9:45 pm the night before departure, my entire family cuddled up for sleep in two full sized beds. Queen beds would have been nice, especially considering we reserved a room with them, and were told by the front desk that indeed we had them. Despite the close quarters with my bro, or probably because of it, we had a genuine last night together. I don’t think I got more than an hour or two of sleep before I got up at 5:30 am. No way I was going to miss my connecting flight to JFK. If you know me, you’ll know that I’m no predawn type of guy.
I haven’t tossed and turned that bad for years, watching the clock every hour, thinking three had passed but, alas, only 20 minutes expires. I suppose my thoughts are to blame, thoughts of chaotic airports, but mainly thoughts of the next few years. In case you need to catch up I’ll give you a brief recount of what is going on.
(Warning – Vague explanations of extreme ideologies follow)
After spending about a year in Israel over the past two years, while attending Tel Aviv University, having an internship in a political think-tank (The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs – Glenn Beck on CNN has a major affinity for my old boss, Dore Gold, a former Israeli ambassador to the U.N.), to learning in Yeshivat Aish HaTorah, a Jewish theological school, I decided I wanted to stay for a bit more serious experience. The solution for a Jew that wants to really be a part of Israel is to “make aliyah,” which literally means ‘to go up.’ This means becoming an Israeli citizen, with all the rights and responsibilities, including serving in the army. Why do this?
Even moderately religious Jews believe that the land of Israel is what G-d gave us, in the divine mandate, in return for a strict allegiance to his ‘mitzvot,’ or commandments. These mitzvot include things such as keeping a kosher eating habit, observing Sabbath regulations, and strict rules on everything from shaving to incest; 613 commandments in total. In our modern world, Judaism has been reduced to simply a faith, where the most important thing is to be kind to others. Though that is a nice idea, and a Jewish one at that, it is not what Judaism is about. If you read all of the Tanach, or the old testament as it has become known since the rise of Christianity (er…the bible), you should find one prevailing directive: Jews are Israel, Israel is Jewish, and if we act correctly we will dwell in the land. This is Judaism. The charge to live in Israel.
Some people would debate the land-centric idea, which I would accept with a Tanach and a smile, but the greater message here is that I believe this. I know that Jews were expelled 2000 years ago from Israel, by the Romans, at one of our spiritual low-points, and weren’t back en masse until the late 1800s, and not fully legally until 1948. We had large influxes for 50 years leading up to the Israeli independence, but it was always against the strong wishes of whoever was ruling the land, be it the Ottomans or British. All of this history, which is way too serious to truly review in a blog, is an affirmation of the covenant that Abraham made with G-d. For 2000 years Jews were dispersed across the world, and now all of a sudden in my lifetime we are given the land back? Jews were persecuted for 2000 years, and finally now while I am alive we see the greatest freedom to move to this land? Why did G-d, or at least history, choose my lifetime to be one of immense freedom in the land we have cried over for two millennia? Words cannot fully express how astonished the Jewish world is, how important this freedom is, and how terrifying the responsibility of Zionism is to recreate a holy, prosperous, and safe land for all Jews. Israel is our safety net, our original home, and if it weren’t for the European Enlightenment 200 years ago, it would be our only home. The point of my move to Israel is to help, in whatever way I can, to build this struggling new state. At the very least you can understand how history has fit in with our religious perspective.
Believe it or not, I am not moving to Israel purely and not at all entirely because of religion. Religion is a good enough reason to move to Israel, a land built for and by religion, but it is not nearly enough for me. Instead, my world has been tinted with an ideology of upheaval, much like those original Jews in the late 1800s who moved to Israel in order to become a new people. A quick glance at the bible will reveal that Jews were not a weak people. For better or worse, we were a warrior civilization, fighting for the sanctity of G-d’s name, building the land of Israel as a Kiddush HaShem. Holy war was our idea!
Sometime in our history, probably in the second exile by the Romans, and our consequential ghettoization, Jews became a weak people. We always succeeded on hard work, ingenuity, and intelligence. But we lost our strength, no matter how materially successful we became. Isn’t this fitting perfectly with our ideals? If we forget how we became strong, we are only destined to spiral into weakness. I personally believe that our position in the world, one of material strength, is some sort of divine slap in the face. A “you think you have something?” type of sign common in scripture. “You think you have riches because of anything you did?” The truth is the opposite, that our strength only comes from faith in our land. With the land we have been given a chance at redemption, but it comes at a price.
The price is one that I am feeling quite literally. The modern state of Israel is a rejection of our old-world weakness, and an embrace of a new identity. No longer the ghetto of Europe, or the banks of America, but rather the dingy study-halls, cramped apartments, and chaotic life of Israel. The price is that we have started from scratch in a land surrounded by hostile neighbors. The price is that we have to build cities from sand, not of sand. But more important than these material concerns, Israel represents the greater truth, namely that Jews are strong, independent people with a solid place in the world, and because of this strength we will be able to overcome our obstacles.
I am moving to Israel, at least for a while, in order to be a part of this struggle. 59 years ago Israel was declared, and now we have the attention of everyone in the free world. What are we going to do? We are going to build a strong state, a fair state, one of true democratic ideals and economic prosperity…only this time with an understanding of why we are there.
In reality, do I think I’ll make any type of impact on the state? No, not really. I don’t think I’ll be prime minister, the leading rabbi, or anything so glamorous. But, I know that I will speak Hebrew, live in the holiest city on the planet, and truly be a part of the most improbable occurrence of the last millennium: millions of Jews living in Israel.
It’s as simple as that. No matter if my ideologies die. At least I’ll love the food. No, seriously, I’m not going to Israel to change the world. I just want an adventure. I want to say I followed something, no matter what. I followed a conviction around the world, away from all my family, and hopefully, created for myself a second home. I like good stories, especially when adventure mixes with ideology…. as long as no one gets hurt.
Here’s to this blog never getting so serious again! I’ll update on the actual aliyah experience, soon.