Children often wish they were grownups, and adults often wish they could return to their childhood. People frustrated with any list of annoyances, or depressed with certain self-perceived failures, may resent their lives, until death approaches and then they wish they could live longer and be given a second chance.
Single people often wish they will find their match. Married people, all too often, seem to wish the opposite. Jews in exile dream of living in Israel. Once in Israel, many Jews seem to forget why they came here, and are constantly plotting their escape, whether temporarily, on vacation, or as a more permanent relocation.
I’ve written many Aliyah related articles. When strongly encouraging Aliyah, I often get some negative feedback. I recently wrote an article about Aliyah for the elderly, which basically gives the elderly an exemption from my Aliyah encouragement. I got a lot more negative feedback for that one. Elderly Jews don’t want to hear that they are not needed in Israel.
Truth be told, elderly Jews are needed in Israel. All Jews are. What is interesting though is that if you encourage an older person to make Aliyah you will probably get a sour face and be told to leave him be. If you tell the same person that he should probably not make Aliyah, you will get the same sour face with even more bitterness.
The same paradox exists within Jewish identity. A Jew could be unaffiliated and assimilated in America. He might say that he is only a Jew by birth, not by faith or practice. He might even identify more as an atheist than a Jew. But should the Orthodox claim that he is not really a Jew, he will naturally object to their statement. Suddenly his Jewish identity will become important to him again, something worth defending and fighting for.
Jews have been living in exile for thousands of years. We dreamt of returning to Israel. That dream has become a reality, and yet many Jews remain in exile.
Most American Jews remain in America. They did not budge when that opportunity knocked on their doors. They were happier pursuing the American dream.
This is a profound reality that would have been hard to imagine a thousand years ago. We have Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, and yet many Jews remain aloof and indifferent in their exile. And I’m not talking only about the unaffiliated, assimilated, and irreligious Jews of America, those seemingly lost to Judaism, I’m talking about many Orthodox Jews as well who refuse to budge from their exile.
Such a reality would not be possible without the existence of the State of Israel. We have Israel now, so we can take it for granted. If Israel did not exist, the bitterness of exile would naturally return to our palates, the taste of death and the grapes of gall.
That is the main reason why I came to Israel. As a Conservative Jew born in America who learned about Judaism and Jewish history, the first thought that came to my mind was how lucky we are that we have Israel. We have this sad history and this sad story to tell, and with all that we’ve lost we should have permanently sad faces, but we do not, because we have Israel.
I thought about this as a child and then as a teenager. I even thought about it for a short while at an American university, and then I realized that I am my own man, and not a reflection of those around me in America, so I got up and went to Israel.
I realized the absurdity of living in exile and appreciating the existence of Israel, of thinking about what a miracle it is that we have a nation and a sovereign state in Israel, and yet we live in America. What a miracle it is for others if we deny ourselves the pleasure. I wanted a piece of that miracle for myself. I wanted to be a part of Israel.
That is the true Israel appreciation I expected. When you are given a gift that you so adamantly requested, you take it.
I wanted Israel from the bottom of my heart, together with those suffering Jews, our ancestors, about whom I read. They did not make it to Israel, but I did. I received the gift and I appreciate it.
Yshai Amichai made Aliyah from Los Angeles in 2001, settling in Israel, where he met his wife and where they raise their six children. He may be contacted at: email@example.com