By Shmuel Katz
Someone asked me recently whether I intend to sound so preachy all the time and whether all olim drink the same “We are in Israel and now holier than you” Kool-Aid.
Each year, as Tishah B’Av approaches, I send a message to our shul’s e‑mail list and some other neighbors, inviting them to join together on leil Tishah B’Av. It follows a similar theme to the one in which I share a berachah for a chag sameach to all of us when we approach one of the regalim, a theme that (at least to my mind) is a central focus for all of us, the desire and expectation that we will merit the geulah and rebuilt Beit HaMikdash.
The e‑mail opens with, “As always, it is my fervent hope that these preparations are unnecessary and that we will be celebrating the geulah sheleimah with a chag on the site of binyan shlishi on Tishah B’Av. The Deveretts, Ellens, Kahanes, and Katzes (all Kohanim) all look forward to helping you with your korbanot. However, on the slight chance that the geulah has not come, we will be joining together [with neighbors] for Arvit and Eichah at the Kotel, to mourn the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash as close to the site of the Beit HaMikdash as we can be,” and continues with details of when/where.
Each year we get a group of 20–40 who join in the minyan and it is an experience that is extremely powerful and moving to me. I generally have the zechut to read a perek of Eichah for the minyan and with my increased understanding of what the Hebrew words actually mean, I feel a deeper connection to the words each year. After Eichah, when we end davening, we sing “Im Eshkachech Yerushalayim” and “Ani Maamin” together (http://youtu.be/GjrcEUP0hfk), and by the time we are done, many other people have joined in with us.
I may be fooling myself, but I never felt the sense of loss (regarding galut and the Beit HaMikdash) as keenly in America as I have felt since aliyah. Yet, unlike what I think my friend was inferring, I do not think that it makes me any better than anyone else. I am sure there are many people outside Israel who have a much better understanding and deeper sense of the loss than I will ever have. But I think that those feelings are enhanced by being in Israel and it is this enhancement, this uplift of each person’s spiritual level, that I try to convey to you.
Last Friday night, a neighbor of mine, who will celebrate a year on aliyah this summer, came to shul wearing a jacket but no tie (I do not generally wear either). I commented to him that it was the first time I had seen him without the tie (and kidded him about it as well). His response underscored my point. “In Israel,” he said, “I do not need to dress up to feel the kedushah of Shabbat. I still have special Shabbat clothes, but I feel Shabbat permeating my life here much deeper than I do when I am in the U.S.”
That is the point I am trying to make. This is a chronicle of our lives as olim. My goal has always been to try to have you feel what we go through and the differences in our lives that have come about because we live here. Everyone can get this feeling (at least I believe that everyone can). Everyone can enhance their lives as Jews, as religious Jews. It makes no difference if you are “better than me” (as many people are) or not—my point is not that we are superior because we live here, but that you can be superior to who you are by joining us.
I continue to hope and pray that my family, along with the families of thousands of Kohanim worldwide, will have the ultimate privilege of assisting you in the bringing of korbanot on the upcoming Tishah B’Av holiday. And if we still manage to be lacking that ability, I wish you a meaningful day and fast. v
Shmuel Katz is the executive director of Yeshivat Migdal HaTorah (www.migdalhatorah.org), a gap-year yeshiva opening this year. 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 email@example.com.