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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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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.

Yesterday, I got a text telling me that Rabbi Berland, aka Eliezer ben Etia, was heading out to Ashdod.

Rabbi Berland was going there after the evening prayers to go to the city square there, and recite the Tikkun Haklali seven times to “stop the rockets.”

I woke up this morning curious to see whether Israel was still being pounded by another round of rockets, after 690 rockets rained down on our head over the previous 48 hours and what did I see?

A cease-fire.

This is strange for so many reasons. Why did the Palestinians stop? What did Israel do to them, to get them to stop? Yes, there were a few targeted killings, some minor bombing – pretty much business as usual, in this part of the world. But there was nothing I could see that the IDF had done to ‘persuade’ Hamas to stop rocketing.

And on the Israel side of the equation, this latest round of terror has cost us very dear. We’re so used to miracles in Israel, that when I heard that 4 people had died, and that scores had been hospitalized with light-to-moderate-to-critical injuries, it really felt to me like the usual high level of Divine protection we get has dropped off a little.

God forbid.

Of course, teshuva and tehillim can turn everything around, as Rav Berland has repeatedly told us, ever since he first called for the first prayer gathering in Hevron before Chanuka 5778, when he warned us that:

“Every part of Israel is now under threat of being deluged with rockets. After we saw 400 rockets falling on Ashkelon and the surrounding cities, including Beer Sheva, Netivot, Ofakim and Sderot, now they are preparing thousands and thousands of rockets, which will reach to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“And we have no possibility of stopping this from happening, because the whole world is against us. They can launch 10,000 missiles, and if we fire back even just one, they will say that we are the aggressors, and they are the victims.

“They will say that we began [hostilities], and that they are simply defending themselves.

“We have no [military] might, we only have the power of tehillim (psalms). All of the State of Israel’s efforts to stop the missiles of Hezbollah and Hamas ended in failure. Every day, we are threatened with thousands of new rockets. They can reach any target precisely…

So for now, it seems that the seven Tikkun Haklalis – and the rest of our prayers – have worked, and the rockets have stopped.

But it’s still kind of heavy.

I just finished working on a long post that sets out the dark roots of white supremacy in modern America, and it makes for pretty disturbing reading. I’m just running it past the bloke before I go ahead and post it up here, because when I shared some of what I’d discovered with an American friend of mine in Jerusalem, her eyes grew as big as saucers and she looked petrified.

I don’t want to shock anyone unduly, but the situation in America is far more dangerous for Jews than anyone imagines.

A few days ago, a friend of mine on the East coast called me to tell me that whole swathes of Jews are now considering moving out to Texas, from the State of New York.

Why Texas? I wanted to know.

New York is so corrupt, she replied. She told me about the recent law they passed enabling doctors to kill a newborn even as it’s being delivered – for absolutely no reason. Infanticide, pure and simple. Then, she told me about the massive fines New York State is now handing out to the families of unvaccinated children, and how they are ending the exemption from vaccines based on religious views.

Unless I vaccinate, I won’t have a school I can send my kids to next year.

And she’s not going to vaccinate.

Lastly, she told me about the plans to outlaw instruction in Hebrew in religious institutions in New York State, which will effectively make studying the Torah very difficult if they are passed into law. Life is getting very hard for many religious Jews in New York, who want a Torah-true education for their children, and who also don’t want to be forced into giving vaccinations they don’t believe in.

Ok, but why Texas? Why not Israel?

Texas, because the Jewish community is still ‘relatively normal’, and the rest of the state is ‘relatively religious’,  and conservative, so it’s easier to continue living an orthodox Jewish life there without being assailed by moral corruption of the highest degree at every turn.

And why not Israel?

Just because I’m scared. It’s scary to think about moving to Israel, even though I do really know that it’s the right thing, and that it’s what God ultimately wants.

I understand her concern. Moving to Israel is scary, for so many of us. New beginnings are always difficult, and it’s not easy re-adjusting to a different culture, and there’s also the challenge of overcoming all the slander and lashon hara that’s spoken about the land.

But after doing all this research on white supremacism in the US, and the Turner Diaries connection to the synagogue shootings, more and more I can see that there are no easy choices up ahead.

Israel has its own problems, as the last two days of rockets clearly shows. You don’t come to Israel for an easy life, or because it’s going to solve your problems, or give you a sun tan.

You come to Israel because that’s what God wants you to do, as a Jew.

But honestly, that’s really the only reason that matters.

  • I’m starting to hear more and more stories of people who have apparently been denied the chance to make aliya by the Jewish Agency. If you are an orthodox Jew and you’ve been denied the chance to move to Israel, please drop me an email and tell me your story, so we can start to figure out what’s going on here.

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.

It’s time for some Torah sources, to help us start deconstructing the idea of aliyah.

Off the back of the discussion that’s been taking place around the Deconstructing Geula post, I thought I’d write something deconstructing the whole idea of aliya.

This is such a fraught topic, and so many bad middot and other subconscious impulses come into play with this subject, which is why I’ve generally stayed away from it in my writing. But, after that atrocious book was published to great acclaim in the orthodox Jewish world, which was ‘anti aliya’, to the point of degrading it even as a God-given mitzvah, I think it’s time to look at this subject in some depth, and to deconstruct what’s going on with it.

The first, and really primary, place to start is this:

Does God want Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael, at this stage in time?

Because if the answer is ‘yes’, then there has to be an extremely good reason for not moving here, if you consider yourself to be a God-fearing Jew.

