For the few years before I made Aliyah I spent Yom Ha’atzmaut in New York. At night I would go to Yeshiva University where they had a nice program talking about The State of Israel along with a special davening and then dancing. It was all very enjoyable and I looked forward to it every year. During the day we would gather in a park to continue celebrating with a barbeque. Spending Independence Day with people who had the same beliefs and feelings about the State of Israel as I did was very powerful. But there was something about it that bothered me and every year these feelings grew. I started to feel out of place. America is a country that has been very good to the Jews and we are very thankful for it, but it’s not my country. I’m a Jew before I’m an American. I was living in a Christian country where vacation was determined around the Christian holidays and I felt like I didn’t belong.
Here I was, 6,000 miles away, celebrating the Independence of a State I wasn’t a citizen of and a place I didn’t live. I was enjoying the fruits of someone else’s labor. I’m celebrating something I haven’t contributed to. I didn’t go to the army and I wasn’t part of the work force. I wasn’t living there on a daily basis contributing to the greater good. I felt like a hypocrite. I asked myself the following question; if I believe in the State of Israel and what it stands for, then why am I celebrating in New York and not celebrating in Israel? If I believe that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish People then what possible reason do I have for living in New York and not in Israel?
At that time in my life I didn’t know when I was going to move to Israel. I was thinking about going to graduate school and I was hoping I would move in the next 5-10 years but I really wasn’t sure how it would play out. I saw many people I knew who wanted to move to Israel and were passionate about it but for whatever reasons had stayed in America. I saw other people who wanted to retire to Israel. That’s a nice idea but why not spend the best years of your life there instead of waiting until you’re older? Why miss so many years of your life that you could be living in Israel? I didn’t want that to be me, I didn’t want it to pass by me and wake up one day and regret not moving sooner like it happens to many people. I didn’t know how many more years I could go against a core belief of mine that the Jewish People should be living in the Land of Israel. So how was I going to live in America and all the while feel like a hypocrite?
Fortunately I was able to make Aliyah one year after I finished university Once I came here I started to better understand the beliefs and feelings I had regarding my relationship with Israel. It can be easy to love something when you’re far away from it. You see it a few weeks a year and don’t have to deal with the hardship when you’re there on a daily basis. But that’s not real love, it’s a convenient love. Before I moved to Israel that was my relationship with it. I would come on a summer program and have a great time as a tourist. I spent one and a half years in yeshiva as a student and enjoyed it tremendously. In college I would come to Israel for a few weeks every winter break but it was only temporary and I would then return to New York. I was only taking from Israel but I wasn’t giving to it. It was only once I moved here that I started to understand what Israel was all about and started to really love Israel.
Israel is not just about building your own community but building your country. When you live in Israel you’re a part of something much greater than yourself or your community. You’re playing a role in the future of the Jewish People. I believe that in many years down the road when Jewish History is being discussed it will focus mostly on the State of Israel. I could be wrong but this is what I believe and I want to be a part of where Jewish history is heading because even by just living here I’m contributing. Everything we do is helping to build the Jewish People and our Homeland.
As I arrived home in Israel last week from America, it was a great feeling. My flight landed early in the morning and I watched sunrise from the taxi as we drove along the highway to Jerusalem. It was stunning but there was something else. This time of year all the lampposts along the highway have Israeli flags hanging from them. Driving up to Jerusalem surrounded by Israeli flags was something I’ll never forget.
People often ask me why I made Aliyah and sometimes I’m not sure what to respond because there are many different reasons. I think the Torah makes it clear that the Jewish people belong in the land of Israel. It says numerous times “When you come to the Land of Israel.” What more needs to be said? I want to live in the land G-d gave us, the land that is our birthplace, our present and our future. I love that the calendar is based on the Jewish holidays and not around Christmas. Many of my friends are obsessed with what day of the week the holidays fall out on to see how many vacation days they need to take. I don’t worry about that here since I have off for the holidays. Companies give out holiday bonuses on Rosh Hashana and Pesach. You’re in a place that you don’t need to explain why you’re leaving early on Friday to get home before Shabbat. You’re in a place where you aren’t the odd one out, where you’re not a minority. You’re in a place conducive to living your life as a Jew.
Most of all I want to live in my homeland. I got tired of saying Leshana Haba Beyerushalayim (next year in Jerusalem) on Pesach and Yom Kippor. I felt every year I said it, it was just lip service and it almost started to lose some of it meaning. Why should I keep saying it if I have the ability to make it a reality and yet every year is another gone by where I don’t act, where I’m in America and not in Israel? The time arrived for me to come home and it’s the best decision I have ever made. There have been many tough times here but the most meaningful things in life tend to be the most difficult to accomplish. I hope and pray that many of you will join me here in this miraculous place called the Land of Israel.
Happy 61st Birthday Israel