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

Is living in Israel the only thing that really counts for God?

Recently, I’ve been increasingly niggled by this question. On the one hand, it’s clear that life in Israel is operating within a whole different spiritual dimension, and that a person’s emuna and Jewish identity can blossom here in a way that it really can’t do, in most normal circumstances, anywhere else.

At the same time, Israel is still home to some of the craziest, nastiest, ickiest Jews I’ve ever met. It’s a place of contrasts, a place of extremes, because the good and the holy is so palpable and tangible here, the bad and the profane has to also be at sky-high levels to maintain free choice.

So, the question remains: is being in Israel a guarantee that ‘you’ll make it’, whatever that actually means, when the chaos currently enveloping the world finally hits tipping point?

And then there’s a second, no less pressing, question: is being out of Israel a guarantee that ‘you won’t make it’, God forbid?

I know that so many of us who made aliya over the last decade or so were prompted by the thought that our chances of ‘making it’, whatever that means, would be much higher in Eretz Yisrael.

But then came the intifada…and Lebanon II…and rockets from Gaza…and more rockets from Gaza…and then the threat of the Iranian nuke, which kind of started to rock the certainty of who was going to make it, where…

Now, the pendulum appears to have swung back again, with Islamic terrorism across Europe, black fascists and white fascists slugging it out in the US, and wildfires, earthquakes, floods, Harveys and Irmas stirring everything up all over the place.

So who’s going to ‘make it’? (Whatever that means…)

And does it only depend on where a person lives?

You’ll probably be reading this when I’m in the UK for three days, trying to finally get my soul unstuck from the streets of London. (Note to robbers: The rest of my family is staying at home, so don’t even think about it.)

When I step off the plane at Luton airport, does that instantly turn me into a person who ‘couldn’t make it’, God forbid, because now I’m in the wrong place? Or would God have mercy on me, and still find a way to spirit me back to Israel if Moshiach revealed himself while I’m gone?

It’s not a simple point.

Rav Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook got trapped outside of Eretz Yisrael when World War I unexpectedly started, and he spent four years in galut, primarily in London, until he was able to return.

If someone like Rav Kook didn’t have the merit to be brought back to the land miraculously, what are my chances?

Let’s look at it from the other direction. Let’s say someone from outside – someone who likes to parade their gaava around in city centres – flies into Jerusalem just as Moshiach is revealed. Does that person now get to ‘make it’ (whatever that means) by sheer dint of being in the right place at the right time?

And if the answer is ‘no’ to the first scenario, or at least a ‘maybe’, and if the answer is ‘no’ to the second scenario, then clearly, something else is going here that would enable a person to ‘make it’ when Moshiach comes.

For all of us who sacrificed so much to come to Israel, this isn’t always a comfortable conclusion.

What, I could have stayed in chutz l’aretz in my soul-destroying job and my comfortable ‘modern orthodox’ box without having to go through all the tests, challenges and excruciating soul corrections I’ve had over the years, and still have ‘made it’?!?!?

That doesn’t sound fair!

But is it true?

After pondering this, I think the answer is probably ‘yes and no’.

Yes, if I’d grown the way I’d grown in Israel, spiritually, or changed the way I changed, or tried to learn the humility and emuna that I’ve tried to learn here, then I think probably, I would still make it. (Whatever that means).

But if I didn’t change an iota? Or at least, not very much? Or even, got even more arrogant, nasty and materialistic?

Then I probably wouldn’t.

Flipping the question over to the Israeli side, we can draw the same conclusions. It’s very, very hard to live in Israel, with all its ongoing security challenges, social issues, terrorism, corrupt politicians and financial hardships without growing your emuna and humility, in some way.

But it’s still possible.

So, if a person is living in Israel, and is including God in their life, and is responding to the cues they get every single day here, smack in the face, to return to God and work on their bad middot ASAP – their chances of making it are probably pretty good.

And if not?

Then they aren’t. And not only that, at some point God will probably arrange for them to be unceremoniously dumped out of the country. Of course, they won’t see things that way. It’ll be phrased as ‘an opportunity’ abroad, a great job, a chance to make more money, a person they fell in love with and want to marry, yadda yadda yadda.

But the point to be made here is that at any point in the process, a person can return to God from anywhere in the world.

I know people who made a lot of sincere teshuva dafka when they were forced out of Israel. For whatever reason, it was something they just couldn’t do for as long as they lived here.

I also know people who fell off the frum wagon big time, when they moved here.

Which brings us back to the question we started with, and hopefully also give us something of an answer.

Simply living life in Israel is no guarantee of ‘making it’, but the reality of life in Israel maximizes your spiritual potential, and encourages you – every second of the day – to acquire the traits and the beliefs and the behaviors that are necessary to ‘make it’, ultimately.

The spiritual current here tends to pull a person ‘up’, while the spiritual current in chutz l’aretz tends to pull a person ‘down’.

But whether we’re going to grow from our experiences, and learn more emuna, and turn to Hashem regardless, is only and always up to us. And the people who can genuinely do that even in the very heart of galut may be the biggest neshamas of all.

So to sum up, location does make a big difference. Building a life in Israel does make a big difference. But it’s by no means the only factor deciding who’s going to ‘make it’ when Moshiach shows up.

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Let’s be honest: I could usually call most of what I write by this title, at least over the last nine years.

