Last week I spoke at Congregation Beth Jacob in the San Francisco Bay Area, a place that played a huge role in my spiritual journey from totally secular to observant lay person to rabbi. I was in the US for about ten days on a trip that combined work, rabbinic work, and visiting family and friends — so a little bit of everything, in other words.
At Congregation Beth Jacob, I spoke about why we decided to make aliyah — and how the dream has compared with the reality.
The two main reasons I wanted to make aliyah were that Israel is the most important thing to happen to the Jewish people in 2000 years, and I wanted to be a part of it, and Israel is "home" for an observant Jew like nowhere else. You can read the sermon I gave at Kol Nidre 2 years ago where I elaborate on those themes at some length by clicking here. I also concluded that making aliyah is a mitzvah — a real solid commandment, not an optional commandment. You can see my thoughts on that subject here.
Fortunately, since we lived here for a year (2000-2001) the reality has pretty closely lived up to our expectations. Living here is amazing; being surrounded by all the history, living in a place where our religious holidays are the national holidays, where there is no shortage of kosher restaurants, and most especially communities of liked minded souls — it’s great.
Some people will say that if you make aliyah your kids will be speaking Hebrew like natives by Chanuka. Not exactly. The one who had it easiest took until Pesach; the other two still aren’t quite there over a year later, although their comprehension is fine.
Financially it’s been challenging — not because of a lack of work (thank God) but because we haven’t been able to sell our house in the US because of the real estate collapse. We had terrible timing — bought at the peak of the market, and have been trying to sell for well over a year. We take it in stride — people don’t generally move to Israel to improve their financial situation, unless they are coming from Russia or Argentina or somewhere else that has had financial issues.
As to feeling like we’re contributing to building the state, for me at least, that has worked out. In my work I’m helping provide employment for a lot of Western immigrants, and between the employment and the taxes, even though my gainful employment has no explicit connection to Torah, it does contribute to building Israel. I’ve been doing enough rabbinic work — serving on the board of Rabbis for Human Rights, teaching, giving occasional divrei Torah at synagogues, writing, etc., — to keep that part of my soul nourished as well. I’m looking forward to leading High Holiday services at Kibbutz Hanaton this year, my first time fulfilling that function in Israel.
And it really does feel like "home," although I’m still very aware of being an immigrant who finds it easier to use English than Hebrew. It’s my kids who will be truly Israeli, equally comfortable on either side of the ocean. I was a little surprised to discover my 7 year old says she finds it easier to read Hebrew than English — it was a bit of reminder that developing strong English skills is not something that will necessarily happen automatically.
Moving to Israel has not been without challenges — but the challenges we’ve had to face have all been within the realm of what we expected. It’s definitely worth it!