Moving to Israel is a dream that many Jews from Jewish communities around the globe nurtured for 2,000 years.

Today, there is a Jewish State of Israel for Jews to make aliyah to. In a short 100 years, Israel has been transformed from a desolate place of sand and harsh sun to a place teeming with modern homes, skyscrapers and swimming pools.

Yet despite the enormous improvement in the materialistic standard of living, many Jews are still avoiding making the move to Israel, regret moving to Israel, or even, are moving out of Israel to other countries.

In this category, you’ll find a number of different articles looking at many of the different aspects and benefits of moving to Israel – the cons, as well as the pros. It’s certainly true that making aliyah  – especially if you’re moving to Israel without a job, or as a senior, or with school-age children – can be extremely challenging.

But the spiritual benefits of making aliyah are unparalleled. If you care more about the soul aspects of life than the material aspects of owning a large property and having lots of cheap holidays and clothes from Target (to name but a few of things some immigrants miss from the old country), then you will probably never regret making the move.

Some of the other things we cover on this blog include:

  • Moving to Israel with no money
  • What to expect if you move back to Israel from another country- as a toshav hozer
  • Where to find schools in Israel in English
  • Moving to Israel to convert
  • Retiring to Israel
  • Moving around within Israel – trying to find the right community
  • Is it worth moving to Israel – the material, emotional and spiritual aspects you need to consider, before making the decision
  • Converting to Judaism and then moving to Israel – what you need to know
  • Aliyah after 50
  • Aliyah and work options if you don’t speak Hebrew
  • Moving to Israel – the Jewish and spiritual dimension
  • Torah sources on making aliyah

The facts on the ground, about converts and corruption in Latin America.

The last few days, I’ve been up to my eyeballs investigating a whole bunch of things related to what’s going on with corruption and converts in Latin America, and here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • The straight up halacha of performing an orthodox Jewish conversion appears to be much more simple than I realized.

According to this article, by Rabbi and Dayan Yirmiyaho Kaganoff, all you need is three orthodox Jews – not necessarily even Rabbis! – and a commitment from the would-be convert to do their utmost to keep the Torah, and abide by its commandments for the conversion to be valid.

“The basic requirement for becoming a Jew is accepting Hashem’s commandments, since a Jew is, by definition, someone who has a covenant with G-d to observe the Torah.”

“As mentioned before, conversion is an act that requires a proper beis din, meaning minimally, three fully-observant male Jews.”

  • There is a difference between an ‘halachically correct’ conversion, and a conversion that is recognized by the local orthodox community and / or the State of Israel Rabbinate.

Long story short, the whole situation with the anousim and with conversions generally, has become horribly politicized, and there seems to be a lot of vested interests who don’t want to see hordes of newly-orthodox Sephardic Jews in their communities and / or moving to Israel; and who especially don’t want to see millions of orthodox Sephardim suddenly upsetting the political balance and challenging Ashkenazi dominance in the worldwide Jewish community.

  • Latin America countries have had a takana, or agreement in place since the 1935 which was first introduced by the expat Syrian community in Argentina, that they won’t accept any new converts.

I had never heard of this before, so I did some digging and this is what I found:

“[T]he 1935 Takana… forbids marriage to those who convert for the purpose of marriage… [with] subsequent reaffirmations issued by Rabbi Jacob S. Kassin, the Brooklyn, NY Syrian Jewish community’s Chief Rabbi, and the Rabbinical Council of the Syrian community.

“Such marriages were not to be recognized by the community. Children of such marriages could not attend community yeshivot. Further, rites of passage such as bar mitzvahs, weddings and the right to be buried in the community’s cemetery were denied, as well as synagogue honors.”

It’s important to note that this Takana was first introduced to discourage insincere converts who only wanted to marry a Jew. But now, it’s been wholesale applied to the Bnei Anousim in Latin America who have Jewish roots, and want to return to their faith.

And ironically, the only people who can get around this Takana today tend to be the wealthy, connected Jews who dafka are trying to get someone converted just so they can marry them.

  • This Takana is making it very hard for potential converts to meet the requirement set out by the Israeli Rabbinate, that they have to have spent at least 9 months living in an active, orthodox Jewish.

Their local communities are totally shunning them, so even though their conversion may be halachically valid, they can’t meet the requirements to have their conversion recognized by State of Israel.

  • The current position with the State of Israel’s Rabbinate is that they will not accept any orthodox conversion done in Latin America.

The convert will either have to move for a year to the US and convert there, or try to move to Israel for a year and convert here. If you don’t have money and connections, clearly neither of these routes are really so viable. (As a side note, there has been so much corruption going on with selling conversions that in some ways, this is a sensible approach to take, as far as it goes. But not enough is being done to help sincere converts find other ways to meet the criteria.)

  • People with money in Latin America are often finding ways to convert ‘orthodox’ – by hook or by crook – in any case.

People without money – even if they are totally sincere and have been living as orthodox Jews for a few years already without formal recognition of their conversion – are basically stuffed.

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Of course, this is totally the olam hafuch, or the upside-down world!

Moshiach is meant to be overseeing the ingathering of exiles and a lot of them can’t get on the plane because all the politics and conversion corruption in Latin America (and elsewhere…) is preventing them from being recognized as Jews, and they don’t have the money required to beat the system.

This is what one of my readers sent me, when she got in touch with one of her local Orthodox Rabbis to discuss the problem:

Screenshot of a text message from a rabbi talking about conversions

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I also learnt that there is a difference between Bnei Anousim and Bnei Conversos.

Bnei Anousim are secret Jews who kept many of their Jewish customs, albeit it secretly, often without knowing why, and who were usually very strict about marrying into each other’s families.

These people are considered to be Jewish (if they can prove their traditions and geneology), but will often have to undergo an immersion in a mikva without saying a bracha.

Meanwhile, the Bnei Conversos are people who started off as Jews, but who converted to Catholicism and totally assimilated into the non-Jewish society. The descendants of these people are considered non-Jews, and will have to undergo a full conversion.

There is a lot more to be said about the subject of converts and corruption in Latin America. The more I’ve been researching, the more unbelievable corruption at every level I’ve been uncovering. It’s been very disappointing, to be honest.

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The last thing to tell you is a story I heard about someone who converted through a Beit Din that’s known as one of the strictest in Chutz L’Aretz.

For four years, this person learnt halacha, went to shul, did everything they were told. (They had a Jewish boyfriend who was very keen that they convert properly before they got married, but who really doesn’t believe in the Torah.)

The man had been raised in an orthodox family, so he and his wife-to-be played their part beautifully for the four years required by the conversion process.

Very soon after the wedding, the wife returned to her roots, and can now be found back in church on an Easter Sunday.

You tell me: Is this woman really Jewish? Are her kids really Jewish?

But this is the woman with orthodox papers from the ‘strictest’ Beit Din in the world, for converts.

It’s the olam hafuch. And until Moshiach shows up to ‘sniff out’ who is really Jewish and who isn’t, it’s probably going to continue. And when that birur process starts in earnest, I think there are going to be a lot of very surprising things coming to light, in a whole bunch of different ways.

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You might also like these articles related to converts and corruption in Latin America:

Photo by MCML ➖XXXIII (steal my _ _ art) on Unsplash

So many anusim, or lost Jews in Latin America are trying to return to their Jewish roots, but it’s really not easy.

Around four years ago, I got an email from someone who’d been Google translating some of the stuff I’d been writing on the Breslev.co.il website into Spanish. She lived in Latin America, and was going through a very hard time.

After we’d been corresponding for a while, I took the plunge and asked her:

“Are you Jewish?”

It took a while for the answer to ping back to me. She had Jewish roots that went back to the anusim, the hidden Jews of Spain. She was desperate to learn more about emuna, and the authentic, orthodox Jewish approach to serving God.

But no, she was not recognized as being officially Jewish.

I kept in touch with my Spanish-speaking pen-pal over the next few years, and I was astounded when I got an email from her, around 18 months ago, when she told me she’d totally turned her life around left her soul-destroying job, and undergone a full orthodox conversion.

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I was seriously impressed.

Had I known more details of what was really taking place in my penpal’s life, I would have been far more impressed. Because while her conversion was carried out 100% according to halacha; and was performed by a chareidi rabbi in Israel who lives with his family in Bnei Brak.

This rabbi used to spend a lot of time in Latin America on business, and over the years, he’d taken a great interest in trying to build up the observant community there. But there was a fly in the ointment: the local Chief Rabbinate where my friend lives wasn’t recognizing her conversion.

Back then, I was still a little naïve. I had no idea what was really going on, so I didn’t press for too many details, and I figured it was just one of those technical things that eventually get sorted out.

Then a year ago, I got another bombshell email: my penpal had met someone who’d been learning full-time in yeshiva in Israel before moving back to Latin America to find a wife. They were getting married the next month, and even though they barely had a penny to their name, she was looking forward to a much happier future.

What can I tell you?

Hashem has been giving my penpal, and the community she belongs to, a lot of tests.

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Last Summer, I invited her to come and spend a week with me here, in Jerusalem, to have a bit of a break from all the tremendous stress she was under at home, and to come and get acquainted with the holy city.