Yet the past couple of weeks, things seem to be coming to an even bigger head than usual.

This latest round of massive internal angst got sparked off by doing my audiobook in a studio which is plastered with memorabilia from London. You walk in and whap! There’s a massive picture of the #38 red double-decker bus stuck in traffic in Piccadilly Circus, in the centre of London where I often used to hang out.

Even the shower curtain in the toilet is plastered full of London Tube signs and other London stuff, and the fridge is covered with magnets bearing legends from British soccer clubs.

This living in two worlds thing is not really something new, at least not for me, but the last couple of weeks the contrast between my external ‘me’ – that’s doing my tikkun haklali most days by Rav Berland, on the cusp of Meah Shearim, and living 10 minutes walk away from the Old City of Jerusalem – and my internal me, that hasn’t been able to get ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ by Guns n’ Roses out of my head all week, plus thoughts of how much I miss the family and friends stuff from the old country has been completely headwrecking.

My brain KNOWS that it was all pretend, and that even when I lived there I was on the verge of completely cracking up.

I felt 12 years ago that if we didn’t move to Israel ASAP, I was going to end up in a mental institution. (Sometimes, I think I was half right…)

But we left at the height of our ‘success’ in life. Good jobs, two beautiful children, amazing friends, nice house, family all around. And sometimes, the thought of what I left behind when I make aliyah is very hard to bear.

Even though it’s not there anymore.

So many of our friends got divorced…

So many of the people we know went through such hard times the last six years they can’t actually speak to anyone anymore, or be ‘real’, or have a real conversation…

My business croaked six months into moving to Israel, which was a hard financial blow in Israel, but in the UK, would have led to complete and utter disaster…

My husband’s old law firm hit hard times and let go of more than half their lawyers…

Two of my siblings left the country and now live in the US…

So the London I miss isn’t there anymore, even if it was as ‘great’ as I remember.

Which as we’ve already discussed, it wasn’t.

So why can’t I get it out of my head? Why have I been sitting here for two months feeling a deep sadness that I can’t seem to shake, even though my life in Israel is really pretty good on so many different fronts?

I was asking God that question today, when I took one of my random ‘Tehillim quote’ cards out their box for some inspiration, and this is what I got:

“Psalm 93:

The rivers have lifted up, O Being

The rivers have lifted up their voice

The rivers will lift up their voice.

The depression will be carried away

And will become light

As you express what has been suppressed.”

God is nothing if not clear…

I realized I have to stop running away from that bit of myself that got stuck back in London, and that I finally have to go and track it down, face up to it, and bring it back home to Israel.

I’ve avoided the UK for years and years, since I hit ‘skid row’ professionally. The contrast between the external ‘success’ I had then and the external ‘loser’ I am now has been far too hard for me to deal with.

At the beginning of July when we went to Liverpool for family reasons, I felt utter horror well up inside of me at the thought of also going back to London. No way, Jose! What, go back and have to acknowledge what a mess I’ve made of my life, what an idiot I am, how poor I am, how retarded I was to switch spiritual riches for material ones?!

You must be kidding!

But God is showing me that I can’t continue to run away from that encounter. I have to go back for a few days again, this time to London, and I have to go walk the streets, and see my old house, and walk back past all the places I used to work in the heart of London, and to see how it really feels, not just how it looks when I take my trips down memory lane.

It’s pretty scary, because I know that the first day it’s going to look gorgeous and all my suppressed feelings about aliya, and everything we went through the last 12 years is going to well up and capsize me.

But I also know that by day two, I’ll be feeling much happier again. And that by day three, I’ll be raring to get back on the plane back home to Israel.

And that this time, I’ll be bringing all of me back for the ride.

17 years’ ago, I was on holiday in the south western coastal town of St Ives, Cornwall, when we happened to go down a road called ‘Market Jew Street’.

Now, the last Jews in Cornwall left a few hundred years ago, but one of the weird things about the UK is that you often trip over these remnants of Jewish life from the Middle Ages in some unexpected ways.

So, we were walking down ‘Market Jew Street’, looking around, when my husband spotted a table and chairs that he really liked. My husband is not a big furniture person in any way, shape or form, but we’d just moved into a new house, we were expecting our first child, and we needed a new table and chairs.

The table was massive, made of reclaimed wood and old wagon wheels that were a few hundred years’ old, and was quite a ‘conversation piece’, in its own right. So we bought it, and got it delivered back to London, where we lived.

That table and chairs has been with us on all of our journeys since, and has moved around six times (not counting a year it spent in storage).

When we were living in big, spacious houses, I absolutely loved it to bits.

But when we moved into our small flat in Jerusalem three years’ ago, in somewhat traumatic circumstances, it quickly became clear that the massive table took up nearly all the floor space in the living room.

That first year, I was so shell-shocked I barely noticed anything. By the second year – last year – I had the increasingly niggling thought that the table and our current living arrangements really didn’t go together too well. But I thought to myself hopefully, ‘things will turn around for my family soon on the financial front, my husband’s new business idea will take off, and we’ll be able to move to somewhere bigger again, where the table won’t be such a pain in the bottom.’

Dear reader, that didn’t exactly happen.

