I made a fool of myself at my wedding. It’s tough to admit, but I was an arrogant 21 year old, coming off of three years of post-high school study in Israel and had returned to America for my wedding. As is customary, I spoke at my “Chosson’s Tish,” and with a return to Israel scheduled for two weeks after my wedding, I lectured people much smarter than me about their need to move to Israel. Thankfully, the speech was recorded on VHS tape and will never be watched again. Six years later I ate crow when I moved back to America for ten years.
Thankfully, I am now “living the dream” in Israel and my family and I were able to remake Aliyah and live a wonderful life in Mitzpe Yericho. The Talmud instructs, “A person should always live in Eretz Yisrael.” Even the Rambam, the sole medieval scholar who maintains living in Israel isn’t a mitzvah, quotes that same passage from the Talmud. It is undeniable that it is better for a Jew to live in Eretz Yisrael than outside of Israel.
Many American Jews who made Aliyah love talking about living in Israel. Olim – Jewish immigrants to Israel – are very proud of themselves for the sacrifices they’ve made. They gave up the comfortable life they were accustomed to and moved to a land with a very different culture, a foreign language (sic) and no Amazon Prime. Olim know the Jewish future rests in Israel, and they’re excited to play a part in it. Unlike those we left behind in America, we made the tough, but correct choice, and we feel everyone should follow our footsteps.
There is a way we should be encouraging Aliyah. We should talk about the benefits of living in Israel. We should talk about the wondrous chagim, when everyone celebrates Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim and Pesach, and not Halloween, Christmas, and Easter. We should talk about the solemn Yom Hazikaron and the festive Yom Haatzmaut. We should tell American Jews about living in the place of our ancestors. We can start the morning at the Kotel, take a walk through the shuk, spend the afternoon skiing at the Hermon, and end the day at the beach in Tel Aviv. There is so much to boast about in Israel, and we should exude that excitement.
We should never shame and guilt American Jews about living in Chutz la’aretz. There is no prohibition to live outside of Israel, in fact the Rambam wrote, “A person can live wherever they choose except Egypt.” It is wholly unjustified to rebuke someone when they’re doing nothing wrong. It is also counterproductive to guilt people to move to Israel. I don’t know anyone who speaks of making Aliyah out of guilt and shame. Why would anyone want to move to a place where the people are judgmental and obnoxious?
America in the 21st Century is not Germany in 1938, it is not a few years away from a second Holocaust. While antisemitism is on the rise, most Jews are safe and haven’t personally experienced antisemitism. Judging America as a dangerous place based on news reports is the same error that frustrates so many Israelis when Americans judge Israel to be a dangerous place based on news reports of terror attacks. Israelis are out of touch when they tell Americans they need to move to Israel before it’s too late for them. Americans rightfully ignore Israelis and their warnings.
Aliyah is important, but it isn’t one of the most fundamental mitzvot of the Torah. Listening to some Israelis you get the sense they consider Aliyah the 14th fundamental of Jewish faith. Unfortunately, there are many mitzvot not observed properly today, and many of those mitzvot are more important to correct than Aliyah. I’m fascinated by the psychological phenomenon that leads Americans who made Aliyah to reprimand American Jews for not making Aliyah. If their rebuke was based on Torah values, they’d be talking about other mitzvot before encouraging Aliyah.
The 500,000 American citizens living in Israel should encourage the five million Jews in America to think about making Aliyah. Living in Israel is a wonderful experience, and every Jew should get to enjoy it. To successfully inspire American Jews to move to Israel our messaging must be positive. We should never shame an American Jew for living in America. By publicizing the beauty of Eretz Yisrael we’ll encourage more Americans to join us – and if we’re successful enough, maybe Jeff Bezos will open Amazon Prime here too.