In the summer of 1984, when I was almost 8 years old, my parents took me and my 5-year-old sister on a family trip to Washington, D.C. My favorite cousins were living there at the time, and they went with us on tours (I think I was more excited about being with them than about seeing the sights).
Being a student or a tourist in Eretz Yisrael is easy. Living there is not.
At one point, we were in the Capitol building, and my cousin told me that we were about to enter a room which was so beautiful, “It will knock your socks off.” Just before we entered, my other cousin told me, “Hold on to your socks.” I don’t remember much about that room except that it really was beautiful.
Ten years later, I went to Eretz Yisrael for a year of study. I remember arriving at the airport and seeing Eretz Yisrael for the first time. It was then that I saw a beauty which went way beyond “knock your socks off”.
It’s a beauty that seeps into your bones and does not let go. It’s everywhere. One minute, you’re in a neighborhood that’s very contemporary, with a clean aesthetic, and you think it’s beautiful. The next minute, you’re in a neighborhood with a quaint, old-fashioned feel, and you think that’s beautiful. And that’s just the aesthetics. Of course there’s no place “warmer” than the Kotel, where I could stand in winter weather and not feel frostbitten.
I spent time with a few distant relatives, and I met a lot of new friends, and that was beautiful. The whole year was wonderful and special, and I knew I would be back.
In June of 2003, I did go back. This time, it was with my husband. We had been married 11 months, and we went to Yerushalayim for our cousin’s bar mitzvah. Thanks to my husband, I gained a huge passel of relatives who live in Eretz Yisrael, and they were so sweet and warm and welcoming. The beauty of Eretz Yisrael still moved me, and it took an even stronger hold inside of me.
Of course, moving to Eretz Yisrael is not all roses. No matter where you live (whether it’s Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, London, Paris, or Yerushalayim), you have to deal with government and bureaucracy. When you make aliyah, you have the additional difficulties of a different language, a different culture, and a different mindset. Being a student or a tourist in Eretz Yisrael is easy. Living there is not.
However, my husband and I have wanted to make aliyah since before we were married. If we had known then what we know now, we would’ve gotten married the way my husband had originally wanted—on a kibbutz, very casual, with a tractor taking us to the yichud room—and we would’ve stayed in Eretz Yisrael from then on. But we didn’t know better. Nefesh B’Nefesh either wasn’t around yet or just wasn’t on our radar, so we didn’t have that help. By the time we did meet with them, I had student loan debts, and we had other bills, as well. NBN advised us to save money and then come, but that’s easier said than done. We don’t make a lot of money to start with. We also have three children, and we’ve had to pay yeshiva tuition, which, while 100% worth it, has drained us, even with tuition assistance.
We still haven’t given up on the idea of making aliyah, though. We agree that Eretz Yisrael is our homeland and that all Jews belong there. We’re also very uncomfortably aware of the rising anti-Semitism and hate crimes here in the U.S. and elsewhere. Yes, we’re aware of terrorist attacks in Eretz Yisrael, but those only make us want to get there even more, so that we can help. In fact, when planning our 2003 trip, we didn’t consider a possible terrorist attack as a reason not to go.
It helps a little bit to know that we’re not alone. We know a number of people who want to make aliyah, but who also have financial issues keeping them here. We also know people whose health doesn’t allow them to travel easily, and who would need a lot of help and accommodations just to visit Eretz Yisrael. We know people who are themselves in good health, but who have relatives in poor health who need special care and can’t travel. We know people whose adult children can’t make aliyah yet, and they don’t want to leave their grandchildren behind. There are so many people who want to make aliyah, but they just can’t do it yet for any number of reasons.
Many times, my social media feed includes posts of people encouraging aliyah. I admit that even the best of these posts can be a bit triggering, because they remind me that we’re not there yet. But these posts don’t bother me too much, considering that we theoretically agree with them. However, I will sometimes comment that in addition to encouraging people, we need to brainstorm and find ways to facilitate aliyah for those whose circumstances make it difficult to do so.
A few of our friends who have made aliyah have suggested that we take what I call the “Nachshon ben Aminadav approach”, which is to start making plans anyway, even with debts and not enough money saved. One of these friends told us that if we start the process, at least we’re one step closer, and we always have the option of backing out. And we haven’t ruled this out.
What really does bother me is when I see posts on social media in which people dismiss the reasons for not making aliyah as just excuses. There are those who say things like, “I made aliyah with $500 and a backpack” or “I sold everything I owned and came with just the clothes on my back.” They always say that if they can do it, so can we. That’s their answer to financial concerns. Some of them try offering advice such as, “You don’t need that brand new car,” or “You don’t need that flat-screen TV,” or “You don’t need to take that trip to Disneyworld.” None of this can help us, since we don’t have any of the above. So far, I haven’t seen any answers to the “excuses” of health issues or the like.
While many people do make aliyah successfully, it’s a privilege and a bracha from Hashem. That means that it must not be taken for granted.
These people might think that they’re encouraging aliyah, but if anything, they’re DIScouraging aliyah. First of all, they’re minimizing the very real difficulties of making aliyah, even without financial or health issues. Secondly, they’re presenting an image of olim as being very judgmental and holier-than-thou.
Baruch Hashem, we have a lot of friends and relatives who have made aliyah who do get it. Even those who have had it easier than most acknowledge that making aliyah is not easy. One of my NCSY leaders said that he and his family were privileged to have made aliyah successfully. Another friend also described himself as “privileged”. They’re absolutely right. While many people do make aliyah successfully, it’s a privilege and a bracha from Hashem. That means that it must not be taken for granted.
Recently, I posted about this on Facebook, and I suggested that those who dismiss real reasons as “excuses” start putting their money where their mouths are. If they believe in getting us to Eretz Yisrael, they are welcome to send my family and me enough money to pay off our debts, cover the moving/aliyah expenses, and provide us with enough to live on while we find jobs. Those who want others to make aliyah so badly can find out what accommodations are needed for those with health issues, make the arrangements, and then pay for them. They can find out what other reasons are preventing people from going and what they can do to help them. If they’re not able and willing to do all of that, then they should stop judging others, and start finding out how they can help facilitate things.
My friends and family all 100% agreed with these statements. The ones who had already made aliyah were sweet and supportive. A few even apologized for any accidental judging (I assured them that they hadn’t done so).
The real bottom line is as follows: I urge those who have made aliyah to be thankful Hashem has allowed them to do it. I have read about people who encountered difficulties once they got to Eretz Yisrael, and who were tempted to go back, but they kept saying to themselves something like, “Baruch Hashem we’re here.” This allowed them to stick it out and plow through the difficulties.
I also urge those who have made aliyah not to take it for granted that just because they were able to do it, anyone can. No matter how easy you may have had it, no matter how good your situation turned out to be, many people simply do not have it that easy.
May Hashem bring us all Home very soon.