Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Aliyah Question

There have been a flurry of blog posts written this past week or two about the aliyah question. First, Hannah Dreyfus wrote about her ambivalence toward making aliyah:
....the pronouncement of aliyah as an unequivocal ideal is quickly followed up by a laundry list of buts. My career. The language. Money. The precarious way of life. The foreign culture. The school systems.
An ideal, yes. Am I going? No...
Immediately following came what I thought was a tragic piece, written by Aryeh Younger, in which he unabashedly declares:
For me and many other American Orthodox Jews, we proudly see America as our homeland. We believe that American culture is our culture...
To me and the overwhelming majority of America’s Jews, we have no reason to apologize for living in America. I am proud to be an American, and I don’t see Aliyah as that “unequivocal ideal.” 
There ensued on my Facebook Timeline a 109-comment (and counting) thread about whether or not having zero desire to make aliyah is, as I termed it, tragic. One brave and persistent commenter, writing from her materially comfortable life in the US, cited a long litany of reasons why she and other modern Orthodox Jews are not even considering aliyah. Some of her reasons are based on misinformation (e.g. "will the rabbis allow my children to get married because I wasn't raised religious?") but some are completely understandable for those making a strictly rational decision.

It's my contention that the decision to make aliyah is not a decision that can be made on the basis of strict rationality. In fact, I'm not sure that for many olim, it's really a decision that we make at all. It rather feels like a decision that was made for us. 

By the Big Guy.

Two years ago, I wrote a post in which I noted that:
I am often struck, when friends and new acquaintances tell their stories of how they came to live in Israel, about how we are all guided here.  It's as if God handpicks us, one at a time, and sets us on a path toward this place.  It has long seemed to me that a significant percentage of olim are either converts or ba'alei teshuva like me.
For years, I've dreamed of writing a book filled with stories of olim who came here from distant places, both spiritually and geographically. While that book gestates within for a few more years, I would like to introduce you to two families whose aliyah stories particularly inspire me.

Getting The Call

I know olim who experience ending up in Israel as a somewhat random outcome. But there's another experience many olim recognize. Others refer to it as having your aliyah switch flipped on, but I refer to it as getting the call. However you term it, the experience feels something like this. You get an idea in your head that somehow, someday, someway, you are going to live in Israel. And that thought never leaves you. Whether it takes 6 months or 6 decades, THE THOUGHT NEVER LEAVES YOU.

Take the Morgan family. They made aliyah just a few days ago, after living in places most East Coast Jews have never even visited, among them Idaho, Nebraska, Utah and Wyoming. I was told that Baruch Morgan was a cowboy but that didn't fully prepare me for our first meeting. They were our Shabbat guests this past week and all three Morgans walked in wearing white straw hats.

Photo not taken on Shabbat.
As new olim often do, we traded aliyah stories, and, in so doing, we spoke about getting the call. I immediately recognized from their story that, even though they had been living very far from major Jewish population centers, Hashem handpicked this family and brought them Home.

Jewish Ancestors Calling You Home

Yoel and Yael Keren started life in Oklahoma as faithful Christians named Joel and Tracy. Although Joel and Tracy married as Christians, they were plagued by theological questions for which they could not find satisfactory answers. Tracy's intermarried Jewish grandfather encouraged them as they pursued conversion to Judaism through the Conservative movement in Oklahoma. As newly-converted Jews, they married a second time, this time under a chuppah. Tracy's grandfather attended their Conservative wedding and encouraged their aliyah, saying, "You go, and be good Jews, not like me." 

Fifteen months later, they made aliyah and began to study for a second, halachic conversion (which I think of as Jew 2.0). In August 2002, they stood together under a chuppah yet again (for those who are counting, this was their third wedding together) and began their lives as Orthodox Jews in Israel.


Twelve years later, now known as Yoel and Yael, they are both fluent in Hebrew, which Yoel speaks using the Tiberian vocalization that dates back to Second Temple times. They have an Israeli-born daughter in addition to their American-born son. Yael teaches English in an Israeli high school and, in addition to teaching occasional Torah classes, Yoel works for an organization that reclaims the Land of Israel for the Jewish people. Their Oklahoma accents and fondness for smoking meat remain, even while they continue to make their daily contributions to the Jewish people in the Land of Israel.

