“The yearning for redemption sustains Judaism in Exile. Judaism in Eretz
Yisrael, however, is the redemption itself.” – Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Hacohen
Kook in his book Orot.
The translation into English of Rabbi Kook’s
powerful Religious Zionistic quote above is engraved on a plaque, hung not on
the walls of a synagogue or yeshiva in Israel, but in the small chapel used for
daily services in one of the modern Orthodox synagogues in Cleveland, Ohio,
I happened upon this quote this summer while spending almost three
weeks not on the hills of Judea and Samaria, but traveling throughout the hills
(and flatlands) of the United States, shuttling between family celebrations on
the East Coast and in the Midwest, while even managing to squeeze in some
vacation time in Canada.
My travels presented me with the opportunity to
see religious Jewish life in places like New York, New Jersey, Chicago,
Indianapolis, and yes, Cleveland, the site of this plaque which grasped my
attention to the point of obsession, preventing me from focusing on my intended
task of reciting the morning prayers.
But what was the purpose of the
plaque, I wondered? Was it a means to encourage local worshippers that while
overall the Jews today have it good and can in fact sustain themselves
physically in the United States (as I can verify at least for now), aliya
remains the ultimate goal for spiritual fulfillment? Perhaps it was an attempt
to reach the worshipers’ subconscious in order to “guilt” them into leaving the
Diaspora? Or maybe it was simply a tool to connect the locals to their brethren
who are practicing Judaism and already living in Israel as part of the age of
Whatever the reason, it does seem US Jewry is doing what it
can, short of actually making aliya, to maintain some kind of a connection to
Israel. More and more young adults are traveling to Israel for short
Israel experiences such as Taglit-Birthright in order to develop an
understanding and make that connection. In addition, thousands of students spend
a year in Israel at universities, yeshivot and seminaries.
physically getting on a plane and travelling to Israel is not an option or not
on one’s agenda, Shabbat services across the country highlight prayers for the
Welfare of the State of Israel, and for the safety of IDF soldiers
In fact, in my opinion, the emotional highlight of a family
wedding I attended was when two young Israeli women – one a former IDF officer,
and one preparing to embark on a year of National Service, recited those two
prayers aloud respectively under the wedding canopy prior to the recitation of
the seven marital blessings.
However, while that intention of connecting
to Israel seems to be there, to quote the slogan of a well-known 1980s
advertising campaign for the Micro Machines toys, “if it doesn’t say Micro
Machines, it’s not the real thing.”
In other words, a temporary bond can
and should be a positive experience, which perhaps one day will lead to aliya,
but such activities must be carried out while also building a roadmap with aliya
as its final destination.
For those three weeks away, while I saw these
connectors, in addition to reading the news daily via traditional mainstream as
well as new media sources in order to stay abreast of developments at home, the
feeling of a true, tangible link just wasn’t there.
Whether it’s the
daily regimen and the priorities surrounding a typical US Jewish lifestyle –
being a minority population in a Christian-dominated society, or even simply
drinking the morning coffee (sorry, Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts, you have
nothing on Aroma), without being in Israel day in and day out it is impossible
on so many levels to truly develop a solidified bond and sense of empathy with
what is happening in the Jewish state.
Sure there are Jewish/Zionist day
schools and synagogues, falafel restaurants, Israel Independence Day parties and
parades, and thousands of other of cultural events and activities available to
satisfy the Zionist heart, but nothing compares to experiencing Israel, than by
actually being in Israel on a full-time, year-round basis.
It’s sad that
while statistics reveal that US Jewry’s aliya numbers are slightly on the rise,
they are nowhere near where they should or could be in relation to an overall
population which boasts nearly six million Jews, second only to Israel in
Nefesh B’Nefesh and other organizations do an amazing job of
encouraging and facilitating aliya, but the fact of the matter is, not enough
North American Jews are coming home just yet.
I feel that the best way
for Americans to prepare for aliya is to put together a realistic, concrete
Whether it’s a one-year, two-year or even five-year plan, something
tangible has to be assembled and stringently upheld in order that the pieces
toward an Israel move fit together in place.
Perhaps it starts with job
and community exploration in Israel, followed by an evaluation of educational
facilities, and maybe it ends with finding a place to live that has a more
comfortable climate, but the key is to have something realistic and doable in
If the logic becomes “we’ll only move when we make our first or
our next million dollars” – among the many other excuses I’ve heard as to why
aliya is not in the cards – that type of wishful thinking will just stall or
hinder the process for years and years.
In short, as I traveled abroad I
did have some wonderful experiences with family and friends. And despite what
some might think, I did find that Cleveland “rocks.” However, while making some
kind of a connection to the Land of Israel while living there is possible, it’s
just not the same.
The author is a freelance writer who lives in Judea