At this point, I’m starting to stare reality straight in the face, and I told my kids and husband a couple of months’ back that we need to stop living in denial, and to get a smaller table that will let me do other things in the living room, too (like exercise…breathe out….walk around without smashing into the corner of the table all the time…)

That didn’t go down at all well. My kids complained that the table feels like ‘home’ to them – instantly triggering off all the guilt buttons about how much we’ve moved them around. And my husband also had a very strong ‘keep the table’ moment going on, which brooked no argument.

So, the table stayed.

Two weeks’ ago, I came back from the UK feeling like I really need to start exercising more. I have a couple of ‘kosher’ exercise videos that I can watch on my PC, and in my last (massive…) house, that’s how I kept fit.

Here, I have a space of 1 x 2 metres to exercise in, plus a low beam that I keep smashing my hand into if I get too excited, plus that space is only clear anyway because it happens to be right next to the door, which can be a bit tricky if someone comes in or out when I’m in the middle of my mat work.

So long story short… I exercise about once a month.

I came home from the UK, realized why I’m finding it so hard to exercise at home (again…) and decided to broach the table with my husband again.

“My love, we’ve been in this flat for three years now.”

He nodded.

“My love, as far as I can tell, our plans to save some money / move / find somewhere a bit bigger to rent really aren’t getting anywhere, fast.”

He grunted.

“We’re in ‘waiting for an open miracle’ territory, you know that?”

He froze. He could see where this was going.

“…And in the meantime, I’m going to get fat if we don’t ditch the table and get something from IKEA that I can fold up and shove in the corner.”

My husband is so mild-mannered, so sweet, that whenever he has a ‘strong emotion’ moment, it’s always a sign of something much deeper going on.

“We are keeping the table!” he growled, and shot me a dirty look.

Hmmm.

God clued me in about what was going on, here.

If we get rid of the table, it’s admitting defeat. It’s admitting that we’re stuck renting a shoebox for the rest of our lives, and that we’re probably never going to own our own home again, or move to something nicer.

While that is probably the reality of the situation, it’s pretty hard to accept. It’s pretty humiliating, especially for a husband who really is doing his best to provide financially for his family. It’s pretty upsetting, to put it mildly.

But what if we have to let go of the table that is really our last remaining ‘status symbol’, and accept that last, humiliating blow to our egos, before God will change things around for us, on the house front?

That’s the question.

And right now, I don’t have an answer.

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I’m having such a negative reaction to spending barely three, fairly OK, days in chutz l’aretz, and this is where I’ve got to with it all.

(Before I dive in, a story to set the scene:)

Britain has few culinary gifts to boast about, but it does excel at pastry and pies. The morning we flew out of Manchester airport (where me and my frum Jewish family got ‘patted down’ by a nice Muslim airport worker, to check we weren’t terrorists…) I took my girls to the one Kosher deli in town, and told them to pick whatever they wanted to eat for the flight.

We got some bagels, some fish, some cheese – and then the kids each picked a ‘typical’ British pastry. One of my kids has some fairly serious food allergies, especially to all nuts except almonds and sesame seeds. In Britain, her allergies were life-threatening and we had to carry an epipen.

In Israel, God somehow reduced them down to just annoying – in Israel, she just throws up now if she eats something she’s allergic to, and she’s got a ‘lick’ test which is usually very effective for spotting if something contains dodgy substances.

That kid bought what’s called a Bakewell Tart – a small pie with marzipan, jam and icing – which the nice serving lady assured us only had almonds. (The incidence of food allergies in the UK is so extreme, that most people are very careful to give accurate information about these things.)

After we’d got through the awful, OTT security procedures at Manchester Airport (which were enough to put me off from travelling again all by themselves)  – this kid pulled out her Bakewell Tart in the departures lounge, taste tested it, then ate it.

At the last bite, her face went a funny colour, and she started to make a weird gasping / hiccoughing noise. An allergic reaction!

And a far more serious one than she’s had in years and years.

Thank God, she rushed off to the bathroom and immediately threw up, but her throat was hurting her, and she was knocked out for an hour afterwards. Me and my husband said a tikkun haklali for her, I silently asked God to just let us get out of Manchester in one piece, while I walked around the airport looking for the A+E room ‘just in case’ her reaction started to escalate and we needed an epipen again…

BH, the tikkun haklali kicked in, and the crisis abated.

Later, my kid said to me: “Ima, it was so weird! I licked it first and it didn’t tingle my tongue at all! Even when I was eating it, I didn’t feel any tingling – it’s only after I took the last bite that I’d felt like I’d just eaten a big nut.”

What a great allegory for chutz l’aretz!

All a person’s life, they can’t ‘feel’ the damage being done to their souls by living such a superficial, sweet-tasting, gashmius pie of a life in chutz l’aretz. After all, the Bakewell Tart is glatt kosher! They bought it from the kosher deli on the way back from morning prayers!

Even when they’re eating it, it just tastes so yummy and delicious. And then with the last bite before you’re about to step on the plane ‘out of there’ – it nearly kills you.

It’s a fact that allergies are profoundly connected to emotions, stress levels and a person’s soul. It’s clear to me that my daughter’s soul is far more ‘wound up’ and stressed-out in chutz l’aretz than in Israel (even with all our struggling, and terrorism, and obvious spiritual angst), which is why here her allergies are an inconvenience at most, whilst there, they are literally life-threatening.