Rabbi Nachman Kahana taught me that the reason why aliyah, as in being called to the Torah, and aliyah, as in immigrating to Israel are the same word, even though they are pronounced differently, is because Hashem calls to each of us, individually, by name, when the time has come for us to return Home.

For those who view the aliyah question as Hannah Dreyfus, Aryeh Younger and my Facebook commenter do, it seems plausible to me that, perhaps, they have simply not yet been called.


10 comments:

SaraK said...

You know that is my all time favorite dvar Torah :)

mother in israel said...

I think I used to babysit for Aryeh.
As to lack of rationality, there's no question that all of us who have done it are a little crazy. :)

Michael Levitt said...

This article is brilliant and absolutely right. I am a guy who takes no risks. Leaving the UK without having first sold my house, learned the destination country's language or found a job there is something I would never contemplate. Let alone putting my wife and children at financial risk by taking out all our savings for the purpose of such a jump in the dark. But for years we have been saying we will make aliyah, and we did it, in just that way, with no rationality but with plenty of emotion, almost 12 months ago. My wife is working but I am still to find work. Anywhere else I would be worried sick and regretting my decision, as our savings start to run out. Here I know I made the right choice, and have an army of new friends all helping me find my work niche. Yes, a little crazy. Every Jew has it. Some are just not ready for aliyah. Maybe some will never be. Hashem needs us everywhere in the world, after all, so they shouldn't feel bad about it. You don't come here to replicate your life in your country of birth. You come when you no longer feel at home where you were. That's all!

Chana said...

To tell the truth, if they don't want to come here, I don't want them to come either. So I guess it's a win-win situation.

Anonymous said...

Am I the only FFB that always knew that I would make aliyah - it was just a question of when? (I am the fulfillment of generations of dreams and plans of my family and ancestors.) You're right - most olim I know either are baal teshuvas or it hit them later in life (or in the case of my husband, it was a prerequisite to our marriage.)

Anonymous said...

You know, it sort of makes me laugh when some Jews speak kind of "in your face - I'm not making aliyah, no way, no how" as IF they are in charge of big decisions like that. Well guess what Friends? Hashem is in charge, not us and He is clearly directing His children back home. If a soldier hasn't yet been decapitated in America on the street in full daylight, believe me, it will be some other wake up call to come home. If we all know the end of the story - that the Jews will return to Eretz Yisrael with Mashiach's coming, then why fight it? Get out now while you can still come with all of your belongings!

Stephen Sokal said...

Full disclosure. I work for Nefesh B'Nefesh so I am hardly neutral on the issue of Aliyah. If I could add one thing to this great article it would be that over the last seven years I have been honored and priveleged to speak with thousands of Olim and people planning their Aliyah. I am always amazed at the different reasons people have for making Aliyah and I have never found one that is "better" than any other. If you want to be here, we want you here. I have also learned that any one who wants the dream of Aliyah can have it. I have seen people in situations I thought hopeless build succesful lives here. It can happen for anyone.

Jennifer in AliyahLand said...

Thanks for writing this. Came across your piece randomly, but I remember all 3 Morgans well from our pilot trip! Glad they've landed happily and have met up with good friends. Please pass on my information to them and we hope to meet up with them again on "the other side" (we arrive in August, iy"h)!

Linda Saunders said...

I remember the Morgans also from our Pilot Trip. We will be making Aliyah hopefully in October. We are also from Oklahoma, as were the Keren's. My husband has wanted to move to Israel since he was 9 years old. We will be retiring there this fall. I totally agree that it is a "calling" and even though I am not Jewish, I feel the same emotional pull that he does.

Galia Berry said...

I loved this article. I am someone who made aliyah, then yerida, for reasons I shan't get into here. I will only say that once you have lived in Israel, no other place (including your birthplace or hometown) will ever truly feel like home and you will never again be fully comfortable (emotionally or spiritually) in the Diaspora. And yes, we are planning to return!