She spent 10 days in my house, and we went to a whole bunch of holy places together, including the Kotel, Kever Rochel and the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hevron. When she was too tired to keep traipsing all over the city, my friend would spend hours on end in her room with her prayer book, either reciting the three standard prayer services or quietly whispering tehillim to herself.

In the middle of a blazing August summer, her level of tznius put mine to shame.

She was wearing her bullet-proof black tights, and her high collars, and her heavy beret, when the heat was peaking at well over 40 degrees. And we talked a lot about God’s plan for us, and what it really means to have emuna, and a few other things besides.

At one point, I felt I could now broach a topic that had puzzled me right from the beginning:

Why didn’t you convert with the local Chief Rabbinate where you live right from the start, and avoid all the problems you’re having with being barred from using the communal mikva? (Not to mention all the other issues that she’d only hinted at.)

She sighed a deep sigh, and told me:

I don’t want to talk any lashon hara.

But journalist that I am, I could tell there was a good story here.

I kept nudging her until she told me that the main problem boiled down to money: potential orthodox converts were being asked for thousands of dollars in ‘donations’ to convert in her part of the world and my friend – and the community she was part of – simply didn’t have the cash required.

Since last Summer, the situation has gone from bad to worse. Senior figures in the ‘official’ Jewish community there have been persecuting my friend and her husband for months, preventing them from finding a job. The non-Jews don’t want them, because they dress, behave and believe the same way as the sorts of Jews you see walking around the frummest neighborhoods in Israel.

And sadly, the ‘official’ Jewish community in their country also doesn’t want them.

Headline from Haaretz saying 23% of Latin Americans have Jewish roots

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When I showed my friend this draft, ahead of posting it up here on the site, she asked me to add in the following:

“I want to add something so that people understand that it’s not just me and my immediate community of lost Jews who are being personally persecuted. There are many converts and potential converts across the whole of Latin America who are experiencing a lot of problems.

The “official communities” in a lot of these countries don’t want to deal with us, either because there is no correct, orthodox conversion procedure in place, or because we don’t have a lot of money we can ‘donate’ to join the Jewish community, persecution against us, or because they are worried that we are really just part of a xtian sect called the “Jewish messianists” (i.e. Jews for Yoshki).

Some of those messianists now also dress as Hasidic, or ’religious-looking’ Jews, and because of our background, we are suspected of being part of these sects.”

So my friend and her community have been falling through the gaps, stuck in a kind of no-mans-land where so many of them are literally struggling to put even basic food on the table, or to find the money to keep paying the rent.

They can’t move to Israel, as many of them would like to, as they aren’t formally recognized as being Jews.

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The conversion committee in Israel keeps telling them to convert ‘officially’ with their local community, spend a year there, and then move to Israel. But of course, they can’t. I’ve heard rumors that the ‘donation’ new converts are being asked for is $10,000 a person – and these people can barely put food on the table.

Last month, when things hit a new low, I said to my friend:

Let’s tell your story. Let’s explain what’s happening to you and your community, in your own words. I think the Jewish world really needs to hear about your plight  – but also, the remarkable courage and emuna that my friend and her community are showing in the face of some really tough circumstances.

After a little bit of persuading, she agreed.

So here is her story, in her own words.

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My father was the second child of a religiously “conservative” family of lost Jews.

His parents never openly spoke to him about Judaism, and in many ways, they acted like the other Christians around them – only much less ‘Christian’.

But my grandfather always told him: “You should always love Israel, you should always know that Israel is the world’s clock”.

My father grew up in a rural area, totally detached from material things, which were not abundant in any case, as he was sharing the house with 11 brothers.

During his childhood, my father’s family had certain “Jewish” practices. For example, if an animal drowned, they wouldn’t eat it. And all the meat they ate was always slaughtered in a particular way, and the animal’s blood was covered over with earth.

They were taught to be extremely respectful to adults, and the children didn’t participate in any festival that was dedicated to a Christian idol, nor did they join in with the religious ceremonies in school, and neither did they celebrate Christmas. In my father’s childhood home, it was totally forbidden to cause harm to any animal, or to make fun of other people.

My father was very spiritual, even as a child.

From seven years old, he was already longing to know more about God, and what God really expected from him, and he often had some very powerful dreams and premonitions. Throughout his childhood, he was teased and ostracized for not being part of the regular Christian world around him.

At around this time, news started to reach Latin America about the Shoah that was engulfing the Jews of Europe, so my father’s unexpressed yearning for Judaism was pushed even further underground.

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My mother’s parents divorced when she was very young, so she was raised in what appeared to be a traditional Catholic house.

But from the age of 5, she decided that she was only going to talk and pray to God, and not to any images of people. Those idols scared and repulsed her.

After she married my father, they both started to think more about the spiritual side of life, and my mother decided to ask her mother about the family. My grandmother told her that her grandparents were Jewish. Her mother had died from pneumonia when my grandmother was 8 years old, and her father had then married a Catholic woman, who raised her and her brothers. And so, all the Jewish traditions the family had were totally lost.

When my parents were in their mid-thirties, Latin America was hit by a wave of self-styled ‘Orthodox Messianic’ movements.

People who called themselves ‘rabbis’ started coming to the country, and began conducting religious services and teaching people Hebrew. These ‘rabbis’ started to appoint leaders, and to form communities, and they had the money required to start bringing Jewish books and religious items into the country .

They’d sell these items – talissim, kippas, tefillin, siddurim, and even shofars – to the locals. At that stage, my parents decided they would convert their house to being ‘kosher’, and these moves were very cautiously welcomed by the more religious Jewish communities in our country. But then, the messianic ‘rabbis’ started trying to convince the lostJews who had started to adopt more Jewish laws and halachot to accept their Christian ‘messiah’.

Many people were very confused about what was happening, but as time went on, more and more people started to realise that there was something very wrong here, and that all this ‘messianic’ propaganda didn’t fit in with the Torah, or with halacha.

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At that point, before they had formally converted to Judaism, the community came across the letter that Don Isaac Abarbanel wrote to the monarchs of Spain.

The letter was written at the time of the forced conversions and expulsion of the Spanish Jews. There he wrote:

“[A]s the last spokesman of Spanish Jewry… I will leave you with a parting message although you will like it not.

“The message is simple. The historical people of Israel, as it has traditionally constituted itself, is the final judge of Jesus and his claims to be the Messiah. As the Messiah was destined to save Israel, so it must be for Israel to decide when it has been saved.

“Our answer, the only answer that matters, is that Jesus was a false Messiah.

“As long as the people of Israel lives, as long as Jesus’ own people continue to reject him, your religion can never be validated as true. You can convert all the peoples and savages of the world, but as long as you have not converted the Jew, you have proved nothing except that you can persuade the uninformed.”

Sadly, even Don Isaac Abarbanel’s own brother converted to Catholicism, and when that happened, every church in the country rang its bells in celebration. But the Abarbanel dreamed of the day when all these lost Jews would return to their faith.”

My friend continues:

“After we found that letter, many of us became much more interested in our traditions, and we started spending a lot of time at the national archives in our country, where we started to learn more about our Sephardic heritage. Throughout this time, we were very isolated. For around 18 years, we didn’t really know what to do or where to turn, and in the meantime, the formal communities around us were refusing to even sell us matzahs for Pesach.

Then one day, a friend from the formal Jewish community told us about a rabbi who was spending a lot of time in Latin America on business, and suggested that he might be willing to us more about the Jewish traditions of our heritage.

We faced obstacles every step of the way.

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Even from the age of six, I had decided that I didn’t like all the stories about Yoshki that always seemed so cruel, and so full of blood and death.

Instead, I started telling people that Moses was my hero. But that didn’t go down so well in the communities we were living in, and our non-Jewish family and friends started to push us away, and to accuse us of being ‘fanatics’ and ‘murderers’.

As soon as these people discovered we were lost Jews, they’d move away from our communities very quickly. Before we started our journey to Orthodox Judaism, we’d been a wealthy family, a wealthy community. But as the years passed, our businesses started to fail, as more and more people were ostracizing us, and the money dried up.

There were weeks when we struggled even to find the money to make food for Shabbat, and this continued for years. As our community has become poorer and poorer, sometimes, there hasn’t even been money to buy food. But we don’t complain about our poverty. Most of the converts we know had to face this test, and we’ve also seen such tremendous miracles.

Yes, there are some very difficult tests.

Some of the men who couldn’t find a Jewish woman have strayed, and the main Jewish congregations in our country have been told not to give us any access to their facilities, including the communal mikva, or to offer us any type of help or tzedaka.

Yet, I’ve also seen more kindness in these communities than I’ve seen anywhere else.

I’ve seen people share their small bag of flour with a friend, so their family can also have something to eat. I’ve seen people go without sleep, and walking many kilometres just to attend a religious service. I’ve seen people spend their own time and money just to teach others, and I’ve seen women recite so many tehillim for the people in need, and people who suffer hunger all week, because they refuse to work on Shabbat, or to buy non-kosher food.

I have seen people investing literally everything they have for the common good, and making so many sacrifices to help other lost Jewish souls out of the prison of Christianity.

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None of the 200-300 people I know who have undergone an orthodox conversion have had it easy.

Some people have lost everything they had, even their families, and so many of us have had to deal with being rejected by our parents, our friends, our communities, and with being gossiped about and slandered.

