When a son makes aliyah

Two of our children before Yosef have served in the IDF, and all of our kids have been deeply affected by the Holocaust.

CONSCRIPTS PUT tags on their bags before being transported to their assigned bases from the Tel Hashomer IDF Recruitment Center near Tel Aviv. (photo credit: GIL COHEN MAGEN/REUTERS)
CONSCRIPTS PUT tags on their bags before being transported to their assigned bases from the Tel Hashomer IDF Recruitment Center near Tel Aviv.
Four of our nine children have now become Israeli citizens. The latest is our 19-year-old son, Yosef, who recently graduated from Yeshiva University’s MTA High School for Boys.
But Yosef is no boy. By making the decision to start a new life in Israel, he has firmly demonstrated that he is a man. Enrolling in a pre-IDF military academy where his day is split between studying Torah and the hard training necessary to gain entry into an elite combat unit, if he can make it, he is executing on his dream oft-repeated to his parents that as soon as he finished high school he would make aliyah.
Being a father and keeping my family together has always been of supreme importance to me, as a child of divorce. So it’s not easy having children on the other side of the world. I miss them constantly. But their absence is more than balanced by the pride I feel in seeing them be part of the unfolding of Jewish history in our historical homeland.
Two of our children before Yosef have served in the IDF, and all of our kids have been deeply affected by the Holocaust and the annihilation of our people in my parents’ lifetime.
I’ve just completed the manuscript of my book, Holocaust Holiday: One Family’s Descent into Genocide Memory Hell, which chronicles the three summers that I took our family to dozens of the most important Holocaust sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Majdanek, Mauthausen, Sachsenhausen, Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz, Lomza, and Bialystock.
The impact on our children was profound. Many of them felt I had lost my mind. How could this possibly be a family vacation? But the Holocaust is so mind-boggling in its scope, and so impossible to believe in horrific numbers, that only seeing can be believing.
And the results? Anger at God, for sure, amid a deepening of our commitment to the Torah and Judaism, pain, hurt, confusion, and a firm resolve that the Jewish people will never be harmed again.
Everywhere we traveled, I took with me a small Torah scroll that we wrote in memory of Elie Wiesel, who had died the year before our first trip. The final letters of the Torah were written by Elie’s wife, Marion, holding the scribes hand, and Elisha Wiesel, Elie’s son, who wrote the final letter at a gala dinner where he recited his last kaddish for his father.
AFTER THE Holocaust, all Jews are called upon to be warriors for our people. And while the battles I fight are mostly here in the United States and centered around media, there can be no question that the principal guarantor of Jewish survival is the Israel Defense Forces.
I never served. And I don’t believe that I can live vicariously through my children. The battles I fight for Israel, say, on the pages of The New York Times, will never equal in the slightest the sacrifices of Israel’s soldiers on the battlefield. So I obviously take great pride in my children’s service.
Having said that, I pray they never, God forbid, have to fight. Every time one of our children enters the IDF, I experience pride mixed with apprehension and anxiety.
Judaism sees glory not in conquest but in peace; not on the battlefield but at the table of brotherhood; not in military victory arches but in ceremonies where former combatants come together to beat their swords into plowshares and commit themselves to peace.
In other religions the deity is portrayed as a warrior. Ancient Rome deified its emperors who subdued Rome’s enemies and expanded the borders of its empire.
But in Judaism, our greatest warrior king, David, was not permitted to build God’s home on earth, the Temple in Jerusalem, because he lived by the sword, even if it was in the legitimate defense of his people. Judaism trains its soldiers and prepares its armies while every day praying for peace.
I was honored to be on the White House lawn last week for the signing of the peace accords between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain, an achievement for which President Donald Trump and his peace team, including my close friend Jason Greenblatt of Teaneck, deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.
BUT IT’S best for Yosef to express his love for Israel and why he made aliyah in his own words.
Yosef Boteach:
“Making aliyah has been a dream of mine for a very long time. Many nights I would lay awake thinking about how amazing Israel is and how much I yearned to be there.
“However, as much as I wanted to make aliyah, it didn’t seem attainable, due to the number of hurdles blocking my path during the COVID-19 crisis.
“It was then that I reached out to the outstanding organization I had heard of called Nefesh B’Nefesh, whose sole purpose is to assist Jews on a global level to make aliyah and to return home to Israel. Upon discovering NBN, I could hardly contain my joy. Finally, I would have the opportunity to fulfill my childhood dream of making aliyah and serving in the IDF as a Jewish soldier protecting my people. I would be following in the footsteps of my older sister Chana and my older brother Mendy, both of whom are IDF veterans.
“I was soon put into contact with Jared, a representative of the Jewish Agency, who worked tirelessly to assist me on my journey. Over a Zoom call, Jared and I discussed the documents necessary for starting the aliyah process.
“Now, these documents weren’t exactly easy to obtain or even to understand. I had never heard of an apostille, the internationally recognized certificate of approval for official documents. It isn’t the most amazing-sounding word, either. But, nevertheless, we focused all our energy on the aliyah process.
“Around the same time, I was introduced to Sarah Chertoff of the Jewish Agency. Sarah was appointed as my aliyah adviser and immediately sprang into action, navigating with me all the vital procedures necessary for making aliyah. And she did so as efficiently as possible. Sarah always showed patience and took the time to ensure I would indeed fulfill my childhood dreams.
“These individuals, through their efforts, as well as the pivotal assistance of the Israeli Embassy in Washington, headed by my father’s former student at Oxford Ambassador Ron Dermer, have given me the ultimate gift, something not many people are as fortunate enough to obtain.
“It is now five weeks that I have been an Israeli citizen, being a dual citizen with my beautiful and incredible birth-country of the United States of America. I have never been happier.”