So, without any further ado, let’s dive in the deep end, and see if we can answer the two parts of the question:

  • Does God want Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael generally; and
  • Does God wants Jews to live in Eretz Yisrael now.

THE BIBLICAL MITZVAH TO DWELL IN THE LAND

The following comes from 110b in Ketubot (Artscroll Translation):

“A person can force all the members of his household to go up to Eretz Yisrael to live there, but he can force none of them to leave there.”

The footnote to this clear pronouncement says the following:

[According to Rashi] If a family is living in some country outside of Eretz Yisrael and the father or mother decides that the family should move to Eretz Yisrael, the entire household is coerced [by the Rabbinic Court] to accede to the wishes of the parent and to go and live in Eretz Yisrael….According to some Rishonim, there is a biblical mitzvah to settle Eretz Yisrael…..[o]ther Rishonim maintain that there is no positive commandment to settle Eretz Yisrael.

However, even those authorities agree that it is a worthy cause to live in Eretz Yisrael.

(Which is why they enacted the law that would enable someone to ‘force’ his family to move there, with him. Or her.)

By the way, the mitzvah of settling the land doesn’t depend on ‘the land’ being an easy place to live.

When Moshe’s 12 spies go to take a look at Israel, 10 of them can only see the negative points of the country.

It’s hard there, there’s giants. The land devours its inhabitants. The people are really rough and rude. It’s full of wife-beating Arabs and awful daycare centers. The bureaucracy’s a nightmare, it’s too hot, I can’t get a decent job and my wife will miss her parents too much….

What does Caleb, the spy who figured out that you make it in Israel by doing a lot of hitbodedut and praying at the tombs of holy people tell them, in reply?

We can do it, if God is with us, we’ll eat the Caananites for lunch! There’s no problem that God can’t solve! Israel is where we’re really going to discover if we have emuna, or not, where we’re really going to grow into believing that Ein Od Milvado, there is only Hashem!

Come on, guys, the last 40 years you’ve been giving all these Torah sermons about ‘what God requires from us’, and ‘living our emuna’, and having faith – now it’s time to put your money where your mouth is, and to really live it! So what, you’ll lose your social status?! So what, you don’t speak the language properly and no-one appreciates your PhD?! So what, you can’t even figure out how to ask for a stamp in the post office?! 

All that stuff is humbling, and we know a humble person is much closer to God. God can’t dwell with an arrogant person, we know that! This is your chance to really get humble, and then to get real and stop thinking you’re such a big tzaddik and success, and then to get closer to God. Whaddya say?

 

We know what the spies said: Thanks, but no thanks.

They had prestigious, well-paying positions outside of Israel. They had respect. They had ‘their’ seat in shul, they had their established set of friends, they knew where to get the best chicken. They had nothing against visiting Israel every year for Pesach – still cheaper and nicer than having to clean their own home and cook everything themselves – but that’s as far as it goes.

Was God happy about this?

Nope.

The spies got punished awfully for slandering the land, and putting their fellow Jews off from moving to Israel.

But, your kid is going to struggle in school! Your husband is going to miss out on his amazing Rav, his amazing chavruta! You have a nice bunch of friends here, in the desert! But, you don’t speak the language, you can’t get a good job there, you won’t be able to afford your own home if you move to Israel, the place is full of wife-beating, idol-worshipping Canaanites, the divorce rate there is 80%….

Everybody has the same fears, the same concerns. People can’t live on thin air, it’s true. But again, God often expects some mesirut nefesh, some self-sacrifice from people, in order to keep His mitzvahs.

If someone is interested in working on their soul dimension, then Israel will be appealing to them for a lot of reasons (and if they aren’t, it won’t be, also for a lot of reasons.)

Let’s explore that idea a bit more, tachlis.

ISRAEL IS THE LAND OF EMUNA

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov teaches that Israel is the place where you’re going to learn some real emuna. How? Because you’ll be surrounded by miracles and challenges every second of the day.

In Chutz L’Aretz, a person can sin and sin and sin again, and because spiritual matters are more hidden there, they don’t feel the effect of their sins until the end of their lives – usually when it’s way too late to change course and fix things.

There in the hospital, with a tube up their nose and a drip in their arm, they finally start to realize how much of their life they wasted, chasing after stuff, and holidays, and traif food, and non-kosher experiences, and money, and status, and their own bad middot, because God was out of the picture.

God can hide much easier in chul. You don’t keep Shabbat, you don’t keep kosher, you don’t pay your 10% to charity, you don’t pay any attention to what God really wants from you – you’ll just keep swallowing your Prozac, drinking your G&T and going on holiday, or shopping, or working like a dog to drown out any inner discomfort you feel as a result.

And God lets you.

That’s why being in galut is such an ordeal, spiritually such a test. Because it really can seem as though you can game the system, and live a good life even if you’re a bitter atheist with terrible character traits.

But in Israel, it’s not like that.

It says that you walk dalet amot, four amot, in Israel, and that atones for your sins. Do you know why? Because every dalet amot here, you’ll be faced with another rude person, another problem, another challenge, another issue, that has been 100% tailored by God to bring your bad middot to the fore, and to show you what you still have left to work on.

Really? You’re not so bothered about gashmius? Let’s see how you’re going to cope when every brand of kosher-for-Pesach mayonnaise in the country has kitniot in it. Let’s see how much you start craving all the brands in TX Maxx, let’s see how you cope with just one toilet between seven people, and no cleaning help.

