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.