Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Aliyah & The Blue and White Elephant

There have been so many great Aliyah posts of late (McAryeh, Jameel, If You Will It, Jack's Shack, Hear, O Israel), as well as an article on Aliyah in today's Jerusalem Post by Judy Montagu, that I just felt compelled to throw my hat in the ring (or my post in the J-Blogsphere).

Yesterday, January 9th, marked my 3 year Aliyah Anniversary, but since I began using the Jewish calendar as my primary calendar at some point over the last year, I will save my "Reflections on Living in Israel - 3 Year Aliyah Anniversary" post for the 6th of Shvat - just under a month from today.

In the meantime, I will address an idea that was raised in the Jerusalem Post article, which struck a chord with me, and if that's not enough to satisfy your Aliyah-post cravings, then I strongly recommend reading the other posts I linked to above, as they are all written from the heart and are full of both the passion and challenge that life is Israel represents to so many Jews.

About living in Israel and losing friends
You make aliya to Israel, and it's what you wanted. You're an exile who's been ingathered, and you're living the life you've chosen among those who are your kin. But that doesn't mean shunning friends from your former life, whom you've known for decades. You'd like to stay close.

I've really wanted to do that, and with some friends I've succeeded, albeit from a distance. But with two of my oldest associates, one from school, the other from college, both Jewish - as they say in Yiddish, "it doesn't go." Anytime I talk to either of them I'm conscious that there's an elephant in the room named the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I am fortunate to have friends and family who not only live in Israel, but who made Aliyah to Israel about the same time that I did. Friends and family who shared the passion and dream of making Aliyah, and who recognized that they, as Jews, could only actualize their dreams and potential by living in Israel.

However, at the same time, I do have friends that for a number of reasons, are unable (or unwilling) to make Aliyah. As much as it pains me, I can't help shaking the feeling that when I am talking to them that there is an "elephant in the room". This "elephant" is not the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" as is the case with Judy Montagu and her friends living in the UK - for me, there is a blue & white elephant in the room nearly every time I talk to my friends who live in America, and the elephant's name is Aliyah.

For better or worse, and as is evident from this blog, I am consumed by the challenges facing the Jewish People and State and in what ways we can work to overcome them (especially now that the Giants are out of the playoffs). These issues are always on my mind, and are more often than not, the topic of any given conversation that I am involved in. Now, right or wrong, I have difficulty discussing such issues (especially Israeli politics, which is really Jewish politics because what happens in Israel concerns and affects every Jew in the world) with my peers who do not live in Israel, simply because I do not feel that we are on the same page.

The page to which I refer should is not one where everyone I talk to is expected to agree with my beliefs and ideology on any given issue, quite to the contrary, as I welcome discussion and debate. The page to which I refer is relates to the issue of where it is that the Jewish People can (and are meant to) actualize their potential and destiny as a people, and through my limited understanding of Judaism, there is only one place that fits the bill - namely, Israel.

This is not to say that Jews who live outside of Israel don't care about these issues, that they are bad people, or that they don't want to live in Israel. I know many committed Jews who are proud of their Jewish identity, who are genuinely concerned with the challenges facing the Jewish People and State, and who truly want to live in Israel but are unable to for whatever reason.

Yet, at the end of the day, I can't get rid of the elephant. He's always there (don't ask me how I know it's a male "elephant", you'll just have to trust me on this one) making his presence felt.

There is a natural (or perhaps unnatural) tension in the conversations, on how best to deal with the elephant, which everyone knows is in the room. Do I try to ignore the elephant, try to make meaningless small talk, about issues that I am not really interested in, or do I try to talk to them as if they did live here, knowing full well that they don't, and that they can't possibly have the same understanding / appreciation / concern for what's going on here that I do? Over the course of one any given conversation with one of these friends, I invariably keep asking mysel the question of why they aren't living in Israel, and if there is anything I could do or say to help change that.

I feel at times, as if my friends and I are living in two different worlds. Their's is the world of Jewish theory, and mine is the world of Jewish reality - a world where one is challenged over how to incorporate Judaism into his life on more than just a personal level, but on a national and even global one. They may be genuinely concerned about the issues confronting the Jewish People and State, but so long as they are there, and not here, they are on the sidelines, living as spectators or even as fans, if you will, rooting for the HOME team, but who, at the end of the day, win or lose, will be returning to their other home.

I don't really have any good suggestions as to how to deal with this issue between myself and my friends living in the US, which explains why, in many cases, I have just avoided it altogether, causing many of those relationships to suffer as a result.

If the "elephant" could talk, I wonder what he would say, since he always seems to be there, listening and watching, with that sad & knowing look on his face.

So, Mr. Elephant, what do you have to say?

I'm all ears.


Pretty much the same as I said at Jameel...

But I'm going to note that I'm sure there are other things to talk about, and I'm pretty sure that even if it does come up, true friends can have a discussion about it - even if they disagree.

By Blogger Ezzie, at Tue Jan 10, 01:34:00 PM GMT+2  

Ezzie, true, there are other things to talk about, but I am saying thaty I usually focus on these things. I can only talk about my wife and daughter for so long, or the weather, or my mortgage payments...

