Everything worthwhile in this world has a price, and living in Israel is no exception. Furthermore, the privilege of living in Israel does not come cheap (the Talmud uses the term that one who wishes to live in Israel must “acquire” it). Everyone pays a different price, sacrificing either money, safety, language, culture, or family.
In our case, family was the currency we parted with.
Leaving them behind was especially difficult for my wife when we contemplated moving to Israel. And while our experience has been incredibly rich from a Jewish perspective, it is very lonely raising children without our parents and siblings, without their grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins.
America is a pretty nice place to live and I loved it there.See the latest opinion pieces on our Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
I enjoyed living there every day. Every day, that is, until Shabbat or a Yom Tov would arrive. On those days, I felt out of synch, a hollow feeling that rose to the surface when the noise and pace of everyday life was removed. And so I told myself that one day I would move to Israel. But time went by, and one day remained, well, one day.
And then there came a bright and sunny day. A day when my brother-in-law, Benny, asked me if I knew the difference between a dream and a goal. A dream, a goal, whatever, I thought. Who cares. But what he said next just floored me. The difference between a dream and a goal, he said, was a deadline. And at that moment I realized that my dream of moving to Israel was just that. A dream. And that without a deadline it would remain so, and then fade away as dreams do.
To make matters worse, as time went by and life happened, I began to notice that I was slowly losing my desire to move. With each passing year, moving became more of an idea, an ideal, but not something I really intended to do.
I went to my wife and told her we needed to go now, or that we never would. That I was losing my motivation.
That another year and that would be the end of it, and I did not want that to happen.
Being the giving and inspiring person that she is, she agreed. It was not easy for her, and I was wracked with feelings of guilt. Even worse, as the days went by and she packed and made arrangements, I began developing anxiety.
“Oh crap, let’s just forget the Israel thing,” is what I would conclude several times a day. I agonized about it until she couldn’t take hearing it anymore.
One night we went to see The Pianist, a Holocaust movie.
The movie gave me some temporary motivation to leave.
It stripped America down in my eyes and revealed it as just another Gentile land. I felt the old desire to make aliya rekindle and well up inside me. I felt the desire to plant my seed in Israel. It didn’t last.
Finally the time arrived to leave. The night before our morning flight, I said to my wife that maybe we were making a mistake. That I was not sure this was a good idea.
She could not believe it. Everything had been concluded and we had said our goodbyes. She replied that it was not too late, that I should think it through, and decide by the morning. She then went to bed. But before she did, in her wise and inspiring way, she said that the first few years would not be easy, and if we were really to give it a fair shot, we should commit to staying there no matter what for at least several years. That made things even harder.
I sat down and made a list of pros and cons. The reasons for not moving to Israel were safety, family, money, language and culture. The reasons for going were both a richer Jewish life, and my belief it was where we are supposed to be. Not really a contest. The cons overwhelmed the pros.
But then I realized something important: the really big stuff in life is not quantifiable in a pro/con list. Who you marry, having children, starting a business, and many of the decisions within these, are ultimately subject to intuition or gut feel. This was one of those kinds of decisions.
Moving to Israel is illogical, which is why almost no one other than religious Jews do so. Making aliya is an act of faith. If I really believed what I did about Judaism and our Jewish purpose in this world, then Israel was where we were supposed be. The list only named things that made the decision more or less difficult – not more or less right.
Still, I knew that I did not want to leave America. It was just too difficult. And then I had one last thought.
I imagined myself in the future. I was old and nearing the point when I would die. What would I care about then? First on my list would be my relationships with my wife and children, and their welfare. My career achievements would be totally irrelevant, as would any material possessions, and certainly the attractions that had induced me to remain in America would be either meaningless or gone at that point.
I then pictured my family. The kids were grown, each with a family of their own, living as successful doctors or lawyers somewhere in America. I imagined this, along with my imminent departure from this world, and I became saddened. I had not taken the opportunity after 2,000 years to bring them home. I had an chance to do something truly important for them and their descendants, and I had let it slip through my fingers. And for what? For a pot of lentils I no longer cared about. I had let the moment pass because it had been too difficult. The thought of leaving my children in America depressed me.
I then thought of them living in Israel, even if they were not successful doctors, lawyers or whatever, and I felt proud. I thought of them belonging to Israel, and Israel literally and emotionally belonging to them. Of them thinking in Hebrew. Of their identification with Israeli society.
Of their tangibly and directly contributing to creating our nation anew. And I felt uplifted. Not just for my children, but for their children, and their children’s children that would follow for generations. I felt that this would be the accomplishment not just of a lifetime, but of 2,000 years.
That this would be a very big, very rare, very important achievement. And I knew I had the answer.
I weakened frequently upon moving to Israel, and fantasized about returning, the way one thinks of an old flame that was never meant to be. But I would then again imagine myself as an old man and ask the question of how I would view things then. And I knew that day would come in the blink of an eye.
As we were leaving, a friend remarked that I must really love being in Israel. The truth, I replied, was that while I enjoyed visiting Israel, I was very happy living in America and it would be difficult to tear myself away and adjust. But that I was acting not for myself, but for my children and grandchildren.
We moved during the height of the second intifada. We were told it was not a good time to go. But just like getting married, or having kids, there is never really a good time for most things in life. Or at least it is usually not within our ability to know when it is a good or a bad time for something.
It took about three years to get acclimated, and both of us were very pleasantly surprised by how much we in fact did love living here. I’m not saying everyone should make aliya. I’m not in your shoes. But I do recommend that you try it.The writer is the co-founder and former CEO of Sirius XM Radio, America’s largest radio broadcaster. Nominated by Harvard Business School as Entrepreneur of the Year, and inducted into NASA’s Space Technology Hall of Fame, he now lives in Israel with his wife and family.