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For Love of the Land: the conversation continues  

Readers responded to our discussion about Eretz Yisrael from more angles than I imagined existed

 

 

A Solution to Anti-Semitism?
The article about Israel focused on a spiritual approach of bringing shalom, achdus, and kedushah to the land. That’s certainly crucial. But we can’t ignore the material steps we can take — the mission to spread knowledge, facts, and accuracy. Every one of us is required to be an ambassador of goodwill bringing about “r’eih b’tuv ha’aretz — may you see the good of the land’” — and we can all do that with proper research, which will help us advocate for our land in whatever way we can.

 

Iagree. We do need to help ourselves in whatever way we can.

“Nu,” some readers are saying, “they’ll hate us anyway.”

It’s easy to resign ourselves to the innate hatred of Eisav toward Yaakov (Rashi, Bereishis 33:4), which always existed, is here for the duration, and is currently guised as anti-Israel rhetoric. But it’s not true that anti-Jewish sentiment can’t be helped.

Going all the way back, Yaakov sent gifts to Eisav despite the strong antipathy (ibid 32:4). Rules of dialogue were established when they met up, and Yaakov presented his side strongly, but as accommodatingly as possible (Sotah 41b). Centuries later, Yaakov’s deference guided Rebbi to curry favor in his written communication with Antoninus (Bereishis Rabbah 75) and has informed our political approach throughout galus.

Jews have always engaged in diplomacy, dialogue, and advocacy as an ideal form of defense. Chazal warn of “hisgarus ba’umos,” being adversarial. Vaad Arba Ha’aratzos, the medieval rabbinically led council, passed ordinances limiting conspicuous consumption to reduce anti-Semitism born of jealousy. In more contemporary times, letter writing and public statements have been encouraged by rabbanim who view political perspicacity as proper hishtadlus.

So it must help. Although built in, anti-Semitism can be aggravated or minimized.

 

I’m In Limbo
The feelings of the woman who wants to make aliyah but can’t resonated with  me. We recently closed on a house in Maryland, but I still constantly think about moving. But while I relate to and respect a lot of the values, we wouldn’t fit into an Israeli chareidi system — or a dati-leumi one. We’ve been told that raising my kids in a hashkafic no man’s land is detrimental. I’m hearing about different creative ideas people in our situation come up with, but I’m not interested in my kids being a social experiment. On top of that, my twins are heading for first grade, which I understand is something of a cut-off year.

 

When I was in fourth grade, my principal, Morah Sarah Heiman, spoke about her love for Eretz Yisrael. This was strange to us.

“Morah, if you want to be there so much, why don’t you go?”

She explained that she and her husband were told by gedolim that the chinuch they worked in was more important than moving.

The lessons were powerful. First, learning and teaching Torah is so important that it overrides living in Eretz Yisrael. Second, we don’t follow our passion, however wonderful; we follow gedolei Torah. Third, we learned that the Holy Land should be yearned for, even in New York.

There are many reasons to be hesitant about making aliyah. Carefully consider if you’re protecting your family’s stability, strengthening their Torah identity, and upgrading their overall chinuch.

Rav Hirsch explains that return to Eretz Yisrael should be measured through a lens of whether it enhances observance of all other mitzvos. Divorcing settlement from Torah observance, or worse, allowing a lowering of commitment by moving to Eretz Yisrael, will prolong galus rather than shorten it.

“Judah was sent into galus because it prized land and soil as the bulwark of its freedom and belittled the Torah. The galus cannot, therefore, end with the same delusion.” (Rav Hirsch, Collected Writings I:17)

It’s troubling to see potential olim consider communities that are a spiritual downgrade. For example, will your current rabbi be able to eat in your house when he visits? He can now. I’ve seen women who fully covered their hair be negatively affected by a move to a community where many women are not as careful about kisui rosh.

If you’re AnyMan, USA-style frum, send your kids to black-hat yeshivos, but like your chinos and T-shirt on a chilled Sunday afternoon, you and your kids are likely thriving where you are. But that same undefined identity doesn’t always mix well with aliyah. Even in Ramat Beit Shemesh, with its fuzzier lines. you’ll have to choose tracks.  By ninth grade, most boys will land on a long term, full time yeshivah route, or one that is army and college bound.