And there’s more tests, too. Like, trying to find a school for your kid; and trying to deal with the wounded ego of your spouse, who used to be a ‘bigshot’ in shul, or at work, but is now scrabbling to hold it together as a relative ‘nothing’ in Israel; or dealing with the tremendous loneliness and boredom of being an Anglo in Israel on Shabbos, which used to be filled up with six hour long Shabbos lunches, and ‘kiddush clubs’ at shul (that went on to 1pm…) and yet more shiurim on how to keep super-machmir standards of kashrut. Etc.

And we didn’t even get into the tests involved with having rockets fired at you on a regular basis, or people trying to stab you just for being a Jew, or getting shot or run over as you wait for a bus.

All these things, all these difficulties, build a person’s emuna like nothing else.

Because if you don’t turn to God to deal with the difficulties in finding work, or finding a place to live, or the million and one other things that force you to get real in Israel very quickly, you can quickly sink without a trace.

That’s why Israel is the land of emuna – dafka, because it shows a person what they need to work on, and how far away they are from really having emuna, and really serving Hashem properly, 24/7.

So when people point to the hardships of living in Israel as a reason to not make aliya, they are kind of missing the point – if they’re really interested in the more spiritual dimension of life.

Which honestly, a lot of people really just aren’t. Even in the ‘orthodox’ world.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the halachic arguments underpinning the ‘anti’ aliya argument.

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TORAH-BASED ARGUMENTS FOR NOT MAKING ALIYA

This approach was basically set out by the late Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, z’tl, in his book V’Yoel Moshe.

Rav Teitelbaum wrote his book after going through the holocaust. He saw half a million of his Hungarian compatriots sold out by the Zionist government in Israel, who were offered the chance to buy the freedom and lives of the Hungarian Jews by the cash-strapped Nazis – and who turned it down.

The whole sordid tale is told in Ben Hecht’s excellent book, Perfidy, but the Satmar Rebbe was one of the brands snatched from the conflagration in Hungary, and he had personal experience of this most ugly face of secular ‘zionism’. The awful actions of the secular politicians in Israel before, during and after WW II almost certainly influenced the opinions he put forth in his book.

Remember, the Israeli authorities in the 1950s were irradiating the kids of Moroccan immigrants in the tent camps, and cutting off people’s payot, and selling Yemenite children to the highest bidder. They were yucky, ugly people in every sense of the word.

Many of our other leading orthodox leaders, within Israel and without, also recognized who they were really dealing with, and that the secular leadership in Israel was spiritually corrupt, and corrupting to a very high degree.

The Satmar Rebbe took this idea to an extreme in his book, where he puts forward the idea that the anti-Torah Zionists in Israel caused the holocaust to happen, at least indirectly, by their actions, and by ‘forcing the time’ for returning to the land. (We’ll look at what this ‘forcing the time’ is referring to, in a moment.)

First, there’s a partial translation of some of the Satmar Rebbe’s words in V’Yoel Moshe, HERE, which the following ideas are taken from. The Satmar Rebbe avers that:

  • The anti-Torah Zionist groups in Israel caused the holocaust by ‘informing’ on the Jews in Europe to the non-Jewish authorities, and making trouble for the Jews there, in order to turn up the heat and get these Jews to move to the fledgling State of Israel.
  • That these anti-Torah Zionist groups “violated the oath of hastening the end by claiming sovereignty and freedom before the time.”
  • That the secular Zionist groups performed several “cruel actions” before, during and after the war which also lead to the death of hundreds of thousands of Jews.
  • Furthermore, among those who have moved to Eretz Yisrael in these times, most of the immigrants from Arab countries were living peacefully and tranquilly in their countries, lacking nothing, until the establishment of the heretical kingdom in Israel. Through the establishment of that State they began to suffer hatred and persecution in their countries, and the Zionists themselves aided this through their wiles, so as to increase the persecution until they would be forced to emigrate to Eretz Yisrael, destitute and with nothing, and they glorified their saviors, but the truth was the opposite – that [the Zionists] had brought about all of the destruction in the first place. (Va-Yo’el Moshe 123)”

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THE THREE OATHS ‘PREVENTING’ ALIYA

The idea of the three oaths that prevent Jews from returning to Israel before God actually wills it comes from the Gemara (Ketubot 111a), where it brings a discussion between R’ Zeira, who wanted to make aliya to Israel from Bablyonia, and Rav Yehuda who said:

Whoever ascends from Babylonia to Eretz Yisrael transgresses a positive commandment, as it says: “They will be brought to Babylonia and they will be there until the day that I attend to them – when I shall bring them up and return them to this place.

Rav Zeira said that this verse is referring to the sacred utensils that were used in the Temple service, but that people are permitted to make aliya, still. Rav Yehuda disagrees, and says that the verse I have adjured you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by gazelles or by hinds of the field etc means that the Jews are bound by an oath not to ascend to Eretz Yisrael until the Final Redemption.

Rav Zeira says that’s not what this verse means. Rather, he says it means that:

The Jewish people should not converge upon Eretz Yisrael in a wall of force, but that an individual is permitted to settle there, if he wants to.

Rav Yehuda again disagrees, so then R’ Zeira explains there are three oaths, as follows:

  • The Jewish people should not converge upon Israel as a wall of force;
  • Hashem adjured the Jewish people to not rebel against the nations of the world [to try and force their way back to living in Israel before the time God wanted that to happen]; and
  • Hashem also adjured the idolaters (i.e. the non-Jewish nations) not to subjugate and terrorise the Jews more than was required.

