Monday, August 26, 2013

Maybe We're Wrong

In the circles of olim from America in which I travel, it is very common to talk about all the Jews who are left behind in America. Most of the conversations consist of scratching our collective heads and incessantly asking one another, "Why aren't they coming?"

We are stymied, and sometimes, to be honest, holier-than-thou. We saw the light. We sacrificed. We picked up our lives and moved to Israel. We saw the direction of Jewish history. We watch in horror as the light of the Jewish people outside of Israel dims. We think we know what's coming and it will not be pretty. And we can't understand why they can't see what we see.

WHY AREN'T THEY COMING??

Then it occurred to me.

Rabbi Nachman Kahana explains that the reason why aliyah (as in, getting called to the Torah) and aliyah (as in, moving to Israel) are the same word is because Hashem calls each of us to make aliyah one at a time, by name, exactly as an individual is called to the Torah.

Many of us who are here share the common experience of "getting the call". Many of us are aware that we were called to move to Israel. Whether we say we caught the aliyah bug, we had our aliyah switch turned on, or whatever language we use, many of us can describe the decision to make aliyah as having been, if you will, Divinely inspired.

With somewhere between 3 and 5 million Jews left in America, why are only 3,000 or so coming each year? It's absolutely true that there are those who would like to come, some very desperately, but they have compelling circumstances that force them to stay in America for now - elderly parents, family connections they are unwilling to break, health concerns, child custody issues, an unwilling spouse, etc. The vast majority, however, never give living in Israel a thought.

It sounds haughty of us, but we commonly assume that American Jews, especially religious American Jews who "ought to know better" are too consumed with their materialistic lives - unwilling to give up their big house, their government job, their comfortable lifestyle, their positions of communal influence - to follow Gd's command and live here in the Palace of the King. But what if we're wrong? What if Hashem, for His own reasons, doesn't actually want all the Jews to come to Israel just yet?

Rabbi Pinchas Winston teaches that everything that occurred to the Jewish people during the Exodus from Egypt will recur in our days as we approach the Final Redemption. So let's consider some things that happened then which just might be recurring today.

In Egypt, Pharaoh was unable to see what was really going on right in front of his eyes. We say that Hashem hardened Pharaoh's heart, preventing him from having a clear vision and making a different choice. Is it possible that the American Jews who have not yet "received the call" are subject to the same Divinely-inspired blindness? I'm suggesting that maybe it's not their fault. Maybe Hashem is preventing them from seeing the bigger picture. Just as He hardened Pharaoh's heart.

The Israelite slaves had the lowest standing in Egyptian society. Redeeming a group with power and influence, such as the elevated status the family of Yosef enjoyed in Egypt while Yosef was still alive, is not as big a miracle as redeeming the group with the least amount of prestige. Maybe Hashem's plan is to leave the majority of Jews in America and have their economic and social status decline to such an extent that when He decides to redeem them, it will be an even greater miracle because He chose to redeem a degraded people. Just like He did in Egypt.

Finally, the Israelite slaves did not leave Egypt one at a time, or even 3,000 a year. They left together in one huge, miraculous exodus. Maybe Hashem is keeping the majority of Jews in America specifically in order to redeem them en masse. Just like He did in Egypt.

I'm not suggesting that I know for sure that this is the case. It is, in the words of Jonathan Swift, a modest proposal, a kinder, gentler way to think about the Jews who remain in America without any intention of making aliyah.

While it's extraordinarily gratifying to welcome olim who are even newer than ourselves, especially when they are cherished friends and family from The Old Country, it's a fact that the number of American Jews who make aliyah each year are a tiny minority relative to the number of Jews who are not coming. Whether you are already privileged to live in Israel or whether you are firmly rooted in America, I want to hear what you think. Does the possibility I have outlined here, that Hashem doesn't want all the Jews to come to Israel just yet, strike you as plausible?