And things are no easier on the Jewish side of the equation, either, where we continue to be rejected, and our conversion discredited, by the ‘traditional’ Jewish population. Sometimes the tests are so hard, people fall back into their old life. But I’ve also witnessed three generations in one family convert.

When I’ve asked some of the people in my community if it was worth it, after everything they’ve gone through, the majority of them say:

“I’m a Jew, how else could I live?”

Here and there, there have been some movements, meeting and groups to create a strong Torah community in the Latin American countries, but it seems that there is not enough “Jewish glue” among the Latin American converts and the lost Jews to really make it work. Some people have tried very hard to get our communities more organized and vocal, but it never really spreads very far.

It’s not easy to deal with people who have even spent 50-60-70 years as “good Christians”, and now you come along and suddenly tell them that everything they believed in is wrong, and that they must become some other sort of people. It’s like being told that you have lived someone else’s life by mistake.

Many people simply can’t accept it.

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Many of us would like to move to Israel, but the anusim like us are just a statistic to the State of Israel.

Even though some of us converted 30 years ago, already, none of us have been invited to speak to the policy makers in Israel, although I know they listen to Arabs and other non-Jews on a regular basis. Yes, there are some ‘politically correct’ initiatives, but nothing that really leads to anything concrete.

I’ve never heard of an Israeli embassy running an initiative to try to get to know the anusim that exist, still half-hidden, in the countries where they are located. The only contact we have with Israel is via the letters written by our ‘official’ rabbinate, where the conversions that cost us so many tears, and so many prayers, and so many nights of study and effort, are falsely discredited.”

Why is that happening, I wanted to know? Why so much antagonism against the lost Jews?

My friend sighed, then continued:

“As happens everywhere, there are some people, some “anusim” who have been seeing all this as some sort of a “business”, and their actions have closed the doors for the rest of us more and more. Baruch Hashem, they are a minority, and they cannot dim the light of those who really want to live a Jewish life, even when our bad middot still get in the way.”

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She continued:

“Today, the future does not seem so clear.

The people who have the ability and knowledge to help us move forward don’t want to. The people who could be sharing our story, and lighting our path back to teshuva and Hashem and Israel, continue to turn their backs on us.  But there is still something I am sure of:

This is only the beginning.

There is a Divine force driving all this, and while there are some people, some converts, who really don’t have such good intentions, there are hundreds and thousands of us who are being carried forward by our holy, pure desire to serve Hashem and keep His mitzvoth.

These are the people who are prevented from using a mikva in their own communities; people who can’t find a Jewish school to accept their children, people who are refused places to study in yeshiva, and refused permission to settle in Eretz Yisrael.

But even so, if you lift your heads and look around, you’ll see an amazing sight: There are thousands upon thousands of humble people, simple people, who are coming back to life. There are Jewish souls who were once considered to be dead, who are being reborn. Those dry bones have been covered by muscle and tendons.

“And we are living once again, as Torah-observant Jews.”

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And so, her story ended.

Or really I should say, her story began. Last year, the small group of sincere converts that my friend belongs to, these Sephardic anusim, decided to try to move several families en masse to a rural part of the country, where the cost of living is far cheaper, and where there is some potential for the community to become self-sufficient.

They didn’t have any resources, or investment. All they had was some firm trust in Hashem and a little bit of charity money that was being sent in from outside. And even that is now dwindling, as the government has recently enacted a law limiting the amount of money that can be sent to their country via money transfer to just $500 a year.

Nevertheless, my friend and her community didn’t give up. They started trying to slowly buy a few more domesticated animals, and to start making a few more basic products to sell to the tourists that come to the area. But the crushing poverty began to take a huge toll on the community, and tragedy has continued to dog their heels.

A few weeks ago, my friend told me that all the animals a certain family had spent two years carefully raising all caught some freak illness, and died overnight. Then, there is another family where the father was caught up in an awful road accident last year, and was so ill he couldn’t work for months.

Just as he got back on his feet – last week – he was run over again.

This last problem fell like a thunder-clap on this close knit community of anusim, lost Jews who are trying to hard to return, and my friend was totally distraught about what was happening, with one problem and one challenge after another.

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When I first wrote this piece, a couple of months ago, my friend and her community were planning to try to start a few businesses with a little bit of investment money, with an eye to building up a real community with it’s own mikva, synagogue and school.

Today, the plans are in a state of flux.

What’s clear is that this community still needs an awful lot of help to just start being able to put food on the table, pay rent, and to build a very basic mikvah. Until these basic things are taken care of, they can’t see any further ahead on the path they need to take.

But once that’s done, there is a pressing need for the community to get organized – and for the other communities of anusim to get organized – and to start figuring out the process of how they can be allowed to convert again, if necessary, in order to be given full rights as the orthodox Jews they really are.

I’d love to tell you there’s a plan, a process to give us the happy ending to the story, but right now, there isn’t. All I can really do for my friend at the moment is pray that God will open the door for them, and pray some more that they’ll have the ability to walk through it, when the time comes.

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Almost 600 years ago, Don Isaac Abarbanel told the rulers of Spain:

“Woe unto you, authors of iniquity. For generations to come, it will be told and retold how unkind was your faith and how blind was your vision. But more than your acts of hatred and fanaticism, the courage of the people of Israel will be remembered for standing up to the might of imperial Spain, clinging to the religious inheritance of our fathers, and resisting your enticements and your untruths.”

All over Latin America, there are lost Jews still desperately trying to cling on against all the odds, and to return to their Jewish faith.

And I don’t know what we can really do, or how we can really help them, but one thing I do know:

We have to try.

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If you think you can help, either with a financial donation or by making some introductions and opening some doors for this particular group of ‘lost Jews’ in Latin America, please get in touch. Who knows, maybe the time has come for this to finally start moving. I hope to be writing more about this subject of the lost Jews in the next few weeks.

Rabbi Berland’s New Prayer to Move to Israel.

So many of the people I’m in touch with want to move to Israel, but feel totally petrified about the whole idea of uprooting their whole lives, and trying to plonk them down again in a totally different country, however holy that country may actually be, and however much God really wants the Jews to move to Israel.

This is totally understandable. Moving country is not a simple thing, it has profound consequences for everyone involved. You can understand why so many otherwise believing Jews are twisting the words of the Torah, ignoring the whole ‘sin of the spies’ episode, and making all sorts of bizarre claims about there being no need for Jews to move to the Land of Israel.

The fear is in control. The fear is running the show.

Fear is one of the yetzer hara’s most powerful tools for keeping people away from doing the right thing. How many people stay trapped in a secular lifestyle, because they are scared of what people will say, or what’s going to be, if they take the plunge and start keeping kosher….

Or take the plunge and start keeping Shabbat….

Or take the plunge, and start dressing more modestly….

Or take the plunge, and ditch the i-Phone for something far more basic and better for the soul….

Moving to Israel is no different, except the fear is less about what people will say – because after all, it’s a new start, and you’re leaving the people who are against moving to Israel behind – and much more about what will be.

Will I find work?

Will I find friends?

Will I find a place to live?

Will my kids acclimatize OK?

And maybe the biggest fear of all:

Will I regret doing this for the rest of my life?

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Again, all these fears are totally, 100% normal and reasonable to have. If we don’t acknowledge that these fears are coming from a rational place, and that they have to be addressed properly, rather than squashed or mocked, then we can’t move forward with the whole discussion of moving to Israel.

Israel is the land of emuna, it’s where a person can really start to LIVE their belief that God is running the whole world, and not just talk about it.

The answer to all of the ‘issues’ stated above – the answer to every ‘issue’ and worry a person has about moving to Israel ultimately boils down to the same thing:

God is in control. Whatever God decides, that’s what’s going to happen.

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That’s a massive level of emuna to be striving for, isn’t it? And I’m not sure that I’m there myself, really, although I’d certainly like to be.

But the more we can live our life from that genuine place of really believing in Him, and really believing in concepts like reward and punishment, and really believing that 99% of the ‘yuck’ we go through in our lives we totally bring on ourselves, via our own bad middot – the more easy we will be able to deal with any potential move to Israel.

Really, there’s only one answer to ‘why move to Israel?’

I could tell you about the amazing day I spent yesterday, swimming with my family in a stream up North, together with a bunch of frum Jews with payot, and fully-clothed Beis Yaakov girls all happily splashing about.

I could tell you about last Wednesday night, when I went off to the Kotel to recite some tehillim for the Rav, and how I watched the swallows duck and dive, swooping so close to the wall before soaring back up into the heavens.

I could tell you about how everything here is kosher (I live in Jerusalem. That’s not true of everywhere in Israel, especially not Tel Aviv.)

I could tell you about the farm one of my kids went to volunteer on last week, up in the Shomron hills, that’s being started by an idealistic young Jewish couple.

I could talk about the sun, the sea, the way my soul just feels way, way happier here, and way, way more peaceful than it ever did in London.

But really, all of these things are missing the point.

The point of moving to Israel, is because it’s a mitzvah that God commanded the Jews to keep.

So maybe you’ll move here, and you really will struggle with making a living. And you really will go through years of feeling so lonely. And you really will find it very hard to ever buy your own place, especially in Jerusalem.

And maybe you won’t.

