Is Aliyah All or Nothing?

Print Article

The hardest part of coming to Israel is leaving.


A visit to Israel these days involves connecting with the heroic and courageous soldiers of the IDF, engaging with the seemingly ordinary but in truth, truly extraordinary people, absorbing the tremendous energy and unity of our people, tapping into the spiritual awakening of so many, and much more. 


I came to Israel for a few days this week to participate in the weddings of two young members of our community who have placed their lot and destiny in our homeland.  Each wedding was extraordinary in its own right.  Didi went to Israel for a year of seminary and decided to stay forever.  She married Rafi, who followed Yeshiva by joining the Israeli Air Force, where he continues to serve faithfully during this war.  The singing under the chuppa of the Mi SheBeirach for Tzahal, as the Chosson and many of his friends in attendance continue to fight on the Jewish people’s behalf, was deeply moving and brought goosebumps. The Israeli and Tzahal flags that draped those dancing reflected the enormous pride in our people and the boundless loyalty and selflessness to our homeland and nation, especially during this difficult time. 


The second wedding celebrated the marriage of Yosef and Gavriella, two righteous converts who each joined our people at a young age.  Their souls were both at Sinai, destined to join our people and that night, under the stars, their souls united as one.  Together they began a new song and a new saga, building a future and a family in our fateful land.


At both weddings I was in awe, filled with admiration for the courage, faith, and fortitude of these four young people who walked away from what might be an easier road of life, to walk the path of our forefathers, placing their lot in the land of our people. 


These two magnificent weddings, combined with the many locations we visited, including the army outpost on the northern border, to the army headquarters in the south, from Shlomit to Nachal Oz, from Shuva Junction to volunteering on a farm, from walking Sderot to touring the Galilee Hospital, and so much more, this trip, like the three others I have been privileged to be part of since October 7, were life-changing, making it harder than ever to leave.

So why leave?  Why not stay, announce Aliyah, and call on the entire community to join?  Indeed, this is a question I receive regularly online and offline, on every trip to Israel and when engaging Israelis who visit America. Without exaggeration I have been told more than once, “Rabbi Goldberg, you are among the reasons Moshiach isn’t coming. If you would simply announce you are making Aliyah and tell the community to come with you, certainly they would.” I appreciate this encouragement comes from the best place, from those with the best intentions, many of whom have themselves taken this tremendous step. (As an aside, it is important to dispel the myth and fantasy that if American rabbis would simply declare Aliyah, their communities would most certainly pack up and come with them.  From the time of Ezra and Nechemia until this very day, from Rabbi Riskin to the Klausenberger Rebbe, to the best of my knowledge, never has a community picked up and moved with their rabbi.) 


So if it is so hard to leave each time we come, why not stay, why not finally move?  That question plagues me regularly and nobody asks it more forcefully than I do to myself. 

To be clear, I am deeply and profoundly inspired by, and envious of, family members, my rabbinic colleagues, and so many friends who have made Aliyah, many of whom are building new communities in Israel and bringing their unique voices to the symphony of our people on the greatest and most important stage we have. Their courage, faith, leadership, and example are enormous, and they and their leadership are being inscribed in the book that captures the story and destiny of our people.


However, if we can be honest and non-judgmental for a moment, the reality is that not everyone can or should make Aliyah at this moment.  There are compelling reasons that make it the correct and responsible decision to remain outside of Israel for the time being. 


There are legitimate reasons not to make Aliyah at the moment.  But there are no legitimate reasons to not be struggling and wrestling with when, not if, to move oneself and one’s family to Israel permanently.  Doing so is not a favor or gift to others, and it shouldn’t come from guilt, shame or fear.  It should be an expression of understanding Hashem’s will for His children, of embracing our responsibility to our mission and our destiny. 


Many, like the young people whose weddings we just celebrated this week, uproot themselves and move to Israel. Each year, at BRS we honor those families, and our community and its leadership continues to unabashedly and unapologetically push and promote Aliyah regularly.


