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What Choice Will You Make?

[This post was written sometime in fall 2010.]

Hiking through the Golan, my friends and I exited the thick underbrush and found ourselves staring, gaping out at a gorgeous vista of green mountains flanking a valley carpeted with pink blossoms, three years ago. The beauty stuck with me, and was one of the things I thought about when I returned home to Montreal after the trip, having made the decision to live in Israel. It was part of my Birthright trip, the free getting-acquainted tour of Israel given by the Jewish Diaspora community to its youth.

Another memory which I hold dear from that trip was my 20th birthday.

We were visiting the Bedouins that night, whose warm hospitality featured a picturesque dinner and delicious coffee (which surprised me, since I hate coffee) accompanied by traditional Bedouin music evocative of long camel caravans in the Negev desert. After wrapping up dessert, I asked my tripmates for a birthday present. (I’d only spent 4 days in Israel and was already acquiring Israel’s famous chutzpah. šŸ™‚ )

When we first got here, I reminded my tripmates, we visited Independence Hall, in Tel-Aviv. Independence Hall, for those who don’t know, is where David Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel independent even as the Arab armies around were invading, howitzers and long artillery cannons ablazing.

Ben Gurion declaring Israel independent

When we’d visited Independence Hall on the first day of our Birthright trip, we saw a short clip on the history of the state and then our tour guide described to us the rich history of the place.

Then we went downstairs and the audio recording of Ben Gurion’s declaration began to play. “Anu machrizim bezot! Al hakamat medina yehudit be’eretz Israel, hi medinat Israel…”

When he finished, the audio continued and we heard a band playing Hatikva, Israel’s national anthem. I began singing, but most of the others were feeling shy that first day, and so what came out was just about the lamest rendition of Hatikva you ever heard. With 40-odd healthy young adults, we barely got above a murmur (including myself, because after seeing others hesitant to sing, I didn’t raise my voice more than necessary). Had we been in a library, the librarians would have lauded us on our good behaviour. It was pathetic.

So that night in the Bedouin camps, sitting amongst the colourful rugs and decorations, I asked the 40 tripmates, madrichim and soldiers who’d joined us from the IDF for a birthday present. Would they, I asked, sing Hatikva with me outside under the stars?

They would indeed, and I can’t begin to describe the energy in that group. We exited the tents so we could stand fully upright, and then we began singing. Or perhaps screaming is the better word. We belted out Hatikva and a bunch of other songs. You could see and feel the pride in people’s demeanour, dancing, and evidently our decibel level. It was honestly the most beautiful, moving birthday present I’ve ever been given.

Today

As of this writing, I’ve completed the credits I need to graduate from university. Convocation should happen in a few weeks. So I’ve completed the main obstacle in the way of my making Aliyah, and am registered to fly to Israel with Nefesh B’Nefesh Dec 28-Dec 29th.

Since telling my family, friends and acquaintances about the decision, I’ve often been asked what motivated me to go. And I admitted that while it was initially a largely emotional pull, there are also lots of logical reasons I’ve found that justify the decision. Being an ardent Zionist and aĀ  Jewish Agency wannabe (JAW), those chats often involve a tangent where I’m encouraging all these people to make Aliyah, too.

One of the main objections I regularly here is that people are afraid that they’ll have a hard time earning a living once they move. More specifically, people generally have a view that it’s harder to make a living there than it is outside Israel, with the image of professionalsĀ  going there to become minimum-wage security guards and janitors a common concern.

Being the vocal JAW that I am, I wanted to prepare a D’var Torah about aliyah to share in my synagogue, before I go. And I thought I’d address that concern by asking Rabbi Ido Tauber, of Kollel Torah Mitzion, to point out some sources to the effect that G’ will help you find a job and make ends meet without descending into poverty. “Can you find me some verses or commentaries that say ‘Make aliyah and, if you need, G’ will cover your social security and unemployment insurance?”

While he was able to point out some items about our forefathers (footnote 1), Rabbi Tauber reframed the issue. While I was looking for some logical persuasion sourced in religious texts, he made the argument for aliyah in a more powerful way – an emotional way. He said that it may be the case that on a purchasing power comparison, the Israeli middle class can’t purchase as much as comparable members of the Canadian middle class. But the question is whether that is what matters.

How do you as a Jew want to live your life?

Should your vacation time be an irrelevant break in the middle of winter? Or should it be having Sukkot off to go camping with your family?

Will your work week be Monday-Friday with a difficult time begging the boss to let you out early Fridays? Or will it be Sunday to Thursday, and optionally Friday morning?

Are you going to work in a place where you’re not comfortable wearing your kippa, because it may affect your career opportunities? Or will your CEO pray in the same synagogue as you?

Will your kids feel peer pressure from people who decorate Christmas trees or people who eat latkes?

Are your kids’ toughest teenage dilemmas going to be about rejection from a desired Army unit or rejection by a club bouncer? What maturity do you wish for them as young adults?

What choice will you make?

Footnotes

1. “Lekh Lekha” – G’s commandment to Abraham to move to Israel, is famously explained by Rashi and others as being for Abraham’s own benefit. Moving would allow him to have children, which wasn’t the case outside of Israel. And in that day and age, children were one’s RRSP and 401(k).

Similarly, Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Yossef. He refused – doing the right thing – and eventually prospered. But he knew that Egypt was merely a temporary place of sojourn for the Jews, so he commanded his descendants to bring his bones with them to Israel when they’d eventually leave Egypt.

Posted in Judaism.


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