But the point is, whatever happens to us in Israel – and in New York, and in London, and in Melbourne, and in Paris – it’s all just to bring home that same message:

God is in control. Whatever God decides, that’s what’s going to happen.

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If a person is really working on their emuna, then they will increasingly be living their life according to this idea wherever they happen to live.

But there’s another point to make here, and that’s the idea of having some humility, and overcoming our own arrogance. Or to put it another way, to start thinking much more about what does God want from me, and much less about what do I want from God.

We are here to serve God, not the other way around.

Again, let’s keep things real.

This is a huge spiritual level! It’s a level that we will have to struggle and fight for ad 120. It doesn’t come easily to anyone, and especially not to those people who find it very difficult to put anyone else’s needs and wants ahead of their own.

That’s why there are two things that really clear the path to moving to Israel, and those two things are:

  1. Working on our own bad middot
  2. Working on our emuna, particularly the idea that we are in control of our lives

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We need to pray to get to Israel.

That’s part of the process of really getting ‘ready’ to actually live here. We need to pray to get here, and we need to pray that all the bad middot that are stopping us from moving somehow disappear. And then once we’re here, we need to carry on praying every single day, that we will continue to have the merit of staying here.

Because in Israel, all the bad middot that we fooled ourselves we didn’t have in chutz l’aretz come roaring out of the closet.

Because God wants us to finally start dealing with them, and acknowledging them, and to stop making excuses about what we are really down here to work on and fix.

BTW, that’s also why even the very process of moving to Israel can be so very taxing and upsetting. It’s all part of the preparation process for the spiritual work of developing some real humility, and understanding that God is in charge of the world, not us.

All this sounds like a lot of hard work, doesn’t it?

And honestly, it is.

You can totally understand why so many otherwise believing Jews would prefer to stay in chutz l’aretz and pretend that moving to Israel is something God doesn’t really require of anyone. It’s certainly much easier that way, it’s certainly much more comfortable.

At least, on one level.

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This post isn’t for those people.

This post is for the people who are really yearning and longing to get here, and who really do know that God wants the Jewish people to be in Israel, but who can’t quite manage to overcome their fears (yet!) in order to give God what He really wants.

For those people, there is a shortcut to moving to Israel, which is basically the power of prayer. Every prayer we say on this subject, shortens the road we need to walk in order to get here. Why? Because it’s tackling the obstacles that are blocking our path at their root.

A praying person is a person who already acknowledges, at least on some level, that God is in control. A praying person is someone who knows that God is behind all the difficulties, and that if we start to clean up our own act, particularly with our own bad middot like arrogance, laziness, greed and complacency, that God will then blast so many of the ‘issues’ keeping us stuck out of the way, too.

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That’s why Israel is really only acquired via prayer.

And that’s why so many of the people who actually live in Israel still haven’t really ‘got here’ spiritually, even though they moved here with their bodies, or were born here.

Those people moan all the time about what’s going on in Israel. They complain all the time about the taxes, and about other groups of Jews, and about all the ‘bad’ they see going on all around them, because the whole world is just one big mirror, and God is beaming a very unpleasant reflection straight into their faces.

Like we said above, in Israel, bad middot are amplified – both ours, and other people’s – so we’ll stop making excuses, and finally knuckle down to the work of fixing them.

Luckily, there is a shortcut. The shortcut is to get close to our true tzaddikim, to follow their advice, and to use their prayers to circumvent all the stuff that’s holding us back from being able to even describe the problem, let alone deal with it.

Rebbe Nachman’s advice to do an hour a day of hitbodedut has totally transformed my approach to the world, and it’s the single biggest ‘help’ to navigating life in Israel. You can read more about it HERE. But in the meantime, I want to share with you a prayer that Rabbi Berland just put out for people who want to move to Israel, but who are stuck, somehow.

It’s not a long prayer, but it sums up so precisely what’s really going on when people get stuck unable to make aliya, even though they admit it’s the right thing to do.

You can see the original HERE, but here’s what it says:

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A Prayer to Come to Eretz Yisrael

TO MERIT COMING TO ERETZ YISRAEL WITHOUT LOSING ANYTHING. TO SELL EVERYTHING FOR ITS FULL VALUE. AND MAY I MERIT LEAVING THE DEFILEMENT OF THE LAND OF THE NATIONS THAT WE ARE IMMERSED IN. AND MAY WE SMASH ALL OF THE OBSTACLES THAT ARE MOSTLY OBSTACLES OF THE MIND.

Master of the World, who can do everything. Merit me to go up to Eretz Yisrael with sublime self-sacrifice. That I leave all of the property and all of the belongings that I have outside of Eretz Yisrael. That I not leave anything over, that I not leave any remembrance.

Rather, I should sell everything as quick as possible at full value, and not lose even one pruta by moving to Eretz Yisrael. And may I not incur any other damages by moving to Eretz Yisrael.

For we have no more strength to stay in exile, in chutz la’aretz, even for one second.

We want to go up to the land of our forefathers, that you gave to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, “The land flowing with milk and honey”.

For Eretz Yisrael is holier than any other land in the world.

And Hashem Your G-d chose her over all other precious things in the world.”

Please, Hashem, merit me to go up to Eretz Yisrael with self-sacrifice,

“And bring us to Your Holy Mountain.”

For we have no more strength to stay in chutz la’aretz, but on the other hand we’ve been here for so long, in the defilement of the land of the nations, and we have no idea how to free ourselves from it.

Now we are turning to You, with humble kneeling and prostration:

Help us, Hashem our G-d, to come to Eretz Yisrael in the blink of an eye! And help us to break all of the obstacles, and all of the postponements, for the main obstacle is in the mind.   

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May Hashem help us to give Him what He really wants, as easily as possible.

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Did you ever stop to wonder how Moshe Rabbenu would go down in Monsey?

“Shlomie! Shlomie! You gotta hear this! Some guy in a frock just showed up in the beis medrash, and told everyone he’s the Moshiach!!!”

Shlomie heaved his stomach back inside the belt line of his black pants, stood up and went over to talk to his chevrusa Yankie, who was anxiously pacing backwards and forwards by the kollel’s coffee vending machine.

“Whaddya talking about, Shlomie? Calm down, speak slower. Who just showed up in the beis medrash?”

Yankie took a breath, stopped pacing, and turned to Shlomie.

“Some guy called Moshe something… He said G-d sent him to redeem the Jews, and he wants to take us out of Monsey to the promised land!”

Shlomie’s eyes narrowed. Another nut-job talking about G-d!

The last 210 years, there’d been a lot of these imposters who’d showed up trying to con the Jews of Monsey that one day they’d have to leave and go to the ‘holy land’. Wherever that place was meant to be…

“Where is this guy?” Shlomie demanded. “I wanna talk to him.”

With Yankie following behind, Shlomie headed off to the beis medrash, swung the doors open, and saw a tall, bearded figure standing in the corner with his eyes shut, rapturously reciting the bracha over a cup of water out loud.

Shlomie whispered to Yankie,

“Uhoh, this already doesn’t look good! What’s with this guy’s accent? Is he Sephardi?! And who spends five minutes blessing a cup of water?! This is definitely bitul Torah!”

Yankie muttered back, “Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet…” But Shlomie didn’t hear him, as he’d already marched up to ‘Moshe the moshiach’ determined to kick this imposter out of the beis medrash.

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“Sooo, Moishe… where’d you learn?” challenged Shlomie.

Moshe Rabbenu studied Shlomie with wise, kind eyes and told him gently:

“I’ve spent the last 60 years communing with Hashem in the desert.”

Shlomie eyes rolled so far back in his head they almost popped out his neck. Geez, the nerve of this guy!!! Still, Shlomie prided himself on being open-minded, so he decided to ask a couple more questions before officially excommunicating him.

“So, who’s your Rav?” he asked.

Moshe lowered his head slightly and said:

“Hashem. Hashem’s teaching me Torah. Although I did meet Rabbi Akiva a little while back…”

Shlomie snorted again. What? That guy whose parents were goyim who converted?!?

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He tried one last time, just to be nice.

“Where did you grow up? Did you study at the Mir?”

“I grew up in Pharoah’s palace,” Moshe Rabbenu replied gently. “I had to flee Monsey-raim at the age of 20 after I killed an Egyptian by uttering one of Hashem’s ineffable names. I never got a chance to learn at the Mir….”

“Kishoofim!!!!” roared out Shlomie. “Out, out, get outta here with all your dangerous Moshiach talk! You’re nothing but a crack-pot, a false messiah, a person who’s trying to pull the Jews away from learning Torah with all your talk about serving Hashem!”

Yankie muttered again “But Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet…” but again, Shlomie didn’t hear him.

With quiet dignity, Moshe Rabbenu picked up his staff, and headed out of the beis medrash.

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Yankie was anxiously biting his fingernails.

“The nerve of that guy!” sputtered Shlomie. “I can’t believe people are falling for this! We’re only meant to be learning about Moshiach, not believing it!”

“But Shlomie, a lot of the really big rabbis – like Aharon HaKohen – say he’s the real deal…” Shlomie harrumphed.

“All these ‘rebbe’ types stick together, you know that.”