R’ Zeira explains that any case, an individual is never adjured to not make aliya to Eretz Yisrael.

This discussion in the Gemara is ‘sandwiched’ between the following statements:

BEFORE: Whoever dwells outside Eretz Yisrael, it’s as if he worships idols.

AFTER: The people dwelling within Eretz Yisrael are forgiven of sin.

This discussion is the halachic basis for the Satmar position, together with some other groups, for why it’s not a mitzvah to make aliya.

But you’ll notice, even in this discussion, it’s clear that the main ‘problem’ being discussed is for groups of Jews to ‘ascend’ all at once. There is no problem for individuals to make aliya, and as is clear from the surrounding text and discussion in the Gemara, the Sages considered it a very praiseworthy thing, to move to Israel.

ARE WE AT ‘THE END’ OR NOT?

The main argument revolves around a discussion of whether we are at the ‘the end’ of the galut, as determined by God, or not. If we’re at ‘the end’, then there is no problem at all with making Aliyah en masse.

If we aren’t at ‘the end’, then it’s good for individuals to make aliya, but still problematic for large groups to come on aliya.

Here’s a few suggested reasons for why the 3 oaths have been superseded:

  • The nations of the world actually gave permission for the State of Israel to be created, back in 1948.
  • The Gemara in Sanhedrin (98a) says that “when Eretz Yisrael gives forth fruit abundantly, it is a sure sign that the redemption is coming”. This was already happening in the early 1900s, in the time of Rav Avraham Kook.
  • Only very large groups coming in a short period of time violate the ‘oath’, it doesn’t apply to a slow trickle of Jews moving here.
  • The Ari’s student, R’ Chaim Vital, said that the oath only applied for 1,000 years.
  • The Vilna Gaon states that the oath applied to rebuilding the Temple, not to resettling the land.

And then, there’s all the evidence we see with our own eyes today, and things that we feel with our own hearts, that tells us whether we are at ‘the end’ or not.

DON’T CONFUSE ‘THE STATE OF ISRAEL’ WITH ERETZ YISRAEL

Another important point to make here is that the State of Israel should not confused, or conflated, with Eretz Yisrael.

When we talk about moving to Israel, we’re not talking about the State. We’re talking about moving to the land that God gave to the Jews more than 3,000 years ago.

Sooner or later, the secular ‘State’ will fall away – as Rav Kook describes it, as the ‘peel’ around the fruit’.

SUMMING UP WHAT’S GOING ON WITH ALIYA, AND RELIGIOUS JEWS IN CHUL

This is a long post, I know (but still probably not doing real justice to the subject….) But let’s try to sum it up, and bring all this information together into something practical and easy-to-digest.

  • If you are a God-fearing Jew, and keeping mitzvahs is important to you, then moving to Israel is a big mitzvah for an individual.

Not one of the Rishonim or Achronim commentators disagrees with this statement.

  • If you want to come to Israel as part of a very large group of people moving here ‘all at once’, there is a Torah view that this is prohibited, as long as we haven’t yet reached ‘The End’.
  • If we’ve reached ‘The End’, the three oaths don’t apply anymore anyway.
  • There’s lots of things that suggest we are now in the stage of ‘the end of days’ – not least, all the pronouncements by the nations’ leading rabbis that we’ve reached ‘the End’.

That’s a basic sum-up of the halachah.

Now, I just want to spend a little bit of time, finally, to explore why more orthodox Jews aren’t moving to Israel.

GETTING REAL

There are three main reasons why more orthodox Jews aren’t coming to Israel:

  • They are scared to come out of the comfort zone.
  • They really do want to come, but God isn’t let them.
  • They actually don’t care so much about keeping mitzvahs, getting closer to God, or working on their emuna.

I won’t belabor this segment, as this is where things can get very sticky. Each person knows what’s really in their heart.

There are people who really do want to come, but are stuck outside for a whole bunch of reasons that really are out of their control. For these people, they are learning emuna and humility by being kept away from Israel.

Then, there are others who really don’t want to come at all, and are just looking for excuses to justify their own spiritual shortcomings – at Israel’s expense.

Then, there’s the third group, who would like to come in theory, and know that it’s good to be here, but are too scared that they won’t have the lifestyle, the money, the connections, the big house, or the career they currently have now, if they leave.

But if we truly have reached ‘The End’, then God will find a way to coax everyone who really can, to make aliya, and He will open the gates to the Holy land, one way or another.

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You might also like these posts:

Deconstructing Geula

More Rebbe Nachman on Israel

The last few weeks, I have to admit I’ve been struggling.

First I had that three weeks of ‘flu’, or whatever massive physical detox that actually was. Then, a lot of the things I’ve been working on the last little while started unraveling again, at least in my head.

I had issues on Sasson with a writer who was plagiarizing other people’s work, but didn’t seem to understand the problem when I explained it to them – repeatedly. Then, one by one the writers all seemed to get a little discouraged, and the creativity started drying up. I tried geeing it up with ‘themes’ and offers of monthly columns, but the people in the US really wanted to be paid to contribute regularly, and the people in Israel all got too busy with other stuff to be able to write.

Then, I had the issue with the pictures of women, which was the cue for someone who doesn’t even write for Sasson to send me a massively self-righteous email, knocking for me being so small-minded, judgmental and ‘anti-equality’.

So, my motivation to continue kind of sagged, because what’s the point?

