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Only Through You

Rabbi Moshe Grylak

A response to last week’s letter, “Waiting in Passaic”

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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As promised, this week’s column is a response to last week’s letter from “Waiting in Passaic,” a reader who explained how difficult aliyah can be in an often-unwelcoming society

 

Dear Waiting,

Because your letter articulated issues that deserve to be aired publicly, I felt it should be published in full. And now permit me the opportunity to respond to each of the points you made, to the best of my ability.

I’ll begin by saying that the column (“Too Far from Home,” Issue 740) that moved you to write your letter was not meant as a sermon on the subject of aliyah, and actually had nothing to do with American Jewry at all. Rather, the thoughts expressed there concerned Jews living in Europe, and specifically, those who are considering emigration because of anti-Semitism and other threats to Jewish life. I understand that Jews who live in the Diaspora have many good reasons for remaining where they are. I only expressed my puzzlement over reports of many European Jews who are already considering leaving their native land, but the primary alternatives they’re considering include Australia, the US, and Canada — but not Eretz Yisrael. I wondered aloud, as it were, why Eretz Yisrael was left out of these calculations. If you’re already taking the daunting step of transplanting your life to another continent, I wondered, why don’t you consider Eretz Yisrael?

In response to what I wrote, many letters streamed in to Mishpacha’s Inbox, but most were a defense, each in its own style and tone, of the choice to live in chutz l’Aretz — although that wasn’t even the original subject.

But be that as it may, dear reader, your letter brought up some very important points that I felt should be printed, and which should be discussed further.

The main substance of your complaint seems to be that the chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael is not interested in absorbing olim from Western countries, does not look tolerantly upon the more open chinuch system of America, on studying for college degrees, and on joining the workforce; it values nothing but full-time Torah learning. What American Jews consider completely frum is considered foreign and tainted by chareidi society in Eretz Yisrael. Why should American Jews come to Eretz Yisrael if they are only going to be rejected and marginalized?

I don’t deny the reality that you describe. But I would say you haven’t described the whole picture. After all, large numbers of American Jews do live here, and they don’t only learn in the Mir, but have integrated into mainstream life. I live in Har Nof, where the official language is English. You hear it on the street, in shul, in the grocery store, and from the mothers talking to their children as you pass by the playgrounds. Right now, I am living temporarily in Givat Ze’ev, and, on the hill facing my present abode, an exclusive neighborhood is being built for Americans, customized to the high standards meant to suit them in particular. Similar neighborhoods that cater to an American lifestyle are found in Beit Shemesh, where your good friend lives — the one who was answered so offensively by some foolish school principal. (That was simply the epitome of rudeness, and it was people like him that Rav Aharon Leib Steinman ztz”l was talking about when he famously cried, “Gayve, gayve, gayve!” In other words, many school administrators reject students because of what they think is a burning passion for Yiddishkeit, when it’s really nothing but bad middos.) I don’t wish to devaluate your claims, but tell me, if it’s as bad as you say, how are all these Americans surviving here?

While you describe certain aspects of reality accurately, your description is not wholly on target. No one here is rejected by society because he took a job. Those who take a job and as a result begin to reflect secular influences and stray from chareidi values may be rejected (although in my humble opinion, it is wrong to reject them).

In fact, this is precisely why the country needs more American olim. On a visit to America some years ago, I happened to be in a beis medrash in Boro Park (the Lakewood Minyan, as I recall) around noontime, when suddenly the place filled up with a huge crowd of chavrusas, and the sound of their learning was electrifying. These men were professionals who were free to make their own schedules, and this was how they spent their afternoon break. They learned with such energy that I might have thought I was in one of the great yeshivos of prewar Europe. This, unfortunately, is something one doesn’t find in Eretz Yisrael among working men, who generally tend to become lax about their learning once they’ve left yeshivah or kollel life. American Jews who keep up their intense attachment to learning alongside their work commitments could have a strong positive influence on chareidi life in Israel by their personal example alone. And isn’t that a good reason to make aliyah?

Regarding your observations about the educational system here, I have little to say in rebuttal. Yet despite the chutzpah of individuals like the menahel who told your friend that his school wanted “only good families, not Americans,” it does appear to me that most boys and girls from American families here are finding their place somewhere within the framework of the frum Israeli school system.

That brings us back to your central argument — that chareidi society in Eretz Yisrael has to change, you say, before we’ll be willing to contemplate aliyah. Until they start making us feel welcome and accepting us as we are, we’ll stay put. We won’t come to live in a country where we aren’t wanted and where our children will suffer in an environment that marginalizes them and won’t accommodate their needs.

What can I tell you, my dear fellow Jew? Chareidi society in Eretz Yisrael isn’t going to change. But I do wish you would come and change it, to add the influence of your own tribe to the tribal society that you find so off-putting. Am Yisrael has been comprised of tribes from its beginning, and just as Eretz Yisrael has its Sephardim, Ashkenazim, and Eidot HaMizrach, its chassidim and its Litvaks, and so many different kehillos within those broad categories, the American tribe of Torah Jews could also add its flecks of color to this rich mosaic. It could come, and simply on the strength of its being here, it could make the rest of chareidi society accept it. It could establish schools here to suit its own approach to chinuch, and in the end, this tribe would be accepted and respected even by those who now try to push it to the sidelines.

Furthermore, by sheer strength of numbers, frum American Jewry could help to swing the balance in favor of preserving Jewish tradition and values in the State of Israel. It often feels like we’re fighting a spiritual war here, and a huge number of potential soldiers is not here at our side to help us achieve victory.

Eretz Yisrael is acquired through yissurim, and it’s worth acquiring, even at that price. The mitzvah of settling Eretz Yisrael — a mitzvah that the Chazon Ish ztz”l toiled hard to encourage — is worth the hardships of integrating into the society. So with all due respect, your argument that you won’t live in Eretz Yisrael until the society here changes is not an argument I can accept — because the change you want to see is a change only you can bring about.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 744)

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