I went to the local shul one of the mornings I was there, to do my hour of hitbodedut (talking to God). I guess I must have felt like I was missing some of the kedusha that you get when a group of Jews congregate together.

The Rav of the shul gave a small talk after prayers, literally five minutes, where he was explaining how to kosher a microwave, and why you can’t kosher ovens in the same way, or cook milky and meaty foods one after the other in the same oven.

In Israel, I can’t even remember the last time I heard someone talk about those topics.

Here, the focus (at least for the rabbis I listen to….) is always on improving your middot, developing more emuna, guarding your eyes, treating your kids and spouse more nicely, really trying to give God what He wants.

Of course, God also wants a kosher oven, but that’s so ‘basic’ as to be practically taken for granted. Then I got it:

In chutz l’aretz, a Jew struggles even to keep their ovens kosher. That’s why there’s no time for the real work of ‘koshering the soul’. When you have to drive 30 mins just to get a kosher challah, when you have to pay thousands of bucks just to have your kid in a ‘kosher’ school, you already felt like you did the work God sent you down to do.

But really?

That’s only the very, very beginning of the process.

The real job is koshering the soul – uprooting our arrogance, our obsessions with making millions, our predilection for spreading gossip and lashon hara about other Jews, for bigging ourselves up at other people’s expense.

And most of the Jews in chutz l’aretz – even the very best, and most ‘kosher’ Jews – never get anywhere near that work of spiritual rectification.

I know when I made aliya 12 years’ ago, I was broadly of the view that I was a completely fixed, rectified ‘good’ Jewish person who really had nothing more to do to get to the highest level of shemayim.

After all, I had two ovens! And two sinks! And two dish washers!!!!!

After I made aliya, it didn’t take long to realize just how much of the real work of koshering my soul I still have left to do.

And that’s the real difference between chutz l’aretz and Israel: The one place, you feel like you’re ‘complete’ and that you’ve got there spiritually, and that you’re serving Hashem amazingly even by just keeping a kosher home and going to shul on Shabbat. It’s only when you’re about to check out of life that you realize that sweet, superficial, Bakewell Tart of a comfort zone actually killed your neshama.

In the other place, the whole time it can feel like you’re just eating bitter herbs – for breakfast, lunch and supper. But at the end of that process, you finally realize what a life-affirming spiritual ‘cleanse’, what an amazing, deep, spiritual ‘detox’ you’ve just been through.

If you stick with God, you come out of this second process, finally, with a kosher soul.

But there’s no question that the ‘Bakewell Tart’ version of Jewish life looks so much yummier.

If you’d have asked me that question even five years’ ago, the answer would have been an aggressive, uncompromising OF COURSE THEY SHOULD!!!!

Living in Israel is a mitzvah, arguably the biggest mitzvah in the Torah, and certainly the best (and probably only…) way of really achieving our spiritual tikkun, or rectification, in the world.

Like many other people who made aliya at great expense and effort, I went through quite a long stage of feeling personally offended by Jews (especially frum Jews) who refused to move here, and who refused to make the same sorts of sacrifices I’d done, to try to give God what He wanted.

Now, I’ve mellowed out a lot about this question, and I’ve come to understand that like everything else in life, things aren’t so simple, or so black and white.

In theory, there is absolutely no question that every Jew should be yearning, or trying, to live in Israel. No question at all.

But in practice?

It’s really not so simple.

It comes down to this: the spiritual level of the nation of Israel is at such a low level, that even the ‘frummest’ Jew in chutz l’aretz will probably struggle mightily to come up to even the ‘lowest’ level of day-to-day emuna that’s required for a Jew to really stay living in Israel.

That’s why so many people can’t hack it, and leave.

It’s like when God overturned the mountain and held it above our heads to ‘force’ us to accept the Torah. Really, we wanted to do the right thing, we wanted to live that Torah-centric spiritual life, but we also knew just how hard it was going to be, and how much self-sacrifice it was going to require, and for most of us, we simply couldn’t ‘choose’ that path unless we were forced into it.

I’ve come to think that making aliya is operating along the same paradigm.

Every Jewish soul, at its core, really wants to live in Israel. But as the thousands of people who have tried and then left again can tell you, sometimes the day-to-day challenge of having to really LIVE your emuna, and not just talk about it in a nice online shiur somewhere, are so difficult, many people simply can’t hang on.

If I didn’t have Rebbe Nachman and Breslov and hitbodedut, I have no doubt that I also couldn’t have managed to ‘hang on’ and come through all the difficulties we’ve had the last 12 years.

As I’ve been saying all week, Israel is the land of emuna, it’s the land of spiritual rectification. It’s the place where you really come face-to-face with yourself, and your real issues, and all the stuff you need to really work on and fix. And to put it bluntly, so many of us are in such a mess these days, we probably couldn’t withstand such a direct ‘view’ into our souls.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who moves here, or who lives here, is doing the work.

There’s a kind of ‘soft’ option that many olim take which is that they try to recreate the superficiality and comfort of chutz l’aretz in their own communities here.

Without naming names, there are places in Israel that feel to me SO like chutz l’aretz when I go to visit them. There’s the same focus on externals, the same excessive materialism, the same mad rush to work, and obsessions with socializing and making money.