Then, I spent two whole days  trying to stick up the back posts from Emunaroma 2017 on to this site, and as I was reading through them, I started to feel like why did I waste so much of my time writing this stuff? What’s the point?

At the same time, one of my teens has been extremely challenging the last few weeks, as mentioned HERE. She wants a nice, clean, new house. She wants a different kitchen. She wants a different bathroom, and for the apartment to be in a different part of Jerusalem.

After everything that happened with the house, I sympathise with her a lot, but it’s still sometimes rubbing salt in the wound when she stomps around complaining about how old and yucky and moldy everything is.

Mold always shows up in old apartments in Israel when it rains. And sure enough, I’m catching it spread across whole walls, and popping up behind a bed in our room, and behind the shelves and bookcase in the girl’s room.

Ah, now I understand why the rent was so reasonable.

In the meantime, my heart kind of sank again, because if it was my house, I’d do my best to tackle the mold problem fundamentally. But as it isn’t, all I can do is keep returning every few days with some wipees and bleach. I know it’ll be back again in a week or two, so again I had that feeling what’s the point?

Then I started reading an absolutely awful book – with no less than three rabbinic approbations! – which basically claimed that living in Eretz Yisrael is a total waste of time, and even a ‘sin’, because the State of Israel was created by reshaim who were using the State to uproot and replace religion and Torah.

That last bit is correct, but the rest of the author’s ideas – about massive Tzaddikim who live here being ‘reshaim gemorim’, or that the Six Days War was totally not miraculous, or that a Jew can live a perfectly nice life in Lakewood (without the high taxes, army service and threat of a nuclear Iran) – and be a better Jew than someone who sacrificed so much to live in the Holy Land totally and utterly depressed me.

The book is 1500 pages long, and by the middle, I started to doubt my own sanity for believing in the geula and Moshiach.

My husband saw what was going on, and took the book away to throw it out. I should have guessed it was bad news, and it had a whole chapter devoted to the ‘Erev Rav’ (who of course, only live in Israel….), and was packed to the gills full of lashon hara, arrogance and anti-emuna statements.

I learnt some interesting stuff still, which I may write about another time, but only if it’s going to help bring Am Yisrael more together, not divide us.

But I started to see why so many of the ‘ultra-orthodox’ Jews in the US and UK have absolutely no desire to make aliya – and even think it’s a mitzvah to look down on people who did, and to disdain those of us who really do believe that you should be ready for Moshiach every day, every moment, even if it’s never going to happen in your own lifetime.

There have been a few more disappointments and disses going on too, behind the scenes, which meant by the time we got to yesterday, I was feeling like my whole life is a total waste of time.

Not just what’s the point of writing? But, what’s the point of me?

Yesterday, I tried to do an imperfect long chat to God about it all, and by the end of that, I was in floods of tears.

I just felt so low and worthless, like whatever I do just fails and is pointless.

I drove out to Ashdod to take a look at the sea, and I felt a bit better. But when I got home, it all came crashing back down on me.

You’re pointless, Rivka. Nothing you do is ever going to get anywhere. You’ve been living in fantasy world getting ready for geula and Moshiach for the last 13 years, when you could have just stayed in London and enjoyed yourself. What an idiot, that you gave up your career and your house and your social group for this.

Man, it was bad.

I was a gibbering wreck when my husband came home, and I couldn’t even tell him what the problem was for the first two hours, I was crying so much and feeling so pointless.

I went to have a shower (that often helps when you’re in the middle of a nervous breakdown, btw), and by the time I was done, I could explain the issue.

I’m worthless, and nothing I’ve done matters in any way, shape or form. I have totally wasted my life, the last few years.

He looked at me blankly.

Then, he started the fight back.

I’m doing a little better today, although I’m still pretty shaky.

I’m still struggling to believe that I’m worth something, even if I’m not earning money. And that I’m a good enough mum, even if we live in an apartment that’s covered with mold and that doesn’t have a lot of home-made cookies in the pantry. And that I’m a good enough Jew, even though I have been finding so many things difficult recently, and I’ve run out of spiritual energy on so many fronts.

Of course, it was only after my total freak-out that I realized it’s Rosh Chodesh Adar – uniformly the most challenging time of the year. Last year, I signed the contract on the awful apartment on Rosh Chodesh Adar, and we all know what a ‘blessing’ that turned into.

I know we’re taught Adar is when the happiness appears, but my experience is that usually, the lead up to Purim is the darkest time of the year, and it’s only on Purim day itself that the heaviness starts to lift, and the light starts to shine through again.

And this year, we have two Adars!

We need all the help we can get, to make it through to Pesach in one piece.


After I wrote this, I checked my emails and found that Mary in NY had sent me this clip, from Rav Ofer Erez.

It was exactly what I needed to hear, and it explains (with English subtitles in 3 1/2 minutes) why we’re all feeling the pressure right now.

Over to Rav Ofer:

 

If you’ve been reading this blog this week, you’ll know that I’ve been in a pretty bad mood where life has seemed pretty meaningless, and everything I do pointless.

I’ve just had this feeling for a few days that nothing I do counts, or matters, and that I’m adrift in the universe without really knowing what I’m actually meant to be doing here.

I thought it was just me, but then one of my kids started telling me how she’s feeling life, and school, is so heavy and meaningless at the moment… and then one of my friends called me and told me: ‘Rivka, I’m going crazy! I just feel so frustrated, and that my life is so empty and pointless, and all these bad middot are pouring out that I never even knew were there!”

