The continuing spread of the Corona virus has forced us all to take a long hard look at our lives. To think about what is important and what is not and how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
In ways like perhaps never before, people are more seriously contemplating plans for their future. Naturally in these times of chaos and uncertainty, many Diaspora Jews are beginning to ask themselves if now is the time to pack up and come home, to make Aliyah to Israel.
While this is clearly a blessed and commendable development, with it comes some deeply troubling statements from within Israeli society, questioning the motivations of these potential olim. “Oh, so all of a sudden you wake up…” “It was all great and fun there until things got bad so now you want to come …” “now you remember Israel when it is bad for you…”
It was really hard to hear these reactions. Some of us, the Jews that already live in Israel, do not like this ‘desire’, it is difficult to accept the fact that suddenly someone remembers you. These statements are deeply troubling because they seem to claim that only those of us actually living in Israel have a monopoly on ‘true’ Zionism.
Israeli society is built upon the concept of acceptance of the other. But the reality is that sometimes we fail miserably when it comes to taking that concept and actualizing it.
As an Israeli currently serving as a Shlicha in Scotland, we as a community always (at least before Corona…) would come together in synagogue and bless the IDF and the Israeli government. We prayed that every Jew should find his or her heart in Jerusalem. Often after services, I would overhear Israeli travelers commenting to themselves (or even to the locals), “Hey”, they would say. “It’s great that your praying for Israel, so why don’t you just pick up and move? What on earth do you have that is so great here!?”
I was always deeply dismayed by those statements. Certainly, I believe with all of my heart that the home of the Jewish people is in the land of Israel. But there is no great merit in disparaging the allegiance of Jews to their home communities in the Diaspora. This is their home (at least for now). This is where they live and that should be respected.
Take a moment to appreciate what it means to move. Your life’s work and possessions need to be packed up or sold off. You and your family need to go to a place that is unfamiliar, with a different language and very different culture. As blessed as Israel is, it is a country defined by a different economic and social structure. Successful Aliya is not solely an issue of having good intentions, but is nothing less than finding a path to survive in an all-new land.
Many Diaspora Jews sincerely view Israel as their home, but all too often in life dreams are forced to remain as dreams. But when we look at Diaspora communities and our first reaction is to ask why they would stay there, it is not only insulting, it is also a statement built on ignorance.
For most of us living in Israel, either our grandparents or great-grandparents came from other places. Zionism in the Diaspora is no less Zionism and while they may speak a different language, the traditions and beliefs and love for Israel can exist far beyond our borders.
I therefore respectfully call upon my fellow Israeli brothers and sisters to begin to change our outlook on our brethren in the Diaspora. Firstly, we need to honestly relate to them as our brothers and sisters. Recognize that there is a great deal of positive in the Diaspora and that while their perspectives might be different, we have common roots and we have so much to learn from each other.
As sabras, we are known to have that tough skin but by being compassionate and open, we can show our true inner beauty, try to accept, not preach.
But perhaps most fundamentally, we need to remind ourselves that modern Zionism actually didn’t begin in the holy land but rather the longing to return was born in the heart of the Diaspora. The beating heart of the Jewish soul beats everywhere- not just within Israel’s borders.
As someone who is blessed to serve as a Shlicha outside of Israel, I have had the opportunity to recognize how much there is to learn from other communities, to really see them in their special way. And maybe if we can’t fully understand, it is certainly possible to try to make room in the heart and strengthen the bond with them, because this bond has loosened up a bit. They need us, that we will understand them and that we will be with them, but no less than that, we need them. We can learn about the different yet shared heritage, customs, even our spices and recipes.
Corona has directly impacted the Diaspora in very real ways and we must admit that in Israel we have largely failed to appreciate the scope of the crisis in other parts of the Jewish world. So now perhaps is the time for us to rise up in empathy and openness to the challenges they are facing and appreciate that we must remain one people with one heart. Perhaps in so doing we will be blessed with global happiness and health and that the ancient prophecy of our return from the four corners of the earth will finally come true.
Hodaya Lemberger is a Shlicha from Ohr Torah Stone’s Straus-Amiel Emissary Training and Placement Program