21 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think this has some good points, and I am glad we made the choice to come to Israel, but I take issue with your negativity regarding chu"l, which in the context of other posts of yours, I assume is primarily about America: "We watch in horror as the light of the Jewish people outside of Israel dims. We think we know what's coming and it will not be pretty."

We personally left America because that was a necessary step before going to Israel; we were not running away from anything. We love America and don't think it's all going to hell. Not only is that our personal view, but I personally think that's the ideal view for others. We should want to be in Israel because we want to be in Israel, not because we hate or are afraid of or enjoy speaking apocalypticly about America.

Besides the fact that America IMHO is more or less as great as it always was in its own strength/quality, as well as as a safe place for Jews.

Jeremy Staiman said...

You've brought up an interesting possibility. It seems to be clear just from the scenarios you listed (and I'm sure there are many other valid ones), that there are many who should not be coming right now. Perhaps particularly at this time of the year we should channel some of our 'holier than thou' energies into the more introspective 'how much holier I should be' teshuva process, improving our lives and the lives of those around us, and let HaShem deal with whatever that Master Plan truly is. Hopefully we will find out soon enough...

YB said...

Shalom Rivkah,

The scenarios suggested are all VERY plausible ...

It is also plausible that 80% of the Jews in the Galut
will die there - G-d forbid - (i.e. as did the Jews in the time
of the Exodus from Mitzrayim) & 20% getting out en masse.

Just my 2 shekels worth ...

ALL the best,

yb

Marian said...

I don't see any way that Israel could absorb the entire American Jewish population.

Liliana said...

Very nice, but don't forget that the Jews that left Mitzraim were only a fifth - the rest chose to stay and assimilate. Similarly, only a small part of Jews returned from exile with Ezra ...

Hadassah said...

This explanation is a little too close to Satmer ideology for me.

SaraK said...

It strikes me as plausible, because I believe that Hashem has a Master Plan and I believe that He is running the world with such a larger vision than we can ever imagine. However, I do think that it is each individual's tafkid to fulfill the Torah (which is Hashem's directive to us) as best he/she can. From what I have learned and understood, living in Eretz Yisrael is a chiyuv. Full stop.
So while I understand the concept of Hashem hardening Pharaoh's heart, and I believe that it could be happening today with Jews in ch"ul, I do not (personally) think that those who have not yet made aliyah can use it as an excuse. Maybe I'm wrong, but I hear this all the time and it really bothers me - "If Hashem wanted us all to live in Israel He would bring us there". If aliyah is not even on your mind, you can't 'blame' Hashem.
[Does that make sense?]

Judy said...

Makes a lot of sense especially since the majority of Jews in the US aren't religiously observant or knowledgeable and therefore wouldn't be inclined to "get the call".

Arkadiy said...

Most of the Jews around the world make aliyah for practical reasons, because Israel is safer or has better economic conditions than the country they live in. Most American Jews make aliyah for ideological reasons because the practical reasons are not so strong. If Americans become anti-semitic and the economy collapses then millions of American Jews will make aliyah. Former soviet union: you had refuseniks even in the 70s and 80s trying to make aliyah for ideological reasons. Once the soviet union fell apart and the economy collapsed 1 million jews (and some non-jews haha) came to israel.

Donny said...

Sorry, but I don't think that your reason is valid. American Jews HAVE received the 'call' to Aliyah, but they have chosen to ignore it - just like they have chosen to ignore many other mitzvot. What makes the problem worse, however, is that those few Jews who DO want to make Aliyah, receive little to no encouragement and support from their communities.

Rabbis and teachers encourage their communities to do mitzvot, but they ignore Aliyah. It's very hard to follow mitzvot in a vacuum, without others joining you - it's even harder when that mitzvah is one that includes traveling half way around the world.

It is time for Rabbis and community leaders in America to step up to the plate and encourage the mitzvah of Aliyah

Anonymous said...

this is excellent, and thank you very much for writing it. your imagery of the "modest proposal" by Swift is chilling, but I do agree with it 100%.

Mordechai said...