The person saying this is objectively one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, a busy mother, and constantly trying to do kindnesses and to work on herself, spiritually. My daughter is also a mitzvah machine, and is constantly engaged in big and small attempts at fixing the world.

And me?

Well, I actually write a lot of useful stuff (mostly behind the scenes, for other people…) so intellectually, I know I’m not wasting my life as much as I could be. And yet, that ‘life is meaningless vibe’ also blew me off my feet this week.

Yesterday, I bundled my sourpuss self into my car, and drove up to my youngest daughter’s new high-school, or Ulpana, where they were having ‘a night for mothers and daughters’.

In the past, these nights have almost always been a peculiar form of torture, where I had to follow instructions in Hebrew I couldn’t understand, to say or do things that were mortifyingly embarrassing even if it was all in English, and where I’d just kind of space out and dissociate to get through.

(I have a huge amount of C-PTSD from attending 12 years’ of these ‘events’ in Israel.)

So, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it.

I get there (20 minutes late, to try to minimize the torture…), and my kid whisked me straight into the (packed…) classroom. Sigh. Gulp. Unveil the thumbscrews. The young, very pregnant teacher smiled sweetly, handed me a whole big sheet (in close typeset Hebrew….) and started to discuss – Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the Lost Princess!

My spirits rose, because I already knew this story really well, so maybe I could actually fake participating in the group exercises, this time around! The teacher was not at all bossy (what a relief!) not at all insisting that I read out all the personal stuff I’d discussed with my daughter in my terrible spoken Hebrew (thanks, Hashem!) and also, unusually insightful about the story.

“It’s about the process, not the goal!” She told the class. “Don’t get so hung up on the outcome, or the exam! It’s all just about the journey!”

Hmmm.

The next stage of mental torture began.

I had to mill around with the other mums, feeling completely like I don’t belong and having intermittent bouts of ‘mitpachat envy’ when another toweringly colorful creation entered the room.

My hair is at a really awkward length at the mo, so anything I try to put on my head looks awful. The best I can do is try to smother it in a tea-cosy type hat which isn’t so ‘cool’, but at least keeps most of my hair under wraps.

Luckily, this awkward stage was also cut short by my kid finding us a deserted spot on the swinging bench outside, where we could eat our soup in peace and gaze at the stars spotting the Shomron sky.

Then it was time for the main event, the hatzega, or show. I usually try to park myself as close to the aisle as possible, so I can feign going to the toilet five times, if required for mental health purposes. This time, my kid made me sit right at the end of the row, right at the top of the benchers.

Kid, are you crazy?! Don’t you know this stuff makes me claustrophobic?!

But as I sat down, I could feel a reassuring vibe in the air.

As I was about to discover, Rabbenu was in the building.

We got through the standard menahelet’s opening speech OK. Not too long, not too boring, not too self-righteous, preachy and subtly menacing – and then it was time for the main event, which turned out to be a half-acted / half-filmed rendition of The Lost Princess!

To cut a long story short, while three young Israeli women acted out the story onstage, the narrative was spliced together with interviews on screen with four Israelis who were living the story of the Lost Princess (as indeed, we all actually are.)

One had been abused by a step-father, and left home as a young teen to live on the streets for a couple of years. One had a bad accident at age two that left him blind and almost deaf. Another, Miriam Peretz, had two sons killed in action in the IDF. And a fourth was a famous Israeli entertainer who’d felt so soul-dead and empty in the midst of all her success, she’d lost the will to live and the ability to get up in the morning.

That was how the story began, with the Lost Princess being banished to the place of ‘no good’, a place where the outside all looked so shiny and amazing, but where the inside was painful, empty misery.

These four people on screen explained how the ‘no good’ had played out in their own lives. The homeless teen had done parties and drugs; the entertainer had done more songs, more shows, more ‘celeb’ stuff, etc.

But then, came the point when they realized that wasn’t the answer – that all the escapism and superficiality was killing them – and the quest to reclaim the Lost Princess really began. They tried to pull themselves up by their boot straps, and to move on.

The blind guy learnt how to shoot hoops and started working out, and became the Tanach champion of the year; the homeless girl decided to start dreaming of a future where she’d be married, a mother, in her own warm, loving home. Miriam Peretz decided to reclaim life and to start enjoying cake again, after the death of her first son.

But at the last minute, the quest failed.

They ate the apple and fell asleep just at the moment they could rescue the Lost Princess. She reappeared, distraught but encouraging, and told them to try again, to spend another year trying again.

So they did.

And again, at the last moment the ‘success’ was snatched away from them, and they fell very, very badly.

They gave up hope. They didn’t want to continue. They didn’t want to be alive anymore. They couldn’t take the endless struggle, the endless knock backs, the endless reminders of their issues, lacks and problems. They couldn’t escape the feeling that their life was completely meaningless, and that they were stuck in awful circumstances that they couldn’t get out of.

But the story continued.

At some point, they woke up, and quest began again.

Miriam Peretz decided to use her grief to inspire others, and to do good in the world in the memory of her two dead sons. To remember her pain, but also to remember her ongoing joy in life, too.

The homeless teen got herself off the streets, and found a caring, frum midrasha to go to. The blind guy taught himself computers, and started making a fortune in hi-tech. The entertainer finally got married, had children, got frum – and experienced inner peace for the first time in her life.

In short: they came a huge step closer to finding the lost princess.

Rebbe Nachman’s story doesn’t actually end, because life doesn’t ‘end’, until it inevitably does.