“But Shlomie,” Yankie tried again, “This morning he turned the whole Nile to blood, and he’s told Pharoah there’s more natural disasters to come, if he doesn’t send the Jews out of Monsey-raim…”

“Kishoofim!!” Shlomie yelled again. “Unbelievable bitul Torah! Instead of learning another three blatt Gemara this guy’s off doing black magic and talking to goyim! Don’t fall for it, Yankie, don’t let him fool you. Seriously, where was the guy’s hat??”

Yankie tried one last time:

“But Shlomie, we have a tradition from Yaakov Avinu that at some point, the Jews have to leave Monsey-raim, and that a redeemer will show up and take them out of galus…”

Shlomie sighed a big sigh, and put his enormous arm around his frail, naïve learning partner.

“Yankie, you’re a great guy, do you know that? Here, take a look over the other side of the beis medrash. Who’d ya see?”

Yankie turned his head, and spotted Korach, the Rosh Kollel, shtiggering away to the bachorim about how why the beis medrash doesn’t need a mezuzah on the door. Korach cut a fine figure in his Armani black suit, smart tie and brushed fedora, tilted at just the right angle to set off his jutting chin.

“Now, if someone told me that’s Moshiach, I’d believe it,” explained Shlomie. “That guy’s related to one of the most important families in Monsey-raim; he’s got 14 kids – all shomer Toyrah ve-mitzvos – and he encourages his students to think for themselves. That guy is all about Toyrah and mitzvos. And his wife bakes a great kugel!

“But Shlomie, we didn’t get the Torah yet,” Yankie wanted to say. But he didn’t because he knew there’d be no point.

Shlomie heaved his stomach back behind his shtender, and went back to learning his latest blatt on his My-Gemara i-Phone app.

“The nerve of that guy, ‘Moshe Rabbenu’!” he muttered to himself, thankful that he’d managed to save the guys in the beis medrash from another false messiah. Hrrmph! As if the Moshiach would be someone who’d never stepped foot in the Mir…

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First posted in June, 2017

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It’s getting scarier and scarier in America and chul for Jews – but it’s also pretty scary in Israel too. What’s a person to do?

I got another email from a long-time reader on the topic of moving to Israel, which (with her permission) I’d like to respond to publically, as I think it will hopefully help more people out there get some clarity on what’s really involved with moving to Israel. My correspondent, who lives abroad, but who is a very sincere Jew who does a lot of work on really trying to connect to Hashem, and really trying to have some emuna,  sent me this:

“My question is as follows. When Caleb came back from spying on Eretz Yisrael he says the following:

‘Only Caleb, who was 40 years old, and Joshua son of Nun disagreed. They said (Numbers 14:7–9): “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord is pleased with us, He will bring us into that land, a land that flows with milk and honey, and give it to us; only you must not rebel against the Lord. Have no fear then of the people of the country, for they are our prey: their protection has departed from them, but the Lord is with us. Have no fear of them!’”

My correspondent continued:

“It clearly states that if Hashem is pleased with us He will bring us into the land that flows with milk and honey… but then it says very clearly but you must not rebel against Hashem.

“The State of Israel is clearly rebelling against Hashem, in that case do we still have an obligation to move there? Will we be protected there? Are consequences going to follow, being that we are rebelling? I am honestly scared, I am scared for the States that are currently rebelling but I am also scared of Eretz Yisrael because we are rebelling there as well….

“So where do we go?

I love the holiness of the land, I love the land, my Neshama yarns to be home. I know that America is coming to an end and that Hashem is calling us home. However the corruption of the state of Israel is what scares me. At the times of the spies it was the Amalekites who were corrupt, but Caleb says we will have protection if we cling to Hashem.

“But this time, the Jewish nation is doing corrupt things, so what does that mean for us?… All these questions are coming from a genuine place. Please enlighten me.”

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I’ve known this person for years, and they are not someone who is looking for an ‘easy out’ or to duck mitzvahs, or to avoid coming out of their comfort zone.

This is a very committed Jew, who is asking some very serious questions about moving to Israel, and they require a serious response. So with God’s help, here’s my best shot at providing it.

As is my way, I’m going to break down the points above and answer them one by one. Let’s start with this:

“It clearly states that if Hashem is pleased with us He will bring us into the land that flows with milk and honey… but then it says very clearly but you must not rebel against Hashem.

“The State of Israel is clearly rebelling against Hashem, in that case do we still have an obligation to move there? Will we be protected there? Are consequences going to follow, being that we are rebelling? I am honestly scared, I am scared for the States that are currently rebelling but I am also scared of Eretz Yisrael because we are rebelling there as well….”

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The STATE is not the LAND

The first thing to clarify about moving to Israel is that the STATE of Israel, and the LAND of Israel are two totally different things. The STATE of Israel is the secular institution and government that happens to be in control of the LAND of Israel.

While the STATE of Israel likes to dress it itself up in Jewish clothing, it’s honestly been anti-God, anti-Torah, and anti-orthodox Judaism right from the very start. You don’t have to take my word for that! Yair Lapid himself will tell you this in this video, where he describes how Ben Gurion and all the rest of them basically thought the haredim in Israel would totally disappear within a couple of generations, which is why he wasn’t so bothered about granting yeshiva students exemptions from serving in the IDF.

The Labour Zionist Communists who pretty much ruled Israel with an iron fist for its 50 years (and who are still ‘ruling’ it today by way of the courts, the media and the STATE’s institutions…) were vehemently ‘anti’ orthodox Judaism, and ‘anti’ a Torah observant lifestyle right from the start.

They were rebelling against God right from the start, and God has had an awful lot of patience with them.

Why?

Because they were the ‘shell’ around the fruit, as Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook writes.

The STATE was the shell, the husk, that had to be in place while the far more beautiful spiritual dimension of the LAND of Israel was developing. People couldn’t move to Israel en masse until the place had proper roads, sewage facilities, places for people to work, water pipes, schools built.

So the STATE fulfilled a very important function in enabling more Jews to move to Israel, and God will definitely give a full measure of reward to all those who participated in that process, religious or not.

In terms of the obligation to move to Israel – I’m not a posek. But I can tell you for sure, the LAND of Israel didn’t disappear just because the STATE of Israel took over. Back in the desert, the spies could have made the same argument:

“Look, guys, the people running the show in the Land of Canaan are totally corrupt! And they’re ‘anti’ God and the Torah lifestyle! And they will be fighting us every step of the way if we try to move in there, and telling us we’re trying to ‘take over’ their neighborhoods, and they’re going to write demeaning, hate-filled things about us and our children in the press, and openly discuss ways of reducing our population, and trying to make life hard in a billion different ways….

“So maybe, let’s forget the whole idea of moving to Canaan, and let’s just stay here in Monsey.”

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God said no.

God said – move to Israel any way, and go and help build the land into the beautiful, holy place it’s destined to be. All that stuff about the place being full of scary chilonim who think haredi people are no better than grasshoppers – it’s just an illusion! If you’re with Me – with Hashem – there is nothing to fear.

As it was then, so it is now.

Nothing has changed.

Except to say that in 2019, there are more orthodox Jews in Israel, and more Jews who believe in God, and more Jews becoming mitzvoth observant than at any other time in the last 100 years.

If God protected the God-less, yucky atheists and communists back in Israel’s War of Independence in 1948 – after everything they did (and notably didn’t do…) in World War II, He’ll continue to protect the Jewish people as a whole.

But there are clearly some caveats to that answer, so read on.

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Q: Will we be protected there?

Short answer: I don’t know. I’m not God. Good people still get killed in road accidents in Israel, good people still drown in flash floods, they still get murdered by terrorists, God forbid, lo alenu.

If someone has a soul correction that requires them to be taken from the world at an early age, presumably that’s going to happen wherever they live. But the other ‘bad stuff’ that happens usually comes as a result of not living life in alignment with God’s plans for us.

So, the more we make teshuva, the more we have emuna, the more we stay close to Hashem and His true tzaddikim, the more our chances go up of living a blessed, happy, healthy life.

Rebbe Nachman tells a parable about a man who was set a task by a king of moving a massive, heavy stone from place to the other.

The man tried, but couldn’t do it – it was impossible! So then the king said to him: “I didn’t mean for you to move that heavy stone in once piece. I wanted you to break it up into small chunks, and to transport it that way, instead.”

When a person moves to Israel and starts to live here, they are working on refining their character and polishing their souls 24/7. Every time you have to deal with a rude government clerk, or ridiculous bureaucracy, or stabbing terrorists, or awful loneliness on Shabbat because you just can’t socialize here in the same thoughtless way, or a tremendous fear about making parnassa – you are breaking off a little bit more of the ‘stone’ in your soul, and transporting it from arrogance to humility. Or from not seeing God in your life to having more emuna. Or from ‘controlling’ to accepting.

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Day to day life can be so very challenging in Israel.

Just ask the people who live with incendiary balloons down by the Gaza border, or regular rocket attacks, or stabbings. But also in the small things, like not being able to talk the language properly, feeling like a perpetual outsider, missing a place, a persona, a store that you can no longer access.

God does that on purpose.

It’s part of the ‘soul clean-up’ program that is living in the Holy Land. To be challenged on a daily basis, and to keep looking for God behind it all.

Can a person do that outside of Israel?

Sure!

But it’s so much harder. Life in chul is much more superficial, the bubble is padded so much better, the whole society is geared far more to materialism and arrogance and ‘doing’ instead of being.