As for what makes a true friend, as I said in the post, it's not a matter of disagreeing, as I don't see eye to eye on everythingwith many of my firends - but I feel like we are in it to gether, a common dream and destiny - even with my ultra-left-wing friend Haim.

But, what makes someone a true friend? Doesn't there need to be some deep connection, shared vision, dream, passion, aspirations? True, there don't have to be those things, you can just hit it off with someone, but then the relationship will be different, b/c you wont be discussing the things that are really clse to your heart, simply b/c you feel that they don't understand where you are coing from.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Tue Jan 10, 01:41:00 PM GMT+2  

Zeev: As I grow older, I find that the elephant has shrunken considerably...yet my passion for aliya and Israel hasn't decreased in the slightest.

I don't know why that is, but its definitely true for me.

By Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata, at Tue Jan 10, 05:25:00 PM GMT+2  

Some of the friends that I have managed to become close with share very little that you would expect in common - a religious Muslim, an atheist, several non-religious Jews and non-Jews. Humanity, caring for each other, like-mindedness of issues of honor, respect for others and seeing each other for what is inside rather than an exterior mirage or the platforms we stand on are what brings us together. I am sure that you can find such common ground with your friends who don't live in Israel as well.

By Blogger Shoshana, at Tue Jan 10, 06:37:00 PM GMT+2  

Ze'ev - you're only partially correct. Shoshana's comment spells it out well.

Sure, it's far easier to connect with people who share the same IMPORTANT ideals with you; and the deeper the conversation, the closer you can get with someone.

Often, though, the reverse occurs. Those whom you agree with tend to leave you with little to discuss, while the ones you disagree with (say Haim) have much to discuss with you. At the end of the day, many of the ultimate goals are the same, even if the methods are diametrically opposed; sometimes, the goals are different too - but the discussions let you connect on a much deeper level.

By Blogger Ezzie, at Tue Jan 10, 08:40:00 PM GMT+2  

To Ezzie and Shoshana, perhaps I wasn't clear i nthe post, and for this I apologize.

I am not advocating having all of one's friends come out of a cookie cutter - all looking the same, talking the same, acting the same and thinking / believing the same.

I am all for diversity in beliefs - and I very much enjoy discussing relevant issues with those people - Haim is the best example that I can bring.

The point I was / am trying to make is the following - Maybe it's my personality, I don't know, and I don't think it really matters all that much - what drives me, my passion - is Israel and the Jewish People - the challenges we face, and how to overcome them.

That's what my job is related to, that'swhat this blog is related to, that's what the vast majority of books I read and websites I visit are related to, and finally, that's what just about all of my conversations with my peers are related to (short of NY sports or 24 episodes - and maybe talking about my daughter).

I can talk to someone like Haim all day - even though we likely wont agree on very much - b/c we share the same passion, and I learn immensely from him. We speak the same language, so to speak.

Sometimes, and I am not saying this as a blanket statement, I feel like I do not speak the same language or share the same vision as my peers who do not live in Israel - especially if they are observant.

As I understand Judaism, living in Israel is not just another mitzvah, or a nice thing to do - rather it is the only place i nthe world where a Jew, both as and individual and collectively as a Nation can fulfill our mission in this world.

When I talk to someone like Haim, we already know going in where we stamd, and why it is that we don't agree on particular issues. I know where he is coming from. He doesn't believe in G-d as I do.

However, when I talk to an observant Jew who chooses not to live in Israel - it's as if we see the Jewish world completely differently, even though we should be on the same page - and that's a dissonance that I have trouble with. It's as if our Judaism - our Torah - are not the same.

With Haim, Torah and G-d are not issues. With my observant peers in the US, it is - and then that leads to the question of why the dissonance... and there is the elephant.

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Tue Jan 10, 09:39:00 PM GMT+2  

You and your friends outside of Israel are living in different worlds. The comparison of theory and reality is excellent. The mitzvot, even those which are not directly dependent on the Land of Israel cannot be truly fulfilled outside of the Land. Tension with observant Jews living outside of Israel is inevitable; they KNOW that they should be in Israel... Lecturing people, especially friends, on the importance of aliya is generally patronizing and extremely unpleasant, but maybe a rav or teacher who specializes in kiruv could give you some pointers on how to encourage aliya without being obnoxious.

By Anonymous Hadassa, at Tue Jan 10, 11:50:00 PM GMT+2  

forget friends. this article would be more perfect if the title mentioned losing relatives. in my family there tends to be a lot of anti-israel sentiment bordering on liberal paranoia. this wouldn't be a problem, but i'm soon going to announce that we're making aliyah, and if that doesn't inflate the relative size of the elephant, i don't know what does.

By Blogger bec, at Wed Jan 11, 08:15:00 AM GMT+2  

Disclaimer: None of the following is meant as an attack on people of Jewish descent who have chosen not to come home.