It’s the journey that matters, not the destination, which is fixed for every single one of us.

I sat there transfixed throughout this show. I had chills down my back in parts, I cried my eyes out in others, and above all, I had an abiding sense of gratitude and hope that this is where I live, this is what I’m part of, these are the messages that my children are getting in school.

Not that they have to be perfect, soul-less, frum robots. Not that they have to pretend that they never fall, or struggle, or have huge crises of faith. But that falling down, and getting up again, are part of the journey, part of the quest.

And it’s the journey that really counts.

——–

I just want to add one more thing, here, about living in Israel.

I know it’s such a controversial topic for so many reasons, but I can see that so many of the things that are so wrong about the Jewish world, orthodox and otherwise, in chutz l’aretz stem from this need to keep sweeping the real issues we all face under the rug, and to pretend all is well, and that the Jewish community doesn’t have any problems.

Nobody’s falling around here!!! Nobody’s sick to death of all the materialism, competition and superficiality engulfing their lives!!! Nobody hates their job so much it’s literally making them physically ill!!! Nobody’s got issues to work on!!! Nobody feels so lost and lonely they literally don’t want be alive anymore!!!

Except of course, when they do, and that’s when they’re summarily bundled onto Prozac or some other ‘mood stabilising’ narcotic.

In Israel, life is dealt with square on. You can still be an orthodox Jew and express pain, and disappointment, and admit to having flaws and faults, and hating kugel recipes.

This basic level of ‘realness’ is so missing, so lacking, in the Anglo-Jewish world, regardless of religious observance.

The streets of chutz l’aretz are paved with gold, I know. But maybe, the real you doesn’t want that, doesn’t like it, and knows how much it’s really killing you?

I’m not saying that Israel is the only place you can find your Lost Princess, but I am saying that increasingly, Israel is the only place where frum Jews are encouraged to be real, and to be truthful about who they really are and what they really feel.

And when people can’t be real, really them, warts n’all, they’re never going to even start looking for the Lost Princess, let alone finding her.

I got off the plane at midnight, London time, and breathed in the crisp, cold, damp air so typical of British ‘summertime’.

So, I’d come back to my old hood after all, to face all my demons down and to firmly address the question once and for all about whether moving Israel had been some sort of ‘mistake’, God forbid.

My brother picked me up from Luton, and asked me if I thought I was capable of hurdling two metal railings (next to the busy main road…) as he was a bit worried about getting a ticket where he parked, as they’d changed all the parking rules again.

I’m a game girl, but long jeans skirts aren’t so useful when it comes to hurdling high bits of metal, so I told him we’d probably have to go round the long way. It was so good to see my brother.

As we were talking in the car, I noticed he was gripping the steering wheel in a pretty anxious way.

“Bruvs, are you OK?”

“Yeh, I’m just worrying about the speed cameras. They basically video you the whole time to get your average speed, and if then you get slapped with an £80 speeding ticket.”

Hmm. I started to cheer up as even as that early hour, I could see that London life is far more stressful than is apparent to tourists.

The next day, I decided to go and walk around all my old Jewish haunts in NW London:

Hendon, (where I used to live), Golders Green (where I used to shop), Temple Fortune, and Hampstead Heath (where I used to jealously eye up all the big mansions looking out onto the heath and wish that I lived there…).

While half of Hendon is still pretty Jewish, the other half is now almost entirely ‘ethnic’. Not only that, a huge, shiny ‘Jews for J’ shop has opened right next door to Hendon Tube. I used to live in the more Jewish bit, so I walked down the street to my old house, and I saw that apart from the trees I’d planted in the front garden now being toweringly tall, nothing else about the house – or street – had really changed at all.

It was stuck in a time warp, like I’d been. Looking at my house, I realized it had actually been pretty big, and pretty nice. But I’d never, ever been satisfied with it. I always had a jealous eye on the fancier, bigger houses up the road, or the nicer locations elsewhere.

I started to realize why God has put me through all my trials with houses in Israel, because jealousy is a form of sinat chinam, or baseless hatred, and I could see how jealousy is probably the single biggest pervasive bad midda coursing through London’s veins.

I heard so many stories of friends and siblings who stopped talking to each other when one of them got more financially successful, or a much bigger, or better house than his peers. How yucky!

How London.

A large swathe of the kosher shops in Golders Green had recently burned down, giving that half of the street a bit of an eery, empty feel. At the other end of the road, by the station, a beige banner announced the exciting news that the old Hippodrome building had just been acquired by an Islamic group, who had plans to turn it into a massive Islamic education centre. I raised an eyebrow.

When I got home, I checked that bit of info out and discovered it’s all true. They want to build the largest ‘Islamic education centre’ in Europe, right on the doorstep of one of the most solidly chareidi Jewish neighborhoods in the UK.

I bought some ubiquitous, incredibly expensive kosher fish and chips on the way home, and sat in Hendon Park to eat them. With a start, I realized that this was the first time I’d ever really just sat in that park, watching the sky and the people, even though I’d lived in Hendon for the best part of 10 years.

It was a beautiful scene, but I’d always been too busy to notice it, or too worried about getting mugged or harassed by drug addicts to spend any time there.

How London.

The following day, I caught the bus into town with my brother, and discovered that you can no longer use cash to pay for a bus ticket. Everything is credit cards or automated online travel cards. My brother lent me his card for the day, but I started to ponder what would have happened if I didn’t have him to help me, or if I was a tourist, or someone down on their luck who simply didn’t have a credit card?