Less academic kids, shalom bayis struggles, and emotional challenges all exacerbate the issues. If you’re a newcomer to Torah, already struggling with Hebrew and Orthodox social norms, tight Israeli boxes might really rock your adjustment boat.

A survey of rabbis and leaders who work with the Anglo community strengthen the widely held impression that children of Americans have higher rates of religious struggle, or — less dramatically — are often less religiously inspired than their friends back in chutz l’Aretz.

Sadly, not everyone can or should move to Eretz Yisrael. We await being united, with Mashiach, “One nation in the land (Shmuel II 7:23)”.

 

Generation Gaps in the Goldene Medinah
In a Yerushalayim park, I see little five-year-old boys playing Bibi and Bennett. They know more about politics than I do. Kids zoom through the slides, at a speed I never saw back home, with the gentler ones struggling to keep up. Some mothers speak English, but lots of kids answer in Hebrew. Help! How do I make sure my kids stay American?
A friend said, “Wanna hear how Israeli my teenagers are? They’d rather read Hebrew than English.” They were born in Shaare Zedek Hospital and rarely visit the US, so that didn’t sound surprising until she added, “They’re the only ones of their friends who do that. Other kids read exclusively in English unless it’s for school.”
This recalls the concentrated Russian pocket in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, known as “Little Odessa.” Many native-born children of immigrants had poor English skills, spoke with a Russian accent, and if sent to mainstream Jewish schools, were often detached due to cultural disconnection. Is remaining an outsider so noble a goal, even at the cost of  high social functioning?

 

When parents are ambivalent of Israeli culture, their kids pick up on it. You’ll hear them dismissing their teachers (eye roll, please) as “sooooo Israeli.” This speaks of a hollow school experience and delays acclimation by another generation.

But what happens if you go for full-blown immersion, your kids are major Sabras, and you’re scrambling to find solid ground? Understanding your kids’ reality, the ability to partner with a school, and spending real time together so kids passively absorb our values are crucial for all parents, and particularly challenging for immigrants. There’s the traumatic collective memory of early 20th century European immigrants, whose kids were raised by the street, robbing them of the roots passed down from parents to children.

The best is a truce. Find a community that will allow your children to (take a deep breath) be Israelis, while giving you the supportive soft landing needed. Then, there’s still fun ahead as you grow. Hang out with their Israeli friends, oversee their Hebrew reading material, and when you learn the difference between Knesset members named Malkieli and Michaeli, you can start schmoozing politics with your tots.

 

Updating My Memories
While in seminary, I spent a lot of time keeping my married sister company. They just signed a two-year lease, but most of her friends have already moved back to the US, and my sister is so lonely. I want to live in Israel, but watching my sister, who was so pumped at my stage and is now miserable, is giving me second thoughts.

 

Many seminary girls dream of moving to Israel, imagining a return to floaty sem days. Realize you’ll be adjusting to a different sort of roommate, struggling with the lack of built-in inspiration, and trying to master basic grocery shopping. It can be challenging.

When I came to seminary, my parents advised me to look through constant glasses of “How can I live in Eretz Yisrael?” and to break my teeth learning Hebrew. I started all conversations with a request that if I made mistakes, “Tikni oti.” Months in, someone was kind enough to tell me that I wasn’t asking people to correct (l’taken) me, but to buy (l’knot) me. Oh, well.

My parents also encouraged me to stay the full summer post-seminary (“Why waste a year-long open ticket to Eretz Yisrael on ten months?” was how they put it). This was all great preparation for settling later.

Seminary girls: Try to see a wider view of Eretz Yisrael. Go clothing shopping, do chesed at a more established family, and eat Yom Tov meals away from the posturing mixed hotel scene. Stay for Pesach, or past sem, or come back when you can, and see how you fare.

When you do return long term, be prepared for the inevitable loneliness that can accompany any move. Try putting down roots and building a rich life, even if only for a few years.

 

Hard Drive
I enjoyed your article on Eretz Yisrael, but you contradicted yourself. First you explained the importance of maintaining standards of kedushah in Eretz Yisrael, but further on you advised getting a car. Amongst Israelis it is not very accepted for women to drive — it comes with an independence and control that’s generally not in line with the inherent tzniyus of a bas Yisrael.

