By Shmuel Katz
Every year since 2008, for the Parashat Shelach edition of the paper I have written a special article inspired by a Nefesh B’Nefesh program (which is no longer active). Nefesh B’Nefesh asked their olim to write 12 reasons to make aliyah and send that list to 12 of their friends in galut during the week of Parashat Shelach to symbolically counter the sin of the Jewish people with the meraglim. I, having no complaint with Yehoshua or Calev, modified it to a top-10 list—and instead of sending it to 12 friends, I have annually shared it with thousands and thousands of readers.
Last year, in an attempt to shake things up a little, I actually listed 10 things that made aliyah difficult, but that are definitely surmountable. Having acknowledged that life here is often challenging, I return this year to a list of some of the many reasons why I believe you should come join us in making Israel your home.
At the bottom of the list are some of those points that I really don’t need to elaborate on (since I have written about them so often). We can start with the simple fact that Israel is the country of the Jews. It might not be the religious country of the Jews, but it is still the only place in the world where we are the majority and the country revolves around our life cycle and holidays.
Next up are tuitions and universal health coverage. Full tuition for our kids costs about $1,500 for high school and $4,500 for college (including dorm) and is much, much lower than we ever paid in the U.S., since most education is state-subsidized. We definitely pay higher taxes and have lower incomes, but the tuitions and universal healthcare coverage mean that our cost of living is much lower as well.
We’ll continue with our one-day chagim. Yes, I know that this topic has generated a lot of strong feelings in the past. Yet the fact remains that G‑d intended for us to have one day of chag, and only those people who live here get to keep chag the way He intended us to. All it takes for you to keep the chag that way is to join us here.
At sixth (counting down) is the wonderful life that our children enjoy. We feel that our kids have much more freedom here and yet, despite the perceived hazards of living here, we feel much safer here as well. We have no problem with a 13-year-old taking a public bus to Yerushalayim with friends—something we would never have let them do on Long Island (although that also might be a result of our being older and more permissive). The kids have a terrific social life and their peer groups are tremendously supportive—much more than we had anticipated.
The next two reasons could just as easily have been at the top of the list. There is nothing like being able to take a short drive and then walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. Almost every corner of the country has historical significance and is a link to our past. It is the land that Hashem promised to the Avot and we are living that promise by being here.
Directly linked to the historical significance of the land is the religious connection we have as well. Rites of passage can be elevated by one’s surroundings. In the past couple of months, we have celebrated our son’s hanachat tefillin, the b’rit milah of our grand-nephew, and the bar mitzvah of a neighbor—all at the Kotel. For Mordechai, becoming a bar mitzvah has an even more significant impact on him as he now performs Birkat Kohanim as an “adult” every single day (more on this later).
The top three reasons are based on what’s happening currently in Israel. As time ticks by and we continue to approach either the activation of the draft plan for the chareidi public or the cancellation/rollback of that plan, there is no question that the most recent national elections have led to the potential for huge change in Israel—especially for the chareidi public. The higher-than-expected turnout led to the formation of a much more liberal government than expected, one that has no chareidi representation (well, assuming MK Rabbi Dov Lipman doesn’t count).
No matter where you sit on this issue, you need to be here in Israel in order to make a difference, not there. From the guy sitting next to you to the editor of this paper, if you want your opinion to be more than heard, if you want it to actually count for something, you need to vote. Donations are important. Tourism dollars are important. They are vitally important. But they don’t get you a vote and it is only voters whose voices are ultimately heard. So, reason number three you should make aliyah is to earn yourself a vote.
Connected to that idea is the fact that Israel is the only place in this region where a Jew can voice his opinions on this or any other issue (be it a religious issue or not) in total freedom. Israel is our safe haven. And we need you and thousands like you to come join us here in order to make sure that it continues to be one.
Reason number two is that your aliyah will make Israel stronger and safer. The continued inflow of immigrants will bolster our growth and viability as a leader in commerce and technology, but much more so will strengthen the population, economy, and infrastructure to defend our homeland and our people from those who seek to eliminate us. Your homeland needs you—can you really refuse her?
And finally, reason number one that you should make aliyah is one that is always in effect, but will come more publicly into play this coming September and Rosh Hashanah. You should come here for the mitzvot; it is that simple.
Separating terumah and ma’aser. Yishuv Ha’aretz. Daily Birkat Kohanim. There are a myriad of mitzvah opportunities that are specifically tied to the land of Eretz Yisrael. You need to be here in order to actually acquire these mitzvot for yourself. And we up the ante this year with Shemittah (the second one our family will experience here), which will begin on Rosh Hashanah this September.
As we approach the New Year, we are certain to hear many opinions on how to keep Shemittah properly this cycle. Yet, no matter how you personally would keep Shemittah and whose halachic opinion you choose to follow, Israel is the place you need to be in order to fully observe the mitzvah. And while it is not always an easy mitzvah to keep, some parts, like not cultivating our trees or planting vegetables, will be very easy for most of us. And what is more fulfilling than that? v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a new gap-year yeshiva. Shmuel, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July of 2006. Before making aliyah, he was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.