Over the last couple of decades, a new community has developed that has become the premier destination for American hareidim in Israel. The community has a reputation for its accepting and non judgemental atmosphere. Whether you are modern, baalei batish, yeshivish, Lubavitch, lakewood-type, Passaic type or Five Towns type, all are welcome and all are equal.
It is a community with a gorgeous landscape overlooking the Judean Hills- and a mere 30 minute drive from Yerushalayim. While prices have gone up significantly recently, its still cheaper than Yerushalayim. Most of its residents have surprisingly been willing to pay a hefty fee for accommodations much smaller than what they’re used to in the states.
The greatest proof of this community’s success is that it has an incredible retention rate, people who move here, generally don’t move back or away.
The community I am referring to is not Ramat Beit Shemesh, but its pretty close by. It is a place called the Eretz HaChaim Cemetery.
Good frum Jews from the diaspora have made the Eretz HaChaim cemetery the largest single community of American hareidim (and other Orthodox Jews) in Israel- larger than Ramat Eshkol, Rechavia or Beit Shemesh. The numbers speak for themselves.
The question is, what makes Eretz HaChaim such a popular choice for Americans? Why is it so much more popular than other American hareidi communities. Why is Aliyah in general so much more popular in the American hareidi community amongst the deceased than it is amongst the living?
There is no denying that American hareidim certainly have a deep love and appreciation for the holy land- those who can afford it vacation there, send their children to study there, some even plan to retire there one day in the distant future. Very few actually move there. But nearly everyone wants to be buried there. Why?
In previous generation most Jews had no realistic opportunity to be buried in Israel, and they could only dream of obtaining a small pouch of dirt from Eretz Yisrael, which they could be buried together with. Today, thank G-d, where the opportunities to be buried in Israel have expanded greatly, good Jews from America don’t waist this special gift from G-d that we have in our generation- they proudly come in droves, despite the difficulty and despite the cost, to be buried in our holy land, in Eretz Yisrael.
A burial in Israel is no simple matter. There are extra flight costs for the dead and for the family members, extra burial costs, days off from work, extra accommodation costs and other logistics that need to be coordinated- sometimes even in Hebrew. Why are so many Jews willing to be so “moiser nefesh” to do this mitzvah of burying their dead in Israel? Certainly burying one’s loved ones in the US is not treif. Why put in all of the extra effort if one can avoid the headache in a kosher way? This is the ultimate question of the Jew in Galus.
Fortunately the Gemara in KIlayim Yerushalmi (9:3) provides the answer in relating the following story:
“Rebbe Bar Kirya and Rabbi Elazar were traveling on the road. They saw coffins arriving from chutz la’aretz (for burial). Rebbe Bar Kirya said to Rabbi Lazar: What are they accomplishing? While they were alive, I call on them the verse “And my inheritance I made as an abomination” (Jeremiah 2:7) (since they could have lived in Israel but chose not to) and in their death I call on them the verse “and you came and polluted my land” (with the impurity of your dead).
The above was just a preface to the following punchline, which is perhaps the source for why so many in America go through so much headache to be buried in Israel:
Rabbi Elazar replied, “When they arrive in Israel and they (the coffin bearers) take a clod of dirt and place it on the casket and “the earth atones for them” (Devarim 32:43).
Jews from Chutz La’aretz are willing to be moiser nefesh, because the earth of Eretz Yisrael atones for their sin of dying in Chutz La’aretz. While this Yerushalmi may be the source for why Jews from America come in droves to be buried in Israel, there is one additional component that needs to be taken into account.
According to the Yafeh Mareh commentary, there are two separate problems regarding dying in the diaspora: one, the sin of dying outside of Israel (which may be atonable through burial in Israel) however there is also a second problem: When the soul leaves the body, it goes through an agonizing trauma of being far removed from the Shechina. Jews that die in the holy land are not forced to go through that specific trauma.
There are many benefits of living in Israel, this was just one. It’s the place where G-d wanted us to live and where he knows we can grow and reach our true potential. It’s the place where the material takes second place to the spiritual, its where our Neshama feels and is at home.
Therefore I call upon by brothers and sisters in America, don’t send us your bones. We don’t need the extra tumah. Come here to live, not just to be buried. Its never worth waiting until the last second because no one knows when that second will come.
Avraham Shusteris is an accountant in Ramat Beit Shemesh. He made aliyah from Monsey with his family in 2018.