But Aliyah at any given moment is not for everyone. The question that has been on my mind lately is does Aliyah have to be all or nothing?  Are you either physically living and spiritually identifying exclusively in Israel or completely outside of it? Or is there some area in between, in which you fully believe in your current decision to reside outside of Israel but also genuinely feel your heart is in Israel and your feet are there as often as possible?


Again, making Aliyah – moving permanently including taking on citizenship, settling the land, paying taxes, and participating fully – that is the ultimate goal, without question.  But if we make Aliyah binary, if we set up a paradigm in which you are either in or you are out, either you are here permanently and if you’re not you don’t really care, are we serving the greater goal of connecting our people and our land? 


Taking delight in living in the Diaspora, not caring enough to make the effort to visit, having moving be the last thing on one’s mind, is not only shameful, it runs counter to authentic Torah values.  But coming as often as possible, regularly thinking about, advocating for, fundraising on behalf of, and putting one’s efforts and energies towards Israel counts, it matters, it means something.  These are the stepping stones to being there permanently one day, but they also have value in the meantime, both for the individual and for Israel. 


To those who have made Aliyah – you are heroes, you have cemented your place in history, you are living the Jewish dream.


To those who regularly consider Aliyah but feel now is not the time, don’t stop thinking about it and struggling with it.  Keep the dream alive, keep the goal in view, keep Israel at the forefront of your mind, and keep going as often as you can.

To those who are happy where they are, would never consider moving to Israel, haven’t visited in forever and have no plans to go in the near future, I beg you to reconsider and to radically change your attitude, not for anyone else, but for yourself.


On our trip this week was someone who hadn’t been to Israel in a very long time.  After the experience, he shared the following:


As you know it's been some time since I've been to Israel - 25 years. It was a real struggle to decide if I would come on this trip. Was this how I wanted my first time in Israel in a quarter of a century to be? Without my family? For such a short visit? War time tourism? It seemed macabre and voyeuristic. It's not what I imagined it would be for my return to the holy land. But thankfully, my wife pushed me and I relented.


There are many legitimate reasons why a person cannot travel to Israel. For 20 years I could never take time off from work, using every vacation day for Yom Tov. Also financially it's a huge expense for so many. But there is another reason that people have - I know I did - in the back of their minds: I want my Israel trip to be perfect. When the weather is good, when the crowds are small, when flights are cheap, when the kids are off, etc. and with that in mind it took an extra four years for me to just come home.


This is what was running through my mind on the flight. I felt like it was a mistake, I shouldn't come to gawk at the soldiers or the displaced families like going to a museum or sideshow. I should come when I can be with my entire family and do all the things that people do: Kotel, Masada, tunnel tours, Ein Gedi, Eilat, etc.


But I was wrong. This experience was something that I will never forget. Not only because of the incredible access, the people we met, or the places we went, but because we were able to be with Israel instead of just going to Israel...


That's my take away. If you can afford to go, don't put it off. Don't put your trip to Israel on a pedestal that it needs to be perfect or you won't go. Because before you know it, 25 years will go by, and you'll wonder what could have been.


Israel is not just another place; it is not where others go to live or visit.  It is core, central, and fundamental to what it means to be a Jew, to who we are, and how we identify.  Think of Israel as a parent.  When they can’t travel to you, you don’t save up to go on vacation elsewhere and neglect seeing them.  You aren’t satisfied checking in on them occasionally from afar. You make it a priority to show up whenever you can, to be present, to connect and experience what it means to be together and spend time.  Your focus is fixated on their well-being, you remain eager to hear and learn how they are, you visit as often as possible and even though there are legitimate reasons to be apart, you can’t wait to next be together.


Whatever the reason, stop waiting. Plan your trip now, start saving up and taking steps necessary to make it a reality.  It isn’t Aliyah, but it matters to those in Israel and it will forever change you.