Does the Master of the Universe want Jews to do malacha on Shabbat? Does He want Jews to refrain from doing chesed? Does He want Jews to eat non kosher meat? Does He want them to steal and commit adultery?

If you cannot fathom a positive answer to these questions, don't be so nice to our mistaken brothers anf sisters in the Galut. They choose to be there. Let them at least understand what that means

Surie said...

This idea also doesn't account for the thousands of American Jews who "heard the call," came, and then went back. Nor for the thousands of Israeli-born Jews, including religious ones, who have emigrated.

Shayna said...

I think the most important thing as we move into Rosh Hashana is that we should be focusing on ourselves and our own spiritual journeys and find a way to stop ourselves from the very human tendency of wishing to judge our fellow Jews, regardless of where they live.

Anonymous said...

Maybe some of us just can't fathom living someplace where we have to rely on the government to accept our eventual poverty as an excuse for not paying bills. How are you going to convince someone making a good salary in the US to give up all their conveniences (not luxuries) such as air conditioning just so they can afford rent? And even if they find affordable rent, they can't speak the language, have no idea what to do or where to go for anything. Sure, help is available, but Americans are raised to be self-sufficient, at least most are. So let's say I have just enough money to buy a 1 way ticket to Israel. Now what? Most middle-class Jews in America have little to no savings at all. When I see a guaranteed apartment, with air conditioning and plenty of good food in an area where I don't need 3 buses to go anywhere, and a guaranteed job making 6 figures, I'll consider coming.

CE said...

I would love to make Aliyah...if only I can convince my husband!

Anonymous said...

Most diaspora Jews do not move to Israel because they barely know it. Those who do often fi d that it is completely foreign to them culturally and linguistically and even religiously (as religion in Israel and chul are two very different things) and much as they may have affection for Israel, can't imagine living there. That's it! No great mystery!

Laura said...

You are very kind to give our brethren the benefit of the doubt. Hashem may not want all of the Jews to come yet, and I'm sure He does not or they would be here. But that doesn't mean we're wrong. Just as Phaaroh was held responsible for his actions, so is everyone else.

We can speculate about the why's and what will's but that doesn't change the what is. People make their choices and no one can think to blame G-d for their inability to get up and make the move.

Despite my disagreement with the idea, it is an excellently written article, as always.

~L.

Anonymous said...

I'll throw my 2 cents into this discussion. I'm living here in Israel 25 years. I came for idealistic reasons, plus that sense of adventure I had at that age. Now, I'm middle-aged, dealing with the vast cultural differences still, and I'm just grateful I came when I was younger and had the energy. It is not easy nor simple living here, and I can understand American/ European Jews not wanting to give up the comforts and ease. I'm a first-generation immigrant. I don't have the language 100% (altho I do speak it, read it, etc.) I don't have a warm, loving, supportive community like I had in the US. It's also not easy watching your children absorb the Israeli culture - the chutzpah, etc. (And yes, I'm an involved, caring mother.) There are many mitzvos that Jews don't do. I don't look down on those who "don't know." We're all on our own journey. HaSh-m should please help us all do the next right thing.

Rivka said...

Perhaps some of us don't come because we don't have the means to do so. Perhaps we live in a small apartments and live month to month, and do not even have the money for plane tickets, let alone enough to live on for months while we find jobs and get settled in a new country where we do not speak the language. So yes, if Hashem wanted us to make aliyah, He would give us the means to do so. Because Hashem knows how much I and my family want to live in Israel, but we cannot, unless one of those who believes we are not really Torah observant Jews if we do not live in Israel wants to pay our way?

SME said...

I would love to make aliyah, but I am a single mother in her early 60s. I need to have a job to support myself and my son and have heard that age discrimination in Israel is worse than in the USA. The cost of living is very high in Israel -- so going without a job or a promise of one is just impossible. On top of that my son has some special needs and as wonderful as Israeli healthcare and education is -- given his needs it is an unknown. . .