But you know what? Even though a lot of the people in those communities are trying very hard to live in ‘Anglo bubbles’ or ‘French bubbles’ or even, ‘Russian bubbles’, ultimately it’s still not really the same. It IS still Israel, and the kedusha, and the Divine Providence is still there, beckoning people to drop the pretense and get to know their real souls.

I’ve seen people literally go crazy, trying to drown out the insistent, spiritual call to God that reverberates in all parts of Israel, even in the most secular and materialistic neighborhoods.

So yes, it often looks the same, but it’s really not feeling the same.

I used to judge people in these ‘bubbles’ very harshly, but now I’ve come to realize that we all have our breaking point, and our snapping point, and even just moving to Israel in the first place can take many people far, far beyond it.

So let them keep their American dishwashers, and their English obsession with house prices, and their crazy workaholic schedules so they don’t have to think too much.

Because at least, they’re still here, and maybe in the future, their kids will have the energy and strength to continue the spiritual work their parents have begun.

Which brings me back to the question on the table: should people move to Israel, or not?

And the answer I have now is this:

EVERYONE should WANT to move to Israel.

But realistically, a whole bunch of people wouldn’t last five minutes here. Most of the secular, assimilated Jews in chutz l’aretz already know this, on some level, which is why for the most part they aren’t flooding into the country, or even visiting it for holidays.

God hits you smack in the face as soon as you step off the plane at Ben Gurion, and if you’re estranged from God, that can be an extremely challenging experience.

So it’s the ‘frum’ Jews in chutz l’aretz we’re really talking about – the ones who are apparently trying to have a connection with the Creator, and striving to work on their souls. I say ‘apparently’ because it underlines the point I made earlier: in truth, our generation is on such a low spiritual level, that even the frummest-looking Jew, externally, can be effectively ‘switched off’ from God.

Israel opens up that connection to the Creator, and to emuna, in a very real, very powerful way. (Often via financial difficulties, enormous spiritual angst, childrearing issues etc etc). But if the bulb can’t handle the current – it explodes.

Sure, the bulb can also explode in chutz l’aretz too – and it’s doing that with increasing frequency. More and more ‘frum’ kids going off the derech, more and more fatal overdoses in the frum community, more and more abuse, more and more Jews marrying out.

Chutz l’aretz is a disaster zone, spiritually.

I know that if I’d stayed in England, my kids would have probably gone off the derech, I probably would have a nervous breakdown, and my marriage would be in tatters.

I knew that even when I lived there, which is why I was so desperate to get out of there, even though life appeared so ‘perfect’, externally. But if the person I was then had known just how hard the last 12 years would have been, would I still have got on that plane?

I don’t know.

Which brings me to the last, very important, point: We need God to get us to Israel. And we need God to keep us here.

The point of Jewish life is to forge that bond, that connection with God. Living in Israel accomplishes that like nothing else can.

People don’t ‘stop’ being religious when they move to Israel. But they do get real.

And the sad fact is that so many of the people in chutz l’aretz, even the most externally pious looking ones, are fundamentally estranged from Hashem.

Of course, they can’t admit that openly – or even privately, to themselves. Which is why they talk about the terrible secular government, the crazy house prices, the expense of living here, the terrorism, the pull to a secular lifestyle.

And really, all the criticism they level at Israel is true, at least on some level.

But that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that if you try to live in Israel without God, sooner or later it’ll break you, or it’ll break your pretense of being a superficially pious Jew.

I’ve seen that happen SO many times.

But maybe, it’s only once we realize just how broken we really are, spiritually, that we’ll start doing what’s required to fix the problem, and we’ll start rebuilding our relationship with Hashem from the ground up.

And while that process can only be completed in Israel, it can be started everywhere.

Even in chutz l’aretz.

Over the last 12 years, I’ve seen the aliya process chew up a whole bunch of well-meaning people who didn’t realise what the point of being a Jew really is.

In the ‘frum Disney’ version of life that’s still so popular in chutz l’aretz, ‘Jewish life’ is about devoting your externals – your house, your money, your family, your learning and social interactions – to Hashem.

When we live in frum Disney, that means we pay our 10% charity to ensure we’ll always have money, that we buy a house in a Jewish neighbourhood near the kosher delis, that we send our kids to Jewish schools, that we have a good shul within walking distance, and maybe even that we learn a blatt of Gemara, or a couple Halachot of shmirat halashon every day.

What else is there to do, in frum Disney Land? Life is portrayed there as so simple, so black-and-white: do your best to follow Hashem’s Torah and keep His mitzvot, and you’ll only get blessings.

But then, we move to Israel and the ‘frum Disney’ version of Yiddishkeit quickly crumbles.

All of that wrenching effort we made to relocate to the Holy Land, all of the hits to our wallet, our family life, our social standing, our self-esteem, our feeling of belonging… It seems very clear that God should repay this tremendous self-sacrifice with a life of tremendous obvious bracha and ease.

But so often, something that appears to be the opposite occurs.

The money is one thing, the inability to speak the language properly, or figure things out financially and professionally is very, very difficult for a lot of new olim.

But the hardest thing is the isolation.

We move here to be part of the Jewish people, to have our kids grow up in the Jewish homeland, and to see our descendants BH flourish in the land of their forefathers, but so many of us first generation olim never actually find our own place in this huge tapestry that’s unfurling around us.

