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, USA.

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 “redemption.”

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.

Also, if 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 respectively.

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 numbers.

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 plan.

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 place.

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 and Samaria.

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