The soul’s voice gets very smothered and so very easily distorted in chul.

Can a person totally ignore God in Israel?

Sure!

But they aren’t happy. Look at all these secular politicians, look at all these ranting journalists, look at all these hi-tec entrepreneurs with their shaved heads and angry, hard faces. It’s much, much harder to ignore God here, even when you’re trying so hard to do that.

That’s why so many of the ‘anti’ people – or their kids – end up moving away, ultimately.

Are there consequences for rebelling?

Of course, yes. But God is fair, and no-one will have to ‘pay’ for someone else’s mistakes or sins. Does that guarantee safety and a good life? Nope. But it means that nothing will happen to a person that isn’t 100% what is meant to happen. But here’s the thing:

There are also consequences for ‘rebelling’ out of Israel, too.

It’s the stone analogy. The people who aren’t shifting that stone bit by bit end up having to deal with all their ‘rubbish’ all at once, one way or another. God pays the rope out for years – for generations – hoping that someone will wake up and return to Him.

But His patience isn’t infinite, and there are far more Jews spitting in God’s face in the US and chul than in Israel. There will definitely be consequences to face, wherever a person happens to live, whether they move to Israel, or not. The question is, will the consequences be ‘dropped’ on a person all at once, or will they be paid out slowly, drip drip, every single day?

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Honestly?

Sometimes, I also feel a bit scared about all the corruption here. When I was researching the book on the Rav, and when I realized what was really happening in Israel, it was the only time in my life that I had the fleeting thought that maybe, I’d made a mistake by moving to Israel.

Thank God, it only lasted for two days, but it was a very hard challenge to go through.

Very quickly, God reminded me about the hundreds and thousands of ways Jewish life in Israel is so much better here than anywhere else.

This morning, I passed the little orange Lottery Booth down the street, and I saw the lottery guy squished in there with his tallit and tefillin on, praying. That made me so happy.

It makes me so happy that even the graffiti on the wall here often makes me think – like some I read today, that said:

“I [expletive] love Jerusalem, but the people here really talk to you!!!”

I love having the Kotel so close, having holy graves to visit, I love that even the secular looking man in the underwear shop on Jaffa Street gave me a whole, fat Torah class on the importance of having emuna.

I love that I can go to my kid’s school, and see 50 Jews there from such different backgrounds, all talking about what they can do to build a Jewish school, and a Jewish community, in the Holy Land.

I love that so much of the country is kosher, that my kids can quote Biblical passages easily, by heart, because they are written in their language.

I love the craziness, the warmth, the realness, the way it just feels like ‘home’ the way no other place in the world does.

I love the lack of violence on the street (terrorists and crazy drivers notwithstanding). I love the way the sky seems so close in Jerusalem, you can reach out and almost touch it.

Heaven is within arm’s reach here.

And if that’s important to you, you won’t find that proximity to holiness anywhere else.

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There’s a lot more to say on the topic of moving to Israel, there always is.

BH, I will put together my more practical guide to the pros and cons of moving to Israel and living here.

But here’s kind of the take-home message:

While there are Jews rebelling against God all over the world at the moment, God forbid, only in Israel are they also returning to Him in such tremendous numbers.

Teshuva is in the air here, holiness is in the water.

And sooner or later, people will return.

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WATCH: Yair Lapid gave this speech in 2011, before he even entered politics.

Why am I bringing a 25 minute talk by Yair Lapid, from 2011?

Because it explains so, so much of what’s really going on in Israel right now, both politically, but also all the hatred you find expressed against the haredi community, and the settlers, and the right-wingers, and everyone else in Israel who isn’t them, in the [still almost entirely secular, still almost entirely Ashkenazi] Israeli media.

The clip has good English subtitles, that were done by an organisation called Makom that says it’s the:

“Israel Education Lab of the Jewish Agency for Israel”.

I find that statement somewhat troubling, as Makom is clearly run by a number of Jews who are affiliated with Reform, Conservative and the other non-Orthodox ‘pluralist’ organisations who are funding so many of the legal challenges to the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate in the High Courts, and who are behind so many of the legal attacks against the Torah way of life in Israel.

Maybe this is why so many orthodox Jewish converts are currently having such a hard time trying to get their plans for moving to Israel accepted by the Jewish Agency?

‘Pluralist’ organisations can’t get enough of Yair Lapid, and Yesh Atid. They parrot each other’s words an awful lot, and when you start to see the exact same sentiments being expressed by different people using exactly the same terminology – alarm bells start to go off that this isn’t just a grass-roots ‘uprising’, but something that is being carefully planned, and carefully orchestrated behind the scenes, from America.

There’s more to be said, as always. For now, I’ve transcribed the first half of Yair Lapid’s speech, which he gave to a group of Haredi adult students at Kiryat Ono College, in 2011. I’ll share more of his speech in the next post, where I hope to take a proper look at what’s really going on with the draft controversy. There is a lot of obfuscation of the real issues (as always…) but with a bit of careful digging, I think we’ll be able to get a clearer picture of what’s really going on in Israel, and what the implications are.

In the meantime, here’s the first half of Yair Lapid’s speech:

You won. There was a competition in Israel for ‘Israeli-ness’ that lasted over 100 years, since the 2nd wave of Jewish immigration. And in the end, you won. We lost and you won.

For decades here, it was a Mexican Shootout, where each one waits for the other guy to give in…

According to Avi Ravitsky:

The status quo was based on the false assumption which was accepted by both sides that the opposition camp was doomed to dwindle away and perhaps even disappear.

I know that’s what the haredim always thought about the chilonim (secularists), that they’re doomed to extinction.

But, that’s what we thought about you, too. That you’re a sort of living museum, like the safari park in Ramat Gan. There’s a place where they have this rare species that’s almost extinct, and that has to be protected, so we can take our grandchildren there and show them and tell them: “You see, kids? That’s how Jews used to look!”

Let me remind you that when Ben Gurion agreed to exempt yeshiva students from military service, the original number was 700. That was supposed to be the entire yeshiva population, 700. In the State of Israel today, in the Mir yeshiva alone, there are more than 3,500 men…

[100 years ago] Secular Jews came in two different types, the maskilim (‘enlightened”) and the Zionists…

The chilonim and the haredim were in constant conflict, until the reached the point of confrontation. And you won that confrontation. You won not only in terms of numbers, but also in relation to the haredi presence in politics, and the settlement movement, and as a consumer force, and in the street and the culture, and in the educational system. You won in all these places.

I’ve heard the stats, and looking at you here, I expect you to win in the job market, as well.

Because it turns out, there is no way to build ‘Israeli-ness’ without you.

The Founding Fathers had a vision of Israel as a socialist, secular European State. That was the main vision, and it held out for 50 years. But different ‘tribes’ gradually fanned around this [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream:

The Haredi-Ashkenazi Tribe; the Haredi-Sephardi Tribe; the National-Religious; Beitar; then in the 50s, ‘tribes’ came here from North Africa, that became the tribes on the periphery; then in the early 90s, the Russian ‘tribe’ came here; and then the Ethiopian ‘tribe’.

And each tribe had its needs and demanded something from the mainstream. Religious demands, political demands, economic demands, and so they ate away at the mainstream. And these tribes gradually infiltrated all the traditional, [socialist, secular, Europeanized] axes of power. First, the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Then academia. Then business.

And when the [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream of Israeli-ness tried to defend itself…these others said: “Look, you oppressed us! You denied us our rights and we won’t accept this. And they were right, that the [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream really did oppress them, and denied them their rights. And they really shouldn’t have had to tolerate that.

And something else also happened:

The [socialist, secular, Europeanized] mainstream was no longer the majority. By the late 1970s, there were more Sephardim in Israel than Ashkenazim. And since the 1980s, there are a lot more people who consider themselves traditional or religious, than secular.

Jerusalem is a much bigger city than Tel Aviv. And since 1977, the capitalist right-wing [i.e. the Likud party] has been in power most of the time, for 34 out of the last 40 years.

A survey from 1994 showed that 56% of the [Israeli] public believes that the Torah was given at Mount Sinai. It’s clear that the balance between the ‘tribes’ and the [secular, socialist, Europeanized] mainstream has been upset. The [secular, socialist, Europeanized] mainstream is no longer the majority, not numerically, not economically, not politically and not idealogically.

In the late 1990s, something predictable happened.

The [secular, socialist, Europeanized] mainstream got fed up. The [secular, socialist, Europeanized] mainstream looked to the left, and looked to the right, and said: “I’m sick of everyone demanding things from me. If they don’t want me to leave the country, then let them lead it themselves, because I have a new solution. From now on, I’m a ‘tribe’ too – the “middle-class” tribe.”

It said: “I don’t need the government in order to do business. I can get married in Cyprus in a civil ceremony, and I have to defend democracy, because these other tribes [i.e. the haredim, right-wingers, Sephardim, Russians and Ethiopians who make up the majority of the population] are instinctively either non-democratic, or less democratic.

“And I’m sick of the fact that a boy in Bnei Brak, and a boy in Um El-Fahm whom I’ve never met are funded by my taxes. And I certainly don’t need to be told that I ‘oppressed’ them.