I’ve been here 12 years, and while on most levels I feel I ‘belong’ here more than I ever felt I belonged in the UK, there is still a big chunk of me that feels like a permanent stranger, a permanent outsider.

Socially, I’m still trudging though the desert, waiting for the Promised Land to appear.

I miss the Shabbat socialising I used to do (every week….)

I miss feeling like I could make things happen, and achieve things, and set goals that would materialise. I haven’t felt like that – about anything – for years, now.

Because in Israel, you don’t serve Hashem with your money, and your wardrobe full of tznius clothes, and your huge salon where you entertain 30 people every week for Shabbos.

You serve God with your kishkes, with your soul, with all the hopes and dreams you have for yourself that may, or may not accord with the Almighty’s plan for your life.

And that difference is enormous.

Most people don’t know this. They don’t understand that the experience of serving Hashem in Israel, in the Holy Land, is qualitatively different from the ‘frum Disney’ experience you get everywhere else.

They think they’ll be able to land, and to keep their self-esteem, and their arrogance, and their comfort zone, and their bank accounts 100% intact, and to carry on serving God with glatt kosher schnitzels and a blatt Gemora.

But it’s not like that. Every day, you wake up and God squeezes a bit more emuna out of you, a bit more tefilah that at some point things will calm down and work out, a few more tears about the matzav, a bit more yearning for Moshiach and geula and the Temple, when we’ll finally be reunited with all the people, the family, the friends, we left ‘back home’.

Israel is a very real place.

It’s a place of the inner dimension, the soul. I’ve seen so many people get mangled by the aliya process, because they didn’t take that into account, and they didn’t understand that what’s on the table here is spiritual rectification, not frum Disney Land.

The last time I went to the UK, I came back with a profound sense of sadness that lasted for many, many months. Today, I woke up tearful and I realised that even though I only spent 2 ½ days in frum Disney Land, it’s still taking a spiritual toll on me.

Part of me can’t understand why I’m living this life now where I get one Shabbat invitation a year (sometimes…) Why I have no community, and no real chance of that changing. Why someone who was so successful, externally, in frum Disney Land should be such an embarrassing failure here.

I know the answer.

I look at my kids who smile genuine smiles, and who feel real emotions, and who relish being alive, and I know the answer.

I look at my husband, who I still love profoundly after 20 years of marriage, who I still have big chats with, who I still like to spend time with, and I know the answer.

Here, I serve Hashem with my kishkes and my tears and my prayers, not with my nice house and my Shabbos hospitality.

But I still hope that sometime soon, the path is going to get smoother, and a bunch less lonely.

I was expecting some sort of violent confrontation to kick off in London, when a bunch of angry ethnic minorities calling themselves by the Orwellian name the: ‘Movement for justice by any means necessary’ went marching on the streets as part of their ‘Day of Rage’, scheduled for June 21, 2017.

It seems like only 300 or so people showed up to the main march through London, instead of the million they were expecting.

But that doesn’t mean that ‘nothing’ happened that day, anything but.

That same day, June 21st, a different bunch of ethnic minority ‘yoof’ started attacking members of the public on the streets of London with machetes (!), swords (!) and batons, but as the ‘members of the public’ happened to be very orthodox Jews in Stamford Hill, no-one thought that was a news story worth covering.

Apparently, these street riots in Stamford Hill continued for two days, and injured a bunch of people. But as the people being attacked were just orthodox Jews, and not ‘real’ people, the British press completely buried the muslims-violently-attacking-Jews angle of the story.

The Evening Standard, the Metro – none of these British papers breathed a word about who was going on the rampage (i.e. Muslims), or which ethnic community (i.e. orthodox Jews) was bearing the brunt of the attacks, in what some Jewish commentators called a modern-day pogrom.

I’d like to tell you it’s only Britain that’s covering up all the growing, often violent, politically-motivated anti-semitism in the country, but the recent murder of French Jew Sarah Halimi in Paris by her Muslim neighbor shows that European countries are closing ranks when it comes to acknowledging anti-semitic violence against their Jewish citizens.

Again, we can go on spouting about how awful all this is, and how unjust, and how terrible all these Europeans are, and how nasty all the muslims are etc – but it’s missing the point.

The point is, that God is running the world, and God wants the Jews to come back home to Israel.

That’s why anti-semitism is only going to continue to increase all around the world, and why what’s going on in London, and Paris, and increasingly also in America, is only going to get worse.

On the same day as I saw the story about the modern-day ‘pogrom’ in Stamford Hill, there was another snippet of info about how the British Government could force a chareidi girls school in the UK to close, because it’s not teaching toieva stuff to its students.

God forbid, that a Jewish school – any Jewish school, never mind just the chareidi ones – should be forced to teach its pupils about this terrible spiritual traif!

But this is what’s going on in the West, as the battle against God, religion and moral values continues to go up in intensity.

That’s why God wants the Jews back home, where they belong.

Sure, there are a load of problems in Israel, too, but forcing a chareidi kid to learn about Ben Gurion, or how to do algebra, kind of pales into nothing compared to what’s going on in even the frummest Jewish schools in London…

It’s not easy to move to Israel, I really do know that.

But it’s only going to get harder to stay put.