London is getting so expensive and so complicated to live in, that the down and outs simply have no chance these days. You can’t even catch a bus without a pin number.

I got off at Oxford Street, near Selfridges, and hit Primark (together with about 20 other frum ladies from Israel, and 20 more from Saudi Arabia). Stuff was so cheap in Primark! I started to see some ‘up’ to living in London after all.

Except, I couldn’t find any skirts to buy, or even to look at. Everything was trousers.

Hmm.

I wondered off down Oxford Street, popping into all my old favorites, and I had the same experience over and over again: the stores were full of clothes, but they were all so trashy, tacky, short, immodest or inappropriate that I didn’t feel like buying anything.

So then I tried my ‘expensive designer fashion street’ – just as an experiment, not to actually buy anything – and lo and behold, I found the first skirt I liked, boasting a price tag of £500… (around 2000 shekels).

Gosh, no wonder I used to buy expensive designer skirts when I lived there. There wasn’t much else available for a frum Jewish female.

It was strangely comforting to realize that my exaggerated gashmius had been pinned on a strong spiritual basis, after all.

I spent another three hours walking around central London. Through the Burlington Arcade, pass all the fancy designer shops, up past Nelson’s Column and Horse Guards’ Parade into St James Park, where I sat down to look at the gorgeous massive duck pond that used to be a 10 minute walk from my work, but that I hardly ever came to because I was always so stressed and busy.

As I was looking at the grey geese, I realized that nearly all the ‘couples’ parading around the park locked in deep conversations were men – and I suddenly got that uncomfortable feeling that was popping up a lot in London that I’d tripped into some covert bastion of pinkness.

Sure, men do occasionally hang out with each other, and talk to each other, it’s not unheard of. But something about the way that so many of these men were gazing into each other’s eyes, and dressing almost identically sent alarm bells ringing that I was witnessing part of the ‘pink revolution’ that’s currently revving away at full throttle in the UK.

All the highest paid TV presenters are gay; the trashy papers are full of ‘gay couple escapades’; or stories about small boy children being sent to school in dresses in the name of ‘gender neutrality’ and ‘equality’ (and also of schools banning skirts from their school uniform – clearly only for girls – in the name of the same misguided principles.)

Uck, uck and uck again.

I got up briskly, and headed off to Whitehall, where I used to work. Right outside Richmond House, and opposite a very heavily barricaded Downing Street, you’ll find London’s main memorial to the dead of World War II.

I stood on the pavement rooted to the spot. Each side of that monument bore the inscription:

‘The Glorious Dead’

– and it suddenly struck me that this epitaph summed up London life to a tee. The whole time I’d been living there, I’d felt so stressed and spiritually-dead – but hey, so gloriously dressed and well-paid!

God had put that message right outside my office, and I saw it at least twice a day. But I never paid attention, because I was always too stressed, preoccupied and busy.

How London.

Last stop in Central London was the British Museum.

I joined the queue to go through all the security checks that definitely weren’t there last time I lived in London, but which now reminded me of life in Israel.

I entered the great hall, turned left to the Egyptian and Assyrian galleries full of dead pharaohs and massive winged lions – and then left, bored, 20 minutes later. After reading Velikovsky, I knew that most of what was being described on the plaques next to the exhibits was pure conjecture or scholarly fancy, and without a real context the exhibits themselves became meaningless statues.

All that shefa, all that bounty, all that wealth, all that treasure – yet it all felt so empty and pointless.

How London.

Just outside the museum, I got accosted by a down-and-out guy obviously from Africa.

“Don’t run away!” he implored me. “I just want to talk to you! People are so scared of me here they run away as soon I get close to them!”

I took a good look at him, and saw that while he was poor and certainly a little grimy, he wasn’t dangerous, drug addicted or mad. So I listened to what he had to say, which was basically that he was a school teacher from Nigeria who’d applied for asylum in the UK, and been refused.

In the meantime, he was completely indigent, living from hand to mouth, and had no money for food. “In Africa, people look out for each other, they share their food,” he told me. “Here, people treat me like I’m not even human.”

So much for all the ‘political correctness’ and ‘equality’ being mouthed, pointlessly, by the chattering classes.

I felt sorry for him, and handed over a few pound coins – the money I’d brought with to use on the bus, but which no longer worked for those purposes.

“You didn’t have to give me the money,” he said. “It was enough that you just talked to me like I’m a real person.”

And maybe it was, but I felt that the cash probably also wouldn’t hurt him.

That chat with the Nigerian hobo was the highlight of my day out in Central London.

I caught the bus back, and I thought about how this glitzy, glittery city where people are still throwing so much cash at the gods of superficiality and fashion is actually dead at its core. They have the ‘latest’ this and that, Primark with its mountains of cheap stuff from China, designer knick-knacks, designer haircuts, designer beards – and no heart.

No soul.

So much more happened in the three short days I was there, but let’s sum it up this way: I was so pleased to be coming back to my rented pseudo-slum flat in Jerusalem by the end. Jerusalem is so full of soul, and meaning, and real people, and joy and laughter.

(And clearly also ridiculous bureaucracy, deranged Arab terrorists, crazy house prices, lunatics of all stripes, financial problems, and missionaries).

But it’s home. My home. The only place I want to be. And if I hadn’t bitten the bullet and gone to London to feel things out, I’d never have known that that way I do now, with complete clarity, 200%.

There’s no going back.

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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