This month’s column is not a responsum. It was written at the request of Rhonda Kahn, Editor of “CJ: Voices of Conservative/Masorti Judaism”, which is published by the United Synagogue, Women’s League and the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs. It is slated to appear in the summer 2008 issue of that magazine.
In honor of Israel ‘s 60 th birthday I would like to explain some of the reasons why I decided to live in Israel. These are not the only reasons a Jew should make Aliyah, and thay may not be the best, but these are some of the reasons that appeal to me (For a halakhic reason, see my responsum “Is it a Mitzvah to Make Aliyah?”, Responsa in a Moment, Jerusalem, 2000, pp. 79-83, also available at http://www.responsafortoday.com/). Allow me to begin with three stories:
My grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Ya’akov Golinkin z”l, was born in Cherson in Ukraine in 1884. When he was a little boy in cheder, they reached the weekly portion of Lekh Lekha in which God made a covenant with Abraham: “to your descendants I have given this land” (Genesis 15:18). My grandfather held his tzitzit in his hand and in the style of Eastern Europe made his own covenant with God – that he would never forget God’s promise to Abraham to give us Eretz Yisrael. He did not forget. He joined Mizrahi, the religious Zionist organization, in 1913 and remained an active member for 61 years until his death in 1974.
When my father, Rabbi Noah Golinkin z”l and tibadel l’hayyim my mother, Dvorah Golinkin became engaged in 1951, my father did not buy my mother an engagement ring. Instead, they decided to donate the money to UJA. It was as if they were both engaged to the State of Israel. It wasn’t until ten years later that my mother got her engagement ring.
On May 1, 1951, the first Israel Bond went on sale. My father learned about this in advance and arranged to purchase bond number #WA000001 as a gift for my cousin Meyer Goldstein in honor of his first birthday.
It is therefore not surprising that when I came to Israel with my parents for the first time in 1968, at age 13, I announced at the end of the summer that I wanted to remain in Israel. My parents said that I must first finish high school and then I could decide. (Perhaps they thought I would change my mind!). So I did. I made Aliyah in 1972 and I have lived in Israel ever since.
When I lived in the Diaspora, many of our prayers and prophecies seemed unreal and remote. When I live in the reborn State of Israel they are real and miraculous. We recite in the Amidah thrice daily “t’kah b’shofar” – “sound the great shofar for our freedom”. For 1900 years, Jews have recited this prayer for kibbutz galuyot, the ingathering of the exiles, as a hope and as a dream. If you live in Israel today, you realize that it is no longer just a dream – it is a dream come true. When I did my basic training in Zahal, the IDF, many years ago, the 66 soldiers in my unit had made Aliyah from 23 different countries! This semester, I am teaching a course on the Passover Haggadah at the Schechter Institute in Jerusalem. When I wanted to compare the songs and customs of different Jewish communities, I didn’t have to go very far. I simply asked my 32 students who stem from Europe, Russia, Yemen, Iran, Morocco, Tunis, Algeria and other countries. Kibbutz galuyot is happening right now in Israel and I am happy to be part of the miracle.
Now let us look at another blessing in the Amidah: “V’lirushalayim irkha”, “Return in mercy to Your city”. Since the Destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 C.E., this prayer also seemed unreal. But when I walk the streets of Jerusalem today, I know that our prayers are being answered. Since 1967, Jerusalem ‘s population has grown from 185,000 to over 700,000, until it has become the most populous city in Israel . Its area has more than doubled and the prophecy of Zekhariah (2:8) has been fulfilled: “ Jerusalem shall be peopled as a city without walls, so many shall be the men and cattle it contains”. Binyan Yerushalayim, the rebuilding of Jerusalem, is happening right now and I am proud to be part of this miracle too.
Furthermore, Limud Torah, the study of the Torah, comes to life in Israel. When I visit Jericho, I take out my trustee pocket Tanakh and read the story of its capture by Joshua 3,200 years ago. When I study about David and Goliath, I can drive down to Emek Ha’elah and pick up five smooth, flat stones from the riverbed, just as David did. I can go to the foothills of Judea and relive the events in the Book of Maccabees and I can travel to Massada and read aloud the description from Josephus. I can visit Qumran and read the Dead Sea Scrolls and gaze at the caves of Bar Kokhba as I read the letters that he sent to his troops.
I can go into the countryside and relive many famous Talmudic stories. For example, we learn in the Jerusalem Tamud ( Berakhot 1:1) that “Rabbi Hiyya the Great and Rabbi Shimon ben Halafta were walking in the valley of Arbel at sunrise and they saw the dawn beginning to break. Rabbi Hiyya remarked: so is the redemption of Israel – at first bit by bit, as it proceeds, it gets faster and bigger”. I have stood on the cliff of Arbel near Lake Kinneret at sunrise reading this story. Rabbi Hiyya was right – both about the sunrise and about the redemption. In Israel, Jewish history is not merely in the books you study – it surrounds you. Joshua and David, Isaiah and Amos, Judah Maccabee and Josephus, Rabbi Akiva and Bar Kokhba are alive and well in the land of Israel. I am happy to be their neighbor.
Ivrit – Hebrew – has been our national lang uage for 4,000 years. I can read and write and speak Hebrew anywhere. But there is only one country in the world where Hebrew lives and breathes: in Israel. The bus drivers curse in it, the policemen write tickets in it, soccer and basketball are played in it, theatre groups perform in it, the street signs are written in it, and the radio and TV broadcast in it. I am thrilled to be a part of this revival.
Lastly, Israel for better and for worse, is the only Jewish state we have. It is the only place in the western world where we don’t have to explain to our children why we are not observing Christmas. As a matter of fact, in Israel, not only do I not know how many shopping days are left until Christmas, I am usually not even aware that Christmas has come and gone! Israel is the only country in the world where Shabbat is a weekly day of rest, where there is a huge hanukkiyah on the parliament building on Hanukkah, where people walk through the streets in costume on Purim handing each other plates of mishloach manot, and where apartments are constructed so that a family can build a sukkah on the balcony.
For the first time in about 1600 years, Israel is once again on the center stage of Jewish History. Until 1972, I was a member of the audience; since then, I have been a part of the unfolding drama.
I would like to conclude by referring to the story of spies, which we will read in the weekly portion of Shlakh Lekha in June. What was their sin? Everything they said was true: the Land of Israel was fertile, flowing with “milk and honey”, yet well-fortified and inhabited by many powerful nations. Joshua and Calev did not dispute these facts. Then why did they arrive at opposite conclusions and why were the ten spies punished? The difference was one of attitude and of faith. To put it bluntly, the ten spies had no “guts” and no faith in God. They flatly stated: “we cannot attack that people, for it is stronger than we” (Numbers 13:31). Calev, on the other hand, was undaunted by what he had seen. His reaction to the ten spies was “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it” (v. 30).
I have always tried to follow Calev and Joshua’s example. Israel has tremendous social, military, religious and educational problems. No one disputes these facts. Yet, if we have faith in God and a moderate dose of chutzpah, “we shall surely overcome”.
Prof. David Golinkin is President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem. Feel free to reprint this article in its entirety. If you wish to abbreviate it, please contact Rabbi Golinkin at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and in no way reflect an official policy of the Schechter Institute.