Dear reader, if you live in chutz l’aretz, please at least start praying that God should show you a workable way to make that move home, because it’s still so much easier to jump into making aliya, than to be pushed into doing it by a sword-wielding follower of Allah.

Recently, I had an email exchange with someone that got me thinking about how when Moshiach really does, actually, well and truly show up, most people are going to think he’s a cult leader.

You can understand why.

Moshiach will be a hugely charismatic, magnetic person of immense holiness and charm, that the Jewish soul will automatically gravitate towards, and want to nullify themselves to.

That’s part of the beauty and majesty of the Moshiach! The Moshiach will have a global soul that contains a spark of every Jew on the planet, and we’ll all want to get close to him, and soak in his immense spiritual light.

But until the Moshiach is completely and undeniably revealed as the Moshiach, he’s going to look like one of the most convincing cult leaders you’ve ever met.

And here lies the conundrum.

As I’ve written about a lot here, there are an awful lot of what Rebbe Nachman calls ‘Rav de klipa’, or rabbis of the dark side out there in the world. God already warned us that for every ‘light’ He created, there would be darkness, and for every ‘good’ He created, there would be bad, until Moshiach comes and the whole world is spiritually rectified and evil permanently vanquished.

Also as I’ve written about elsewhere, Moshiach’s coming is not a one-shot dramatic affair where he steps off a plane in Ben Gurion airport, or holds a coming out party and voila, instant Moshiach and geula.

Nope.

It’s going to be a long, drawn-out affair, like the sunrise, growing stronger and stronger from moment to moment until everyone has to admit that day has come. But while we’re still in the process of transition, there’s going to be a lot of murky stuff mixed into that sunrise.

Lots of ‘rabbis’ pretending to be what they really are not. Lots of psychos taking advantage of trusting members of the public, to act in the most evil, anti-Torah, unethical ways. Lots of ‘cult leaders in waiting’ trying to take advantage of our yearning for Moshiach to pull a fast one over us and pull us away from God, has va halila.

So what’s a person meant to do?

Some of us are solving this problem by plain blank refusing to acknowledge Moshiach in any real way. Sure, they’ll discuss the idea theoretically, but any suggestion that a real person could actually be Moshiach, or that this could actually happen in their lifetimes (especially if they live outside of Israel…) will elicit a dramatically negative response.

One such person who holds this view of all things Moshiach told me:

‘Look what happened with Chabad! We don’t want something like that to happen again!’

as justification for why they were so ‘anti’ the whole talking about Moshiach thing.

So then, I started to ponder: what really happened with Chabad?

Sure, there are still a few people walking around with the mistaken idea that the Lubavitcher Rebbe will come back from the dead to lead us. But I’m not sure even that is so terrible. When Moshiach is revealed, they’ll see that they’re wrong, and end of story.

(There’s a whole big discussion in the Gemara about just this idea, of whether the Moshiach can come back from the dead, and the Gemara – after a long discussion – asserts that this will not be the case. I don’t know much about the Moshiach, but I can tell you that he definitely knows more Gemara than I do, and abides by all aspects of Jewish halachic law…)

And in the meantime, what really happened with Chabad? Simply that hundreds of thousands of Jews started to yearn for Moshiach to come, in fulfillment of the Rambam’s 13th Principle of Faith, and made a whole bunch of teshuva in readiness for that moment.

I mean really, what’s so bad about that?

Sure, there are some crazy people that took things to extremes, but Chabad didn’t make these people crazy any more than Breslov makes people crazy. Crazy people (including yours truly…) are attracted to very big spiritual lights, as we know that’s where we’ll find the antidote for all the darkness we’re lugging around in our souls.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe was an enormous spiritual light, and very probably was the potential Moshiach of his generation. If your tikkun is to be a crazy person anyway, at least be a crazy person who keeps mitzvahs and talks (a little too much…) about the coming of the Moshiach.

But to come back to the point in hand, how are we really going to know who is a true candidate for Moshiach, and who is just a cult-leader-in-waiting, in this very difficult, confusing time before geula actually really kicks off?

There’s one answer:

Hitbodedut.

The regular practice of talking to Hashem in your own words for a fixed amount of time every day, preferably an hour.

When you talk to God regularly like this, you get connected to your soul, and to the real Tzaddikim of the generation, and to Hashem Himself, and it gets much, much harder for the fakers to fool you.

Try this exercise, to see what I mean:

Imagine a rabbi that you KNOW is good and the real deal, like the Baba Sali, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Chida, the Baal Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman, Rav Ovadia Yosef, etc. See how they look, see how ‘big’ they are, compared to you yourself.

Now, imagine a rabbi from today meeting that ‘good’ rabbi from the past – really picture them meeting in your head – and see what happens.

I guarantee you’ll start to get some amazing insights about who is really ‘real’ and who isn’t, if you try this exercise a few times, and ask God to show you what’s really going on.

And in the meantime, this is the best and really only route for knowing who really could be Moshiach, and who is a cult-leader-in-disguise.

Don’t let the ‘Rav de klipa’s’ fool you!

And don’t be scared to join the ‘cult of Moshiach’ as soon as you’re 100% convinced inside that you’ve discovered who he is. After all, yearning for Moshiach is a fundamental part of being a Jew, and if you’re regularly talking to God about it all, He’ll certainly guide you to the right person, at just the right time.