 

Thank you for reiterating that sensitivities among Israelis can be foreign to newcomers. As for driving specifically, I think most people, whatever their transportation hashkafah, can be open-minded enough to understand and respect why in many communities, women don’t drive. It can come along with an outwardness and assertiveness which is not a woman’s optimal province. When most chareidi Jews lived in a small radius of Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak, when hardly any women worked full time, and most amenities were within a ten-minute walk, driving was rare. In chassidic communities, and among older Israelis, as well as in the heart of those hubs,that is often still the case. One night this week, for the sake of Family First, I conducted a completely unscientific poll by standing on a busy street corner in Bnei Brak examining the cars. About one of seven or eight drivers were women: not too common, but not head-turning. However, were you to stand outside virtually any Bais Yaakov in a less central neighborhood on a given morning, homegrown Israeli mothers, wives of bnei Torah, are dropping off their kids from cars, with no heads turning. Young non-chassidic mothers generally work full time with serious commutes. When it means more time at home, with less exhaustion, getting a car can be a proper concession. Many will point out that even on the tzniyus front, a family car is a more controlled environment than a cab or bus. Rabbinic guidance will change depending on many variables, and everyone should go according to their community standard. If where you live women don’t drive, of course you shouldn’t.

What is clear is that even among the intensely committed, there’s a wide range of legitimate behaviors and norms. No one block or neighborhood is monolithic, and certainly not a million religious citizens, kein yirbu. Find the one that best fits you. And when you do, respect the value system that’s there.

 

Why is this News?
I’m a yeshivish FFB and have been through the whole system, but never heard talk similar to your article. You quoted seforim and maamarei Chazal that demonstrate that an emphasis on Eretz Yisrael is central to being Jewish. I’d like to know why I haven’t learned all this before.

 

Unfortunately, the subject is considered tricky because it’s hard not to trip into hashkafically and halachically confusing areas regarding Zionism. However, many morahs and rebbeim do emphasize a love of Eretz Yisrael, and I’m sorry that you missed out.

Part of adult life is filling in the emotional, religious, and academic gaps from our childhood. We’re raised and educated by humans rather than angels or computers, so there’s always more to do and obtain.

What’s a parent — or an adult with hindsight — to do when disappointed by educational holes? Fill them in yourself. Whether it’s better text skills, or an appreciation for a specific ideal you hold dear, you’ll just have to kick in.

While it’s important to transmit these values to your children, remember that the primary academic approach is more vital than the details, which you can always fill in. How unfortunate it is when well-meaning, idealistic Jews send their kids to a religiously weaker school that emphasizes yishuv ha’aretz, rather than to a religiously stronger school that doesn’t. There are 613 mitzvos, not just one.

 

Homestead Act
Eretz Yisrael is the Promised Land, but I await Mashiach before going back. Experiences I had there over 50 years ago left bitterness in my heart. I can’t forget the Netanya doctor who forced me to pay him on Shabbos when my mother collapsed. Or the young man who called me over and didn’t act appropriately. Coming from a close-knit Orthodox community, I was used to non-Jews acting that way, but not Jews. And now, with the anti-religious government, I just have to wait for Mashiach. May he come soon in our time.

 

Your letter is full of hurt and disappointment. How very painful to encounter animosity toward Yiddishkeit anywhere, but even more so in the place where you rightfully expect holiness.

Of course when Mashiach comes, things will be different, but in the meanwhile, what did Eretz Yisrael do to lose the pleasure of a daughter’s visit? Come daven at the Kosel, visit Mamme Rochel, see the growth of the Netanya you left 50 years ago. Giving up so easily on what’s precious and yours is a shame.

The more someone appreciates that the land is holy and runs according to Divine instruction, the more right they have to it. You’re more of an owner than those who don’t get it — but only if you claim ownership, and that means being there.

The Chazon Ish would strongly encourage young men who came to learn in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael for a short time to settle there permanently. Who belongs in Eretz Yisrael if not yirei Shamayim who appreciate its sanctity? Who will balance out the negative with positive? Your terrible experience is not a reason to flee, but to return.

 

 

Mrs. Batya Weinberg has been involved in numerous aspects of Jewish education for over 30 years. She’s a senior lecturer in many seminaries and a noted student advisor.

Have questions about this topic? Another hashkafic issue you’ve always wondered about? A dilemma for which you’re seeking the Torah approach? Let’s touch base. Send your question to familyfirst@mishpacha.com.

 

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 753)

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