Several times over the years, I have made the decision that it was time — my household was moving to Israel. Each time it ended up not happening because something interfered. At this point I have accepted — as my parents did before me — that if and when I get to Israel will be in God’s hands. It’s not something I can make happen.
My parents eventually did make aliyah, after ten years of trying. It was the right thing for them, bringing them hope and support at a time they desperately needed them. I admit I didn’t understand at the time. I was hurt and felt abandoned that less than 6 months after I had made commitments that would keep me in the US, they were leaving.
As I’ve settled into adulthood and understood more of the economic reality behind the cheerful face they showed me, I’ve come to be grateful, and not resentful, for the chance they had.
Deciding for myself not to seek aliyah at this time hasn’t been an easy one. But it is the right one for me and my household. I have commitments to people here — commitments I would need to do much teshuva for were I to break them unnecessarily. And my health is still not good. The added paperwork and stress of trying for aliyah would strain it, with resultant harm to myself and my children.
That’s not to say that I think anyone is wrong for deciding not to make aliyah just because. (More on that later). But I’m laying it out to help drive home the next thing.
The (largely Orthodox) idea that all Jews should make aliyah is harmful.
It paints every Jew who isn’t actively seeking aliyah as a bad Jew, as someone who has somehow failed in commitment to Jewishness and the Jewish people.
That is wrong, and it harmful to Jews like myself who simply can’t manage aliyah, or even TRYING for aliyah without harm to ourselves and families.
But there’s another level to it.
Diaspora Is Jewish
The Jewish people are a people of diaspora. This is, after all, the second diaspora. And for some, the first diaspora never ended. Jews resided in the Persian Empire for nearly a millenium before the 2nd Temple was destroyed. That may well be why so many of the early Talmudic rabbis were from what is now Iran and other areas once ruled by the Persian Empire. Because their schools and communities weren’t destroyed after the rebellions against Rome and destruction of the 2nd Temple and so didn’t need to rebuild themselves and all their knowledge-base in new regions.
That doesn’t mean the Holy Land isn’t important, or that there shouldn’t be a Jewish country. It is wonderful that after so many centuries we have the ability to live in the Holy Land again. And I certainly take comfort in knowing that if my family needs to flee our homes for our safety and survival, we will have somewhere to go to. (Assuming I ever have the health and funds to get us passports, anyway…)
But that doesn’t mean that there is anything wrong with being a Jew in Diaspora.
On a practical level, I don’t know how well Israel would manage if all Jews actually made aliyah. There are about the same number of Jews in the US as in Israel. Doubling the population would not exactly be an easy thing for any country to manage. For a country in a region where water management is a major survival thing? Yeah, that wouldn’t work very well.
History and Halakha
Now, I’ll freely admit, I don’t know the history as well as I’d like. Similarly I don’t know nearly as much of halakha as I’d like.
I do know that Zionism and the push to move to Israel were originally a result of necessity, not desire. People in Russia and Germany and Poland didn’t up and decide one day ‘hey, it would be nice to abandon everything and everyone and flee to a totally different part of the world with a strange climate and other people living there already who might not like us much.’
And I know that when Jewish nationalism first became a thing it was focused on Diaspora — the first Jewish nationalists where all ‘We can be citizens of the nation we live in. Being Jewish doesn’t make us any less German!’ It was only when European Christians made it ABUNDANTLY clear that in there eyes, yeah it very much did, that our nationalist impulses were redirected to Israel.
I also can’t find anything in halakha requiring a return to the Holy Land. That ‘next year in Jerusalem!’ was an aspiration of Jewish people for centuries, yes. But there’s a difference between ‘it would be awesome if we could!’ and ‘we are mandated to.’
There Is Room in the Jewish People for Diaspora
I am a Diaspora Jew. There is no shame in that. No failure of halakha. Maybe one day I will make aliyah, or my children, or even grand children.
But that day is not now.
It is time to stop judging, to stop holding up aliyah as a goal, a necessity, a ‘every Jew should!’
Let us be Jewish together, even as we are Jews apart.
If God truly wants us to all live in the Holy Land, God will make it happen — in God’s time, not ours.
Connecting to Jewish Heritage and Community