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Rabbis on Their Way Home to Zion

Two American rabbis featured on Israel National Radio’s Aliyah Revolution show spoke about the future of American Jewry – in Israel.
By Ezra HaLevi
First Publish: 7/1/2007, 2:05 PM

Two American rabbis featured on Israel National Radio’s Aliyah Revolution show spoke about the future of American Jewry – in Israel.

Click here to listen to the interviews on Israel National Radio's Aliyah Revolution show.

Rabbi Avi Weiss, of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, says the question of his having not yet made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel) is one he asks himself every day. “I only feel very alive in the Land of Israel. I don’t feel that alive - in a Jewish and emotional sense - in the exile.”

“The only place where we can fully express the mission of the Nation of Israel is the Land of Israel. For me, Israel is not only important as the place that guarantees political refuge, not only as the place where more mitzvot can be performed, not only the place that, given the high rate of assimilation and intermarriage in the exile, can guarantee continuity – it is much deeper than that. The Land of Israel is the only place where we have the potential to carry out our responsibility as the chosen people. In the exile we are not in control of our destiny. It is only in the Jewish state that we have the potential to be a beacon of light to the larger world.”

“A Zionist is someone who lives in Israel,” said Rabbi Weiss. “Who is a talmid chacham? The man or woman who is versed in Torah. A benefactor of a Torah institution is very important, but is not a talmid chacham. Similarly, a Zionist is one who lives in the State of Israel, who lives in the Land of Israel. I take the position that I am not a Zionist. I am a strong supporter of Zionism - a doresh Zion – seeker of Zion.”

Rabbi Weiss explains that the classification of doresh Zion is outlined in the Talmud (Tractate Rosh HaShana 30a). “It is one who recognizes that their life in the Diaspora is incomplete. It’s the person whose goal is to live in Israel. Who, while living outside Israel, does tangible acts to connect to the land - visiting Israel, buying Israeli products, connecting to and calling friends in Israel, advocating for Israel, supporting the redemptive mission of the people living in Israel. To quote Rabbi Nachman of Breslav, ‘Wherever I am going I am going to Israel.’”

The veteran pulpit rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva says that there are effectively two types of synagogues in America. “There is the gola (exile) synagogue and the synagogue that, albeit in the exile, is yearning for - is a doresh Zion.”

“Clearly Aliyah must be made a priority. America has become very, very comfortable and [Aliyah] has become less of a priority [to many American Jews]. The history of these difficult days will be written, the key chapters will be reserved for people like [Nefesh B’Nefesh co-founder Rabbi] Joshua Fass. Nefesh B’Nefesh has really lit a spark and instilled a new sense of priority for yishuv haaretz.

Asked whether a five-year plan to move his entire congregation to Israel could work, Rabbi Weiss answered in the affirmative.

Rabbi Announces Aliyah
Chicago Rabbi Zev Shandalov announced, two weeks ago to his life-long congregation that he was making Aliyah. He explained his decision last week in an op-ed on Arutz-7.

Speaking with Israel National Radio, Rabbi Shandalov explained why he made the decision, despite the ample reasons available to him for staying in the US. “I can make many arguments for why I should stay, but in the grand scheme of things, when someone has an opportunity to do something that will make an impact on others he has an obligation to do that.

“Everything we talk about in prayers and hear in speeches from rabbis and teachers all point in this direction. There are 58 mitzvot that cannot be performed outside Israel. I want to not only be able to read the shulchan arukh (Code of Jewish Law), but to accomplish what is written in it. I cannot be someone who talks the talk without walking the walk. I believe and hope that others will follow suit…I told the whole congregation that anyone who was considering [making Aliyah] or thinking about [it] to approach me so I could help in any way I could.”

Plans Upon Arrival
“There is a need for American-style rabbis in Israel,” Rabbi Shandalov says. “I could have chosen to stay here until we retire, but I really want to help our fellow Jews in Israel. I hope I have what to give.”

“Over the last 7 years, I have had the merit to be in Israel 15 times. During those trips, I have been able to make connections and network in a way that would allow me to find a position that would allow me to give. I don’t have a job lined up, but I have faith that if we put ourselves out there, it will work out.”

Message to American Jews
“My message is as follows,” the rabbi says. “We are extremely comfortable and safe in the US. Yes, comfort is important and financial security is also important – but just as we listen to HaShem to blow the shofar and build a sukkah, we must listen and move to Israel.”

Click here to listen to the interviews on Israel National Radio's Aliyah Revolution show.