“If they’re so ‘oppressed’, let them get along without me. I’ll do what everyone else does. I’ll look out for Number 1. I’ll take care of myself, and my people.” And that’s how it’s been over recent years.

[up to 8.40 mins, then skipping a little. Yair Lapid continues:]

When the Zionist Founding Fathers came to Israel, they said they wanted to build a ‘melting pot’ for the Jews.

And they sincerely looked for a broad ‘base’ of agreement between the different sections. They ignored the fact that the Jewish people already had such a base…They wanted to build a secular, socialist ‘melting pot’, and they ignored the fact that the Jews had an ancient Father who maintained and protected them for 2,000 years, i.e. the God of Israel.

I want to emphasize that I’m not talking about emuna, faith, that’s something else. I’m talking about the question of what is the social and cultural foundation of the Israeli ethos.

The Founding Fathers tried to skip straight from the Bible to modern times.

They wanted a Biblical ethos, not a Talmudic [i.e. Rabbinic] one, because the Bible happened here. King Saul went to find his donkeys on Highway 443…

For them, the Talmudic tradition belonged to the exile. So, they decided to skip over the Mishnah and Midrash, the Talmud, the Golden Age of Spain, the Ramchal, the Chatam Sofer, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, to establish their ‘Biblical’ ethos. And instead of a multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral vision that could include all different types of Jew, they created an ethos that suited secular, Ashkenazi socialists. And they wanted all the other ‘tribes’ to submit to this ethos.

This wasn’t done out of malice or stupidity, it was just secular thinking. They thought like this: “If God hasn’t brought the Jews to Israel in 2000 years, it’s time to let someone else have a go. It’s time to create a new myth.”

And when the holocaust came, they saw it as proof that you can’t rely on the God of the Jews, because He’s unreliable. We can only rely on ourselves.

So we tried to rely on ourselves, but the experiment failed.

It failed because it caused everyone who wasn’t secular, Ashkenazi and socialist to withdraw even more into his tribe. Especially when he realized that the ‘vision’ being offered to him had no room for what was most precious to him – his God.

It failed even more, because the Founding Fathers explanation was unsatisfactory. It didn’t justify us being here [in Israel]. Because if you take our ‘Father’ [i.e. God] out of the picture, what are we doing here? Why would a secular person choose to live in the worst neighborhood in the world, amongst a billion Muslims who hate him, in this this heat, if he doesn’t believe in an external Power that makes it worth living here?

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Yair Lapid didn’t have an answer for this question, btw, which sums up a lot of the problem that his ‘tribe’ are now facing, and why so many of them are turning into raging ultra-lefty, anti-Israel lunatics. But in the second half of Yair Lapid’s speech, he touched on a few issues that the religious Jews in Israel do have to grapple with, however uncomfortable that may makes us feel. And we’ll look at what these issues are in the next post.

You might also be interested in these posts:

 

Why ‘aliyah bullying’ is just a massive red herring.

For most of us who live in places where Chabad has a presence, we’ve got used to their ubiquitous little tables set up with tefillin, and the inspiring way they encourage so many Jews who otherwise wouldn’t give the mitzvah of laying tefillin a second thought, as they run around their busy lives.

Come rain or shine, those Chabad shlichim don’t miss an opportunity to call Jews over to them on the street, and ask them if they’d like to lay tefillin.

Let me ask you something:

Is that ‘tefillin bullying’?

I mean, there are 613 mitzvahs, and not everyone is going to have the privilege of doing all of them in one lifetime. Surely, when the Chabad shlichim are coaxing people to spend a few precious moment connecting to God, and putting God’s mitzvah of laying tefillin ahead of what they themselves wanted to be doing at that precise moment, that is a good thing, isn’t it?

Let’s explore another example.

Say, we have a guy who doesn’t eat kosher. Say, that guy has a ‘religious’ sister who is trying to encourage him to swear off the pork, and to only eat kosher meat. Let’s eavesdrop on that conversation, a little:

Sister: You know, my dear brother, every time you eat another rasher of bacon, it’s disconnecting you from God and doing terrible damage to your soul. You are such a refined Jewish neshama! Eating pork products is so beneath you, sweet brother. And also, God doesn’t like it very much.

Brother: I find your comment to be kosher bullying. You telling me that God doesn’t like it when I eat pork doesn’t help me to feel good about myself as a Jew, and it doesn’t help anyone.

Do we agree with him?

What about the Jewish boy who is seriously dating that nice, non-Jewish girlfriend? His mother realizes that things are getting serious, and arranges to have a last-ditch talk with him:

Mother: I know I didn’t raise you right, I know I didn’t take the Torah seriously, I know I put what was easy and comfortable for myself ahead of what God really wanted me to do, and how He really wanted me to live, as a Jew – but please, I’m begging you, don’t marry that girl! It’ll devastate me, and end 3,000 years of Jewish continuity, because your kids won’t be Jewish!

Son: Mother, I feel intimidated by these kind of comments. I’m fed up with all your nonsense about your grandchildren not being Jewish. I’m standing up for my rights to live exactly how I want. There are many, varied reasons why I just couldn’t find a Jewish girl to date, and at this stage, I don’t believe I need to.

[Mother bursts into heart-wrenching sobs].

Son (increasingly defensive…): I’m just defending my right to live my life and not be attacked because I can’t just break up with the woman I love and marry someone Jewish instead. Well done to you, mother, that you married a Jew, but spare a thought for those who have tried and failed to find a Jewish spouse. I had to date outside the faith just to get a girlfriend, and I have other Jewish friends who won’t even consider marrying a Jew now, because it was so hard for them on the Jewish dating scene.

Is this “don’t marry out” bullying?

And if the answer is ‘yes’, is that a bad thing?

If something is a mitzvah, if something is a Torah commandment, then surely we should be encouraging other Jews to do it, with all our strength? Part of the reason I’m so in awe of my local Chabad shlichim here in Jerusalem is that they are actively encouraging Jews to do mitzvahs every single day.

Come listen to the Purim Megillah!

Come join us for the Pesach Seder!

Come participate in Kaparot, come listen to a lecture on the Tanya, come give some tzedaka to build our new shul!

Do I have the wrong end of the stick here?

Instead of thinking how awesomely inspiring it is that they are constantly encouraging me to move out of my comfort zone, and to move past my laziness and apathy and yeoush and disinterest, I should be accusing them of mitzvah bullying, instead?

That doesn’t sound right to me.

Everyone has their reasons why certain mitzvahs are hard for them. For example, the mitzvah of covering my hair as a married woman is really, really hard for me. It was so hard for me, I didn’t do it for the first eight years I was married.

But that doesn’t meant that I started justifying what I was doing to myself, and explaining how my ‘mission’ in life didn’t include covering my hair, or how my big, important job working for the British government meant I had a free pass on covering my hair.

I didn’t cover my hair because I wasn’t sufficiently motivated to cover my hair, and my personal circumstances, outlook, work (and crazy, crazy big hair!) all made it very difficult to do.

But I still acknowledged I was in the wrong, and that God really did want me to cover my hair.

And, I was still very impressed by my friends and acquaintances who were covering their hair full-time, because I knew how much inner strength and determination that required.

So what changed?

Things changed when we finally got to Israel, and my parnassa hit the skids, and I started to realise that me not covering my hair – as well as a whole bunch of other ‘little’ things, like not benching after bread, and wearing jeans, and going to the movies – actually had some serious spiritual consequences, and was causing me a lot of issues in my actual day-to-day life.

I started covering my hair with such a bad grace – but my shalom bayit picked up instantly, and my parnassa also rebounded (not immediately. God likes to maintain something of an illusion with these things, to preserve our free choice.)

So now, I happily choose to cover my (still crazy….) hair, not because I like the mitzvah, not because it’s easy – it’s still so very, very hard, and I’ll post about all that another time – but because:

I realized this is what God wants.

And that doing what God wants makes my life so much easier and nicer.

There are certain spiritual rules God put in place for how He wants Jews to live, and how Jews can best maximize their spiritual potential. Sadly, plenty of Jews today don’t even know about these spiritual rules, and the mitzvoth that they are clothed in.

The fewer of these ‘rules’ a Jew operates by, the more difficult, stressful and challenging their lives inevitably will be.

So let’s ask this again, is it right to ‘lecture’ other Jews about doing mitzvoth?

That’s an interesting question, isn’t it? When people put out memes with “love your fellow Jew as yourself”, is that considered ‘lecturing’? How about if they share a shiur on avoiding sinat chinam and lashon hara?

Is that considered ‘lecturing’?

Couldn’t every single one of us turn around and say something like:

Nice for you, that you’re managing to avoid slandering people all the time and hating other Jews who are different, but some of us just couldn’t get there, hard as we tried. Some of didn’t have the strength to avoid participating in all the juicy gossip on Facebook. Some of us just couldn’t continue seeing the good in other people, some of us just had way too many bad middot to overcome to have the energy to start working on our own sinat chinam, even though we know deep down that’s preventing the geula and causing us so much suffering in our own lives.

But God is surely going to save me, despite all my bad middot and unrepentant aveirot! I don’t doubt that for a moment!

Couldn’t we all make that same argument about every mitzvah we find hard, and that we don’t really want to do?

And then what? Where does reward and punishment fit into this picture?

