I majored in speech communication in college. I chose that major, not from a long history of passionate commitment to saying, "When I grow up, I want to major in speech communication," but from a technique I recommended to the students I taught in career development classes for years after.
I took the undergraduate catalog (which was still available in a paper edition in those ancient days of yore), circled every course that I wanted to take and majored in the department that had the most of them.
I have always been fascinated by human communication. It''s a process I cherish. Which is why, when I find myself rendered speechless, it''s especially painful for me.
Last week, leaving shul after Kabbalat Shabbat, I ran into two young women who were standing outside.
Me: "Shabbat Shalom. Are you visiting?"
Them: "Yes, we''re here from such-and-such seminary."
Me: "And who are you staying with?"
Them: "Family X and Family Y."
Me: "Very nice. So, you''re at the end of your year. What are you planning next? Shana Bet (a second year in seminary)?"
One of them: "I''m going home."
I don''t know why, but this expression always pierces me like a dagger to the heart.
Me: Touching her gently on the arm, "You know, you already are Home."
Her: "Well, I really would like to make aliyah, but I don''t want to come without my family."
So I tell her about our then 19 year-old daughter who did exactly that, and how, in the end, it contributed to the escalation of our own aliyah plans.
Her: "Oh, my family wants to make aliyah too, eventually. But I have two brothers, 11 and 12. And as my parents always say, ''Chinuch (education) comes first.''"
This is the part where I am rendered speechless.
My standard approach when talking with young people who still believe that America is their home is to point out how things are changing, how Mashiach is certainly on his way, how life won''t be good for the Jews in America indefinitely and how, as young people, they should keep their eyes and ears open, keep their antenna up, and watch for the changes that are certainly coming.
Generally, they look at me as if I have two heads. Or maybe three.
Yes, I know how it sounds to them. Yes, I know what it makes me sound like. Yes, I know how it embarrasses certain members of my family. And still, I am compelled to make everyone uncomfortable by a sense of responsibility to warn that I don''t fully understand.
When I became religious, I can''t recall ever feeling compelled to convince other Jews that this is the right way to live. Though I love explaining Judaism to Jews who don''t yet know the richness of their own heritage, I''ve been perfectly content to let others make their own religious decisions.
Why then do I persist in urging Jews to come Home at the first possible opportunity? Why do the repeated explanations - I can''t leave my family, everything I need to be a good Torah Jew is here in my American city, my home is in the US, I can learn Torah better in America, aliyah is not a Torah obligation, America will never turn on its Jews, the State has no kedusha since it was founded by non-religious Jews, I can make a living more easily in America, etc. etc. - fall so, so painfully on my ears? Sometimes I feel I''m in a no-win, twisted contest.
When I hear one of these
rationales, justifications, excuses, reasons emerge from the mouths of American Jews, religious American Jews, I am filled with such a rush of discomfort that I can''t quite name. Is it anger, at their intransigence? Is it fear, for their future? Is it pity that they are so blind to what''s coming? It''s so complicated!
What I want to feel is love.
So from now on, here''s my fantasy of a totally new approach.
Me: "So, what are your aliyah plans?
Them: "Oh, we''re very comfortable in America."
Me: "Well, I hope you change your mind and come Home soon. We need you here."