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Going Down Swinging

By Tzvi Fishman
4/24/2012, 11:04 PM

Since INN has yet taken down my blog page, I’ve decided to post one last entry, so that people will remember that I went down swinging.

Lately, I have been reading a lot of Internet articles critical of Israel, so I decided to respond to one that appeared in The Times of Israel. Here’s what I wrote:

In his current interesting and informative article “Why Live Here?” Ariel Beery writes about two friends who made aliyah, then left Israel to live in Boston “where it is easier to earn a respectable living, to pay the rent without going into debt; where one can be a Reform Jew without having to apologize and jump through the Rabbinate’s hoops. Twenty years ago this couple may have been labeled “yordim,” and the Zionist movement in Israel would have said it was their personal failure to integrate. But today’s Israeli society justifies them, comparing life in Israel to life in major cities around the world — and finding Israel wanting.”

While it is certainly desirable that Israel become the most booming job center and modern, market place in the world, I would like to offer a more spiritual look on the matter.

Almost 30 years ago, during my first year in Israel, very much like Mr. Beery’s experience, I bumped into two friends on the streets of Jerusalem who told me that they were returning to live in the States after a short try at being olim. One explained that he had been offered an attractive job at Israel Aircrafts, but when he arrived in Israel he discovered that the company was struggling with budget cuts and could only give him a post similar to his old one, at half of the salary he had been making in the States. So, with a heavy heart, he decided to pack up his bags and leave.    

My other friend had been working some time at Hebrew University. Unfortunately, his boss was caught in an embezzlement scandal and all the staff whom he had hired, including my friend, were fired. When I reminded him that he had been offered good jobs in several other places, and that he could surely find work, he replied that his patience was up – he was going back to New York.

At the time, I was living at the house of a saintly old lady who was letting me stay in a free room in her apartment until I could find something more permanent. I told her about my two friends and asked, “How can it be that G-d throws problems in the path of sincere, idealistic people who come to Israel with the best of intentions, so much so that they get discouraged and decide to leave?”

The old lady’s name was Serafin Trokman, of blessed memory. She had come to Israel from France as a little girl, fought in several wars, a raised her family in Jerusalem. Her two sons were high-ranking army reserve officers, and her daughter worked for the Mosad. The spirited eighty-year-old woman had piercing green eyes which brought you back to the Biblical days of our Forefathers, and the wrinkled lines of her face seemed to have witnessed the long and tormented history of the Jews.

“For over 2000 years, the Jewish People have been dying for Jerusalem,” she answered. “The stones of her streets are steeped in our blood. When a person comes to Israel, and especially to Jerusalem, G-d tests him. G-d wants to know if he loves Jerusalem more than anything else. Your two friends loved their careers more than they loved Jerusalem. So the Land vomited them out. They think that they were rejecting Israel, but really Israel was rejected them, as King David said, ‘If I not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.’”

When a person chooses Boston or San Francisco over Jerusalem, it isn’t Israel which is lacking – it’s him.

Now I’m not talking about people who can’t find the means to get by in Israel, no matter how hard they try – I’m speaking about those people who can find work but don’t want to sacrifice. That’s what I wrote at the Times, but I would like to add here that, in my opinion, the same holds true for the habitual degraders of Israel who constantly find things wrong with life in this country while they sit and read what’s happening here on their computer screens in the Diaspora. It’s not they who are rejecting Israel – it is Israel which is rejecting them.

As we learn at the end of this week’s Torah portion, Achrei Mot, unlike other places in the world, the Land of Israel has a living soul which vomits out its unwanted. Rabbi Tzvi Yehuda Kook explained this with a metaphor, when speaking about people who abandon Israel to live outside the Land.         

“It is similar to a girl who was offered a shidduch,” he said. “Before the date, she discovered that she knew who he was and she wasn’t interested at all in meeting him. But she didn’t want to hurt his feelings, so she didn’t wash for several days, didn’t comb her hair, and dressed up in disheveled garments for their meeting. When he saw her, he was repulsed and couldn’t wait to end the date and get away from her. He thought that he was rejecting her, but in reality, it was she who was rejecting him.”

“It’s the same way with the Land of Israel,” Rabbi Kook said. “G-d doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, even the “yordim” who leave the Land, so he brings things about to make Israel seem unpleasant in their eyes, so they think it is they who are rejecting the Land when, in fact, it is the Land which is rejecting them.”

The Gemara tells us that no one is more honored in Heaven than the brave souls who sacrificed their lives for their brethren in the Land of Israel. On this Memorial Day, may their memory be for a blessing.   

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