If a Jew can do anything they want, pick and choose their mitzvahs, then state that for sure, God is going to reward them exactly the same regardless of the mitzvahs they’re actually striving to do, or are saying they are ‘exempt’ from doing, that totally negates the concept of reward and punishment.

This is Judaism 101. This comes from Jewishvirtuallibrary.org:

The doctrine of reward and punishment is central to Judaism throughout the ages; that man receives his just reward for his good deeds and just retribution for his transgressions is the very basis of the conception of both human and divine justice.

Rambam states in the 11th of the 13 Principles of Faith that:

“God gives reward to he who does the commandments of the Torah and punishes those that transgress its admonishments and warnings. And the great reward is the life of the world to come; and the punishment is the cutting off of the soul [in the world to come]. And we already said regarding this topic what these are. And the verse that attests to this principle is (Exodus 32) “And now if You would but forgive their sins – and if not erase me from this book that You have written.” And God answered him, “He who sinned against Me I will erase from My book.” This is a proof that God knows the sinner and the fulfiller in order to mete out reward to one, and punishment to the other.”

Can you see the problem, here?

Moving to Israel is a mitzvah. (I know there are apparently ‘frum’ people who are so confused they are even doubting that, so please take a look at the daas Torah in this post, Deconstructing Aliyah, which sets out a whole bunch of real, actual Torah sources on the subject, if you’d like a change from all the ‘daas me‘ flying around the internet.)

So, if we’re going to start accusing other people of ‘aliyah bullying’ then we have to be consistent, and also start accusing other people of ‘kosher bullying’ and ‘tefillin bullying’ and ‘not marrying out’ bullying too, because as you can hopefully see for yourself, the same arguments are effectively playing out in each of these arenas.

It’s always hard to keep mitzvahs, in some ways. God expects us to keep striving out of comfort zone, to keep trying to give Him what He wants, and to not give up on the mitzvoth even when we can’t quite reach them.

I have so many mitzvoth I’m still struggling with, not least my own problems with lashon hara and anger.

I could turn around and give God a bunch of excuses why I still flip out and go ballistic – and they’d all be true! But that doesn’t change the picture that God says that getting angry is a very bad thing, and that He wants me to carry on working on it, until 120.

Sure, I can justify my bad behavior all I want.

But that doesn’t change the fact that God wants me to do better, and He wants me to get Him involved in really solving the issue.

So unless we’re also going to start accusing God of being a “good middot bully”, or a “keeping the Torah bully”,  it seems to me this whole ‘aliyah bullying’ idea is really just a massive red herring.

What’s stopping you from moving to Israel – take the quiz

 

I think I’ve covered most of the main challenges and concerns people have about moving to Israel. If there’s something I missed, please feel free to add it in to the comments section, and let’s start to figure this issue out a bit more, together.
For sure, there are some very real, very solid concerns and obstacles in the path to getting to the Holy Land. I know many people who really do want to come, but can’t seem to get here, for one reason or another. So let’s see what’s the biggest issues that are standing in the way, and then I will do my best to put some resources together here on the site, that might help you to find a way past them.
Also, take a look at the aliyah category, for some more pertinent information, discussion and background.

Rebbe Nachman spoke a great deal about the lofty spiritual level of the land of Israel.

After I wrote Rebbe Nachman on making aliyah to Israel, Rachel wanted to know where Rebbe Nachman specifically praised the greatness of the land. So here that passage is, in all its glory:

(It comes from #141 in Tzaddik, published by the Breslov Research Institute):

The Lesson “Nine Tikkunim” in Likutey Moharan, I, 20 speaks at length about the greatness of the Land of Israel and how the real victory in the war comes when we succeed in reaching there. When the Rebbe actually taught this lesson he started it by speaking about the Land of Israel, saying:

“Whoever wants to be a Jew – which means going from level to level – can only succeed through the Land of Israel.

“When he wins the war he is a called a ‘man of war’ but not before. For ‘let not the one who is putting on his armor boast like the one who is taking it off (I Kings 20:11).’ Only after winning is he called a ‘man of war’.”….

After he finished the lesson, when we were talking, I asked him: “What did you mean when you said that the Land of Israel is so great that this is the main victory?”

He took me to task for this and said: “I meant Israel quite literally with its houses and apartments” – i.e. in all his emphasis on the greatness of the Land of Israel, he meant quite literally the Israel Jews go to.

He wanted every Jew who wished to be a true Jew to go to Israel.

This is what inspired and encouraged me more than anything to overcome the innumerable difficulties I myself had and break through everything to get to Israel. Thank God for helping me to break through the obstacles and get there and back safely…

With regard to the main victory being getting to Israel in spite of the difficulties, there was a time when the Rebbe was speaking about the tremendous obstacles and danger he faced in Istanbul and the rest of his journey to Israel. He then said to us that we would be able to get to Israel easily – as if to say that we would not have to face obstacles and dangers like the ones he endured.

But we should still be prepared to suffer and undergo hardship in order to get there, because Israel is one of the three things attained through suffering.

Once, the Rebbe said there are people who imagine they have a great longing to go to Israel, but only if they can travel comfortably, not with discomfort and suffering. This is not perfect desire. Someone who wants to reach Israel should go there even if he has to travel on foot.

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As always, Rabbenu sums things up in a very clear fashion. Making aliyah is by no means an easy thing, or a ‘no-brainer’, even with the growing impetus for Jews to run away from the economic, social and anti-semitic fires burning all over the world. It requires an awful lot of mesirut nefesh, and awful lot of self-sacrifice across so many levels.

Moving here is one thing, and staying here is another. I’ve seen so many people move away, because they refused to take God’s cues to really dig deep and acknowledge their bad middot, their real relationship issues, their personal flaws, their ego problems.

You go from level to level, spiritually, in Israel, because at every turn God is challenging you to develop more emuna, more bitachon, to let go of more ego, more status, more assumptions about yourself and others. Every day, you have to deal with obviously crazy people going nutso in your direction; or rockets falling on your head; or the fact that you still don’t know what piece of meat is actually a pot roast. (On that score, if anyone can clue me in, I’d be grateful.)

But it’s still worth it.

Eretz Yisrael is only attained through suffering – but at least you get something to show for it, at the end of it all! Inside or outside of Israel, the ‘suffering’ bit seems to be a given at the moment. So, it’s not so much a question of ‘suffer or don’t suffer’, but a question of ‘suffer and acquire something of lasting, permanent benefit, spiritually – or not’:

“Whoever wants to be a Jew – which means going from level to level – can only succeed through the Land of Israel.”

I wrote this post two weeks before the shooting in the Poway shul in San Diego, but didn’t get a chance to put it up.

Violent anti-semitism is shooting through the roof all over the world at the moment, and the question we have to ask is why?

Sure, we can point fingers at radical Islam, and at fanatical right-wingers, and at all the very many other sources of anti-semitism out there, but when all is said and done, God is the one causing the problem.

If we’re looking at this from the place of emuna, we have to ask why?

Why is God making it more and more uncomfortable for Jews to live in chutz l’aretz? Why is He piling the pressure on Jewish communities all over the world, from NYC to London to Paris to San Diego and back again?

Why is God doing that?

Maybe, we can find some answers in Rebbe Nachman’s Torah:

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As you know, I like to quote authentic Torah sources wherever possible, to support any opinions on this blog, to counteract the growing tide of daas me. Personal opinions certainly have their place, but not when we’re discussing something as important as whether living in Israel is a mitzvah for a Jew, or not.

In line with that, I thought I’d take a look at what Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has to say about Eretz Yisrael, and whaddya know, he has a lot to say on the subject. The following is excerpted from Likutey Etzot, that was translated into English as ‘Advice’ by the Breslov Research Institute:

  • With truth emuna (faith), prayer comes into its own. Prayer is bound up with the concept of bringing about miracles. To attain this level of emuna is only possible in the Land of Israel, for it is there that prayer ascends to the worlds above….
  • If we abuse Eretz Yisrael we go down into exile.
  • Every upward movement we have to make towards holiness can only be accomplished through Eretz Yisrael.
  • It is impossible to come to the Land of Israel without difficulties and suffering. The root of all the difficulties and suffering lies in the slanderous image of Israel, which is put about by the wicked.
  • Through the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael, the true guide and leader of our age will be revealed.
  • The mitzvah of the succah is a segulah for coming to Eretz Yisrael.
  • The motive for making the journey to Eretz Yisrael should be purely spiritual: to draw closer to God. A person who goes there with this as his aim will certainly benefit….On the other hand, if a person’s motive has nothing to do with devotion to God and cleansing himself of his evil, then what help will Israel be to him? The land will vomit him out…
  • Through the holiness of Eretz Yisrael, one can attain pure faith.
  • Pray to God, to ask Him to give you the desire and yearning for Eretz Yisrael. Then you will succeed in reaching there.
  • God repays man ‘measure for measure’. Nowhere is the repayment more exacting than in Eretz Yisrael.
  • The holiness of Eretz Yisrael is the epitome of holiness, encompassing all other levels of holiness. It is there that we can free ourselves completely of the materialistic viewpoint which claims that events take place naturally. We can come to know and believe that everything comes about only through the hand of God.
  • Genuine enlightenment and wisdom come only in Eretz Yisrael.

Rabbenu says a great deal more, these are only snippets, but I think you get the idea.