We live in a thriving Orthodox community in Monsey. New York. It offers the best in Jewish education for our children, a wide gamut of synagogue activities for the whole family, Torah classes throughout the day, and real joy during the Jewish holidays, all of which foster a sense of Jewish identity and pride. Why should we move to Israel where the influence of the secular Israelis is so pervasive, and where our spiritual (and physical) wellbeing will be jeopardized?
There aren’t any spiritual dangers living in America? Is Monsey so hermetic that you don’t feel the influence of the Christian culture that surrounds you? For instance, if you have to leave your shtetl at this time of year, aren’t you immediately confronted by Santa Clauses and mangers? And if my memory serves me right, wasn’t some synagogue in Monsey torched this past year, and a giant Chabad menorah vandalized? And aren’t there also secular Jews in Monsey, and in the surrounding towns and on the campuses where your children go off to college?
Furthermore, if you enjoy your life in the ghetto, we have dozens of Monsey-like communities in Israel that dwarf Monsey in size and in religious observance, places like Mea Shaarim, Geula, Ramot Dalet, Bucharim, Sanhedrin Muchevet, Romema, Har Nof, Bnei Brak, Betar Illit, Kfar Sefer, etc etc. In almost every city in Israel, there are Orthodox neighborhoods which offer everything you describe, with the added bonus of being in the Holy Land.
Don’t make the mistake of underplaying the holiness of the Land of Israel. Just look at the Torah portions that we have been reading. When our forefather, Yaacov, awakes from his famous dream, he realizes that he is in the “House of G-d” and at the “Gateway to Heaven.” Can Monsey boast that? And notice how the angels of the Land of Israel refuse to accompany Yaacov in his exile from the Land because of the spiritual impurity of the Diaspora. And our Sages teach us that Yaacov feared Esav, even though Esav was a wicked man, and even though Hashem had promised to guard Yaacov, because all the time that Yaacov was away, Esav had the merit of observing the commandment of living in the Land of Israel, which is equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah.
But beyond these reasons for living in the Land of Israel, I am afraid that your understanding of Judaism is off the mark. Judaism isn’t a private religion like Christianity, Protestantism, and the like, that can be bottle in a jar like gefilta fish.
Judaism is the national constitution of the Nation of Israel that is to be played out over the mountains and valleys of Eretz Yisrael. In addition to private individual commandments like tzitzit, tefillin, and keeping kosher, Judaism includes commandments for the Jewish Nation as a whole, like conquering and settling the Land of Israel, enlisting in the Jewish army, rebuilding the Temple, establishing the Sanhedrin and Jewish Monarchy, and keeping the agricultural mitzvot that are dependent on the Land.
The proper understanding of Judaism is that each individual Jew put his, or her, life in line with the goal of the Nation of Israel as a whole (the Clal), and not just live the private, ritual Judaism of the galut, stripped of our national essence. The Jewish People are to establish the Kingdom of G-d on earth, and this can only be accomplished in our national format in the Land of Israel, as it says, “For the Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of Hashem from Jerusalem.”
To do this, the Jewish People must return in its entirety to Zion. This is the teaching of our Prophets, and the rebuilding of Israel has been the driving force of Jewish history over the last one-hundred and fifty years.
Take a look at our preliminary morning prayers to see that the goal of Judaism is to live a life of Torah in the Land of Israel, and not in Monsey, New York. After reciting the “Akeida” we ask G-d to remember the Brit with our forefathers and return us to the Land of Israel. We repeat this request over and over in the following dozen verses, which all have the same plea: “Bring us back to our Land, bring us back to our Land, bring us back to our Land (these verses are omitted in many prayer books published in the Diaspora).
A little further on, after the preliminary recital of the Shema, we ask Hashem to sanctify His Name in the world by granting us salvation. What is this salvation? Salvation from the exile. “Gather our outcasts from the four corners of the earth so that all the inhabitants of the world we recognize and know that that You are the exalted and unique one G-d over all the kingdoms of the globe.” How is this great sanctification of G-d to come about? Through our return to live in the Land of Israel.
To our great shame, we recite these verses, but fail to act on them. A Jew can hop on the train of Jewish destiny and join the ingathering, or he can make his last stop in Monsey, Melbourne, and Manchester, and become another nail in the coffin of galut.
The eyes of the whole world are focused on Israel because everyone knows that this is where history began, and this is where the unfolding saga of world history is destined to reach its climax. Let’s face it. Who cares about Jewish life in Monsey except for the handful of Jews that live there? Can you imagine an international website frequented by hundreds of thousands of readers: www.MonseyNationalNews? Of course not.
I strongly recommend that new and old readers alike look over some of the teachings of HaRav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook and his son, HaRav Tzvi Yehuda, regarding Judaism and the Land of Israel that we have posted on our jewishsexuality.com website. By and large, the leaders of Diaspora Jewry have hid their eyes, and the eyes of their congregants, from these teachings, but they illuminate the deepest truths about Judaism, and anyone who seeks to serve G-d with all of his heart, with all of his soul, and with all of his might will surely find great wisdom and enlightenment in encountering the magnificent, transcendental, and world sweeping picture of Judaism which they present.