I would agree with Ze'ev that Aliya is the elephant in any Jewish room, unless that elephant has been plainly and simply shot. My closest friend in the world is a Jew, whose partner is not Jewish, who lives in Scotland and has very little Jewish connection in his day to day life.

Aliyah is not an issue for us. He knows that his kids will think of their dad as someone who once was Jewish, and will think of themselves as people with Jewish Heritage. Not as Jews. This doesn't bother him and it doesn't bother me. The elephant was shot long ago - I chose my way in life and my friend chose his. He is completely honest about his choices and he doesn't pretend that his Jewishness is the most important thing in the world for him.

The problem, i believe, only comes with dishonesty - as I think hadassa was trying to say before. If one's friends who live in Exile say, I am planning to come, without planning to come. Or even worse - Aliyah is the right thing to do, but I don't have the finances just yet. Or the worst of all the dishonesties - I believe one can live just as full a jewish life outside of Israel.

The elephant is not Aliyah itself - it is the deceit (sometimes self-deceit) which Aliyah induces among people of Jewish descent who choose not to come home. Aliyah exposes their lack of commitment to the Jewish people and of course even if you were not to be passionate about Israel and Aliyah, the very fact that you have made Aliyah is a constant reminder to them that their deceit has been exposed.

All we need is honesty. Honesty is the golden bullet for any elephant in the room. The Blue and White elephant is no different. If we can talk openly and honestly with our friends, though at first they may perceive our honesty as an attack on their choices, it will allow us to talk the same language once again. When we (Israelis) feel pressured into distorting our own words so as not to offend those who have chosen not to be fully Jewish, we stop being able to talk openly and honestly - and that is when the conversation breaks down.

By Anonymous H, at Wed Jan 11, 06:09:00 PM GMT+2  

Hadassah - thanks for the advice...

Bec - I agree - I am fortunate to have had my family support me in my Aliyah, and veven some who have made Aliyah themselves... It's not easy when you feel like you not only are going through Aliyah alone, but without the support of loved ones...

Haim, excellent point - although does killing the elephant maes us feel any better or change the reality of the situation?

By Blogger Ze'ev, at Wed Jan 11, 07:31:00 PM GMT+2  

Ze'ev sent me Haim's response a few hours ago, and I was a bit busy then. He thought I might want to respond to it - and he's right, I do.

I agree.

Reading Ze'ev's comment first, I thought of the exact reason why 'the elephant' is in that room: It's the hypocrisy among those who say 'Oh we should live in Israel' - and then don't. Haim has it right - that dishonesty is the problem.

Ah, but Ezzie, you don't live in Israel!? Well, yes. But I'm being honest: I don't think it makes much sense for me to move there now, and I don't think it's smart for me to move there now - and all my relatives and friends seem to agree. Whether you agree or not, I'm being honest, so I can have the discussion without the elephant (unless it's a GOP one). It's when you're talking to those who have plenty saved up, are retired or could find jobs in Israel, and wouldn't have much of an issue adjusting that you have problems. With THEM, the elephant is there.

I'll note that H's 1st and 3rd are right on the money: Those who are not planning but say they are & those who feel as if they can live a 'full Jewish life'. Sure, they can live Jewish lives, and even good ones - but there's definitely something lacking. Not having the finances yet, however, is a legitimate answer (as long as one is honest about when they do). Read my answer by Jameel, and you'll understand this better; but to put it simply, if the rest of your full Jewish life will be HURT by living in Israel, then waiting until that's not the case is logical.

By Blogger Ezzie, at Thu Jan 12, 01:41:00 AM GMT+2  


Regarding whether killing the elephant makes us feel better - the answer would be different for you and me. I was originally going to write a whole long post as to why Aliyah is actually a very different goal for you and for me. For me, Aliyah is the only way to live both as a Jew and as a modern, cosmopolitan, member of wider society. For you, Aliyah is the complete return to the ghetto. I want Jews to make Aliyah so they can be free of religion. You want them to make Aliyah so they can be more effective in their religion. For me Aliyah is part of Zionism - a modern, revolutionary, anti-G-d, movement. For you, Aliyah is a response to a call from G-d, a submission to her will.

So, while it is sad that my friends have decided to leave our community and that means I won't get to live around them, I am not sad for them Jewishly - they will fulfill themselves as part of another people, a no-less-chosen people, a no-less-deserving or special people. Just not ours.

By Anonymous H, at Thu Jan 12, 09:48:00 AM GMT+2  

Great post! I made aliyah for most of the reasons that you stated. I think of it as being in the center of Jewish life, and not at the periphery.

I do have some close friends in America, who will probably never move here. We both accept that fact and go on with our lives. It means that the friendship is on a more superficial level than it would be if we were living in the same place - but that's life.

By Blogger westbankmama, at Thu Jan 12, 11:16:00 AM GMT+2  

Haim - you've just taken the one thing that we agreed on... and well, turned it into a point of disagreement. I knew that it was too good to be true... Sadly, the differences you state in our views of Aliyah are on the money.

West Bank Mama- you are right - life goes on, but it is a bit sad, at least for me - that people who I was so closewith while living in America no longer have a central place in my life anymore...

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