get home from anywhere and the States is the PITS to visit!!!!
Every time I write about this topic, it tends to generate strong reactions. So let me try to be as clear as I can. There is a world of difference between someone (and for the purposes of this discussion, I'm really only talking about Torah Jews here) who would love to live in Israel but can't right now for a whole array of legitimate reasons and those who have a tenacious connection to America and who simply do not see aliyah and a life in Israel as a desideratum.
A few years ago, I heard Rabbi Simcha Hochbaum, visiting Baltimore from Israel, speak about how every generation has its unique challenge. A generation or two ago, the challenge was Shabbat observance - how to remain gainfully employed in America while guarding Shabbat. He reminded us that this issue overwhelmed a generation of Jewish immigrants but is hardly spoken about by American Jews anymore. The issue of our generation, he claimed, is undoubtedly aliyah to Eretz Yisrael.
What I said on Facebook bears repeating here: "Many of the people I know who have made aliyah have very strong feelings about the (lack of a) future for Jews in America and are, frankly, puzzled by the continued, steadfast loyalty of Jews to America. My sense is that, if it wasn't for friends and family (and Target), I don't know how many of us would actually ever go back."
That's the chasm spasm that seems to be gripping Torah Jews. There are approximately 5.5 million Jews in Israel and approximately 5.5 million Jews in America (though many argue that this number includes approximately 2 million non-halachic Jews). The next closest contender is France with less than 500,000 Jews. So, since the vast majority of the world's diaspora Jews are in America, the controversy centers there.
Are Torah observant American Jews beginning to feel somewhat defensive about their decision to stay in America? Are olim guilty of rubbing the noses of American Jews in it?
It took me nine years from my first thought of aliyah to our aliyah flight. So I, for sure, understand wanting but not being able to.
But, for myself, I am really and truly, genuinely puzzled by those who simply do not want. I'm sorry I can't be more PC about this but no, it really isn't a matter of personal preference. We're not talking chocolate or vanilla here. "Hashem is here. Hashem is there. Hashem is truly everywhere," is a nice children's song. It's not a justification for staying in America at this time in Jewish history, while storm clouds grow darker each day.
There are hundreds of Torah quotes, and many sefarim that make the case so much better than I could ever make it. (Just ask and I'm happy to recommend one, or 10 :-). If you don't have any intention of making aliyah, at least don't kid yourself into thinking that Hashem doesn't care where you live as long as you keep His mitzvot. If you think your life in America is kosher, even mehadrin min hamehadrin, at least be honest enough to acknowledge the the truth of the words of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden who teaches that Eretz Yisrael is, "The peg upon which the entire Torah hangs."
If you can't come right now, you can't come. Anyone can understand that. But if you are a committed Torah Jew and you don't even want to come?
That's a chasm I just can't understand.