And if you’re wrong – but attached to an enormously holy person in the meantime who could be Moshiach, but maybe isn’t – what’s so bad about that, anyway?

Did you ever wonder how Moshe Rabbenu would go down in a Monsey Beit HaMidrash?

“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.

“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 slighty 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?!?

He tried one last time,

“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.

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…

What’s been so hard to deal with the last few years is not so much the money issues, because hey, who doesn’t have money issues one way or another in 2017?

The main thing that’s been so hard for me to overcome is the overwhelming sense of loneliness that so often floods up a week or two before the next Jewish holiday. Anglos are very social creatures. When Pesach looms around the corner, or Rosh Hashana, or Purim, or whatever it is, our first thought is ‘who can we invite’?

At this stage in the game, I realize that part of the reason that God has put me in a space and a place where there are very few opportunities to invite or be invited is because socializing on Jewish festivals and shabbat is often just another form of unhealthy ‘escapism’.

The people I know who have the hardest times just ‘being’ – being themselves, being with their close families, being honest about who and what they really are – are the same people I see repeatedly knocking themselves out on the social circuit.

In London, I used to be like that too.

It was unthinkable for me to spend a whole Shabbat without being invited out, or having guests, for at least one of the meals. The times that happened were so few and far between, and nearly always made for a pretty unpleasant Shabbat.

Shabbat is quiet. There’s no i-Phones, no internet, no work, to movies, no soccer games, no arts and crafts or cooking to distract you away from your inner dimension. If the ‘inner dimension’ is a place where you’re happy to hang out, that’s great, and can be the springboard to enhanced awareness and spirituality. Which is really the original purpose of Shabbat.

But when you’re NOT so happy to spend quiet time in your ‘inner dimension’ – a quiet Shabbat can leave you rolling around on the floor tearing your hair out.

Which is why so many of us Anglos like to entertain so very much, so stop those overwhelming feelings of existential angst and loneliness from surfacing.

I’m the same way!

Except, God hasn’t been letting me get away with it anymore the last few years. Since we moved to Jerusalem two and a half years’ ago, I can count the number of times we’ve been invited out on one hand. I try to invite ‘in’ as much as I can, but that’s also been tricky.

Part of the problem is that there is space for another four people around my table, and most of the families we’d like to invite are much, much bigger than that. But, there’s also the ‘teenager’ factor, which works in two ways:

1) Often, my teenagers feel very awkward around people they don’t know, especially if those people appear to be more ‘more frum’ or different ages than they are, so they don’t enjoy meals with guests so much.

2) We don’t really ‘fit’ into any recognizable Jewish box, so while my husband dresses like a chareidi Kollel guy, I dress chardal (kind of…), one kid dresses ‘dati leumi’ and the other one ‘dati lite’.

Trying to find guests that are comfortable with my family’s diversity is also not so simple, especially when you have factors involved like guarding the eyes, setting a good example to smaller kids, insisting that girls need to wear socks, etc….

It takes a lot of good will on both sides of the equation to make it all ‘work’.

If I feel I’d have to cajole a kid into wearing socks to the table or dressing differently than they usually would in order for my guests to feel comfortable, then I usually can’t invite those guests, however much I personally like them.

Having more money or a bigger apartment won’t solve these issues. But, maybe they’d let me run away from the loneliness a bit more (because I’d build my teenagers their own ‘shabbat’ annex and pretend they didn’t exist.)

My husband and I have no close family in Israel. When the Jewish holidays roll around, I’m getting taken out by a feeling of complete isolation and ‘aloneness’, and that’s what’s so hard for me to come to terms with and accept. I moved to Israel to live a fuller Jewish life. I left behind family and a lot of close friends to be here.

I’ve mostly made my peace with not having a lot of money, a career, external ‘success’ etc, but I can’t make my peace with the loneliness. How can it be that I live in a country of six million Jews, that all my neighbors are Jews, that most of them are even frum Jews – and yet, I dread Jewish holidays because I have no shul I feel comfortable in, no community to belong to, and no-one to spend the meals with?

I miss people.

I miss having friends I could pop in to talk to on Shabbat. I miss having a shul that I knew was ‘my shul’ whenever I HAD to go, like on Rosh Hashana, or to hear Parshat Zachor.

I don’t know what to do about all these issues, and sometimes still, I feel very trapped and miserable about it all. On Purim, my oldest came with me to another ‘frum’ shul to hear Megilla. We lasted five minutes, then we had to go somewhere else. Even on Purim, her ‘not-so-frum teenage girl’ costume (ahem…) was more than the locals could handle (at least, that’s what she felt).

I don’t want my family to spend each holiday divided across four different synagogues, so I’ve been going with my kids to wherever they feel happiest – which is typically a 100% Hebrew speaking Israeli environment where I don’t know anyone and feel like the odd-one-out, but they have tons of their friends.

I’ll write more about this subject, but my family’s experience is just reflecting the splintering that’s occurred at the heart of the Jewish people. I guess I feel it more than most people, because I don’t have a ‘bubble’ of family and old friends from the old country to cushion me.

I think what I’m missing is a sense of unity and connection to my fellow Jew, and a feeling that I truly belong here, in the world, in Jerusalem, in Israel.

Of all the things I’m waiting for Moshiach to help me fix, this is probably the biggest.