A Fresh Perspective: From yearning to realization

Looking back at the way my Jewish and Zionist identity has evolved throughout my life.

Western Wall plaza general view 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Western Wall plaza general view 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This past week, I celebrated the fourth anniversary of my aliya.
As I look back at the way my Jewish and Zionist identity has evolved throughout my life, I think this evolution can be summarized in one short phrase: going from yearning to realizing.
In honor of this celebration, I want to depart from my traditional column topics, which are usually related to current events, and engage with you in a deeper, more personal discussion. I believe that my story is representative of the stories of thousands of individuals who have decided to immigrate to Israel, and I also believe it is representative of the Jewish nation’s story as a whole.
I WAS always an activist, with a strong love for Israel. From as far back as I can remember, people knew me as the person for whom Israel was of utmost importance.
However, I still remember that two weeks before coming to Israel for the first time, at age 17, I had a discussion with my dear mother, in which I told her, “You know, mom, I hope to always dedicate my life to supporting Israel.
However, I think I can do that from here, in Montreal. I don’t see a reason to move to Israel.”
Two weeks later, I went to Israel for the first time. I saw the cities the Jewish people had built out of dunes in the last few decades. I saw the Western Wall for the first time, and understood what it felt like to be there rather than just see it in a picture. I saw everything around me written in Hebrew, my language, even if back then I hardly understood it, and I felt at home.
That trip made me understand the difference between supporting Israel from afar, and being a part of Israel. While supporters of Israel have great merit, their destiny will never be Israel’s destiny. I did not want Israel to be a part of my life, I wanted my life to be a part of Israel.
I wanted to know that when I saw Israel succeed in sports, science or technology, it would be my country succeeding.
I also wanted to know that when Israel was at war, I would also be at war. I understood that Israel was the most amazing miracle of history, and I wanted to be involved from the inside.
I decided I would end up moving to Israel. However, at that point, it was not possible, and as I waited for the day my dream would become a reality, I shifted from a supportive role to a state of yearning – with a defined plan of action to make my aliya happen.
FOR ABOUT six long years, I yearned every day to return to Israel.
As an Orthodox Jew, I would pray daily, and when the prayers spoke about returning to Israel, I knew exactly what to think of. Those prayers had become more than something I said mechanically; they now had a deeper meaning.
Still, though my yearning was strong and even accompanied by a practical plan, it was only that: yearning. It was a dream.
Four years ago, I finally moved to Israel.
It was the first time I or any of my ancestors had become citizens of a Jewish state in almost 2,000 years. This was truly a revolution.
Looking back, however, I think the real revolution was not in a simple geographic change.
For those 2,000 years, the most I or my ancestors could do was dream about being in Israel. Yearning was the optimal situation. The dream was impossible to realize.
Today, I could realize this dream.
Every day, when I prayed, I no longer yearned for something theoretical; as I left the synagogue, I instantly started making these prayers reality.
Viewed from the outside, the changes in my life were not obvious. In Montreal, I was very involved in community life.
It made sense that in Israel I would involve myself in student groups, political parties and government work. However, the mind-set was different. In Montreal, I would support Israel. In Israel, I would help move it forward from within.
The day I made aliya, I wrote the following in a letter to my friends: “As I move to Israel in the upcoming weeks, I am finally living my dream – our national dream. At this time, I want to invite you all to ask yourselves a few questions: “Time is passing – days, months, years you can never have back. Are you spending this time the way you want? Are you living a life in which your dreams, both personal and national, will forever stay mere dreams? Are you living a life in which even when you have the possibility to live your dream, you prefer continuing to dream? “Or are you living a life in which your actions, slowly and surely, lead you to the realization of those dreams? “I hope it’s the second. I hope that you’re making your dreams real, step by step, day by day, even when the world tries to make it seem impossible, even when dreams and reality seem mutually exclusive.” Because they’re not.“Even when the world works against us, we can and should constantly work toward making our dreams real. And if we do that, if we stop being satisfied with mere dreams, then our lives will remain truly and eternally meaningful. Then we will be able to accomplish anything we dream of.”
This, to me, is the difference between the Judaism I lived outside of Israel, and the Judaism I am now living in Israel.
It is best summarized by the words of Rabbi Avraham Isaac Hakohen Kook in the first chapter of his famous book Orot: “The expectation of salvation is the force that preserves exilic Judaism, while the Judaism of the Land of Israel is salvation itself.”
THE NATION of Israel as a whole went through a similar process.
For the nearly 2,000 years since the exile, Jews have been yearning to return to Israel. However, this yearning was often detached from any plan of action.
Then Herzl came with his famous saying: “If you will it, it is no dream.” This was a call to action to turn our sense of attachment into an actual plan.
In 1948, the State of Israel was established.
Finally Jews regained sovereignty, and this made a large part of our great dream a reality. I say a large part, because the dream was still not complete.
When yearning to return, Jews were dreaming of coming back not only to Tel Aviv or Haifa, but also – especially – to Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem, Shechem (Nablus) and Beit-El. All of these areas were still under foreign control.
In 1967, these parts of the historic Land of Israel were liberated. Ever since then, their status has been left undefined.
This is not only true internationally, but also within Israel. No government pushed a long-term program for the eventual annexation of these lands.
At the same time, no government relinquished these areas. Their status remained transitional.
I believe the questions facing the Jewish people with respect to Judea and Samaria are similar to the ones expressed earlier: Do we want to keep yearning about our return to these lands? Are we content simply dreaming about them? Or are we finally ready to realize our dreams? Are we ready to make our hopes a reality? The realization of dreams requires risks, yes. However, do our dreams have any meaning if we refuse to actualize them when given the opportunity to do so? As negotiations on these very areas of our historical homeland are once again starting, this central question is becoming more urgent. I truly hope that we, as a nation, know to prefer realizing our dreams over simply dreaming.
The writer is an attorney who graduated from McGill University Law School and Hebrew University’s honors graduate program in public policy.