She had many close family members living in Eretz Yisrael whom she visited often.
But she herself wasn’t willing to make aliyah, though she hesitated to come right out and say it. She knew she didn’t have compelling reasons to stay where she was, but at the same time, she couldn’t help how she felt.
(Note: This isn't true of everyone. Some people do have compelling reasons to stay.)
How Shiny is Your Hiddur Mitzvah?
On a purely material level, you have everything you’d ever need to provide the most pleasurable oneg Shabbat possible:
- any kind of food available with one of the only hechshers you eat
- the most beautiful and high-quality modest clothes
- 5-star hotels that cater to your every kashrut, Shabbat, and Pesach halachic requirement
- fancy restaurants & catering that feature gourmet and even exotic food sporting the most exacting hechshers
- luxury homes just a walk away from your family’s shul and your best friends
- schools to suit every kind of child and offering the best Jewish education has to offer
- stores and bakeries that cater to even the most exquisite tastes at any price and under any hechsher you need
And yes, I realize that not every frum Jew living outside of Eretz Yisrael is lounging in the lap of luxury.
In fact, when I lived in the US, I met a lot of frum people struggling financially and obviously miserable about it. The idea that frum Jews can't give up their fancy hi-tech kitchens is a misnomer for many of them.
A lot of people are struggling. A lot of people feel like they’re struggling just to keep their head above water in America, and that aliyah will plunge them underneath the waves and hold them down where they can’t even breathe.
But there is this not-insignificant group of frum Jews for whom the frumkeit outside of Eretz Yisrael is just too uncomfortable.
Not just the material aspects (smaller home, etc.), but the actual frumkeit.
“I get my chicken fresh from my butcher,” she explained. “I get exactly the chicken I want and he cuts it just like I like. But I look at the frozen chicken in the Israeli supermarkets and I’m like…” She wrinkled her nose and smiled apologetically. “It’s just not the same.”
Note: You can also get fresh chicken cut just like you like from a kosher butcher in some places in Eretz Yisrael. But where she was visiting, you couldn’t.
And I know that there are communities outside of Eretz Yisrael who run themselves into debt for the sake of honoring Shabbos and the chagim.
And for the lady above, moving to Eretz Yisrael may mean that her oneg Shabbat will go down a bit. Depending on where she would live and her finances after aliyah, she may have to settle for a less succulent chicken l’chvod Shabbat, among many other diminishments.
For some people, the actual frumkeit part of life shines a bit dimmer in Eretz Yisrael.
And maybe that’s kind of depressing.
And I didn’t know what to tell her.
Because you see, I can’t judge.
Finally Among Family
It means frum (or at least Jewish) neighbors you can exchange edible goodies with. It means that my holidays are celebrated right down to the cheerful Chag Sameach! illuminated digitally from the crown of the public buses.
It means that even the most assimilated Jewish teenager has at least heard of Shavuot, even if they only think it’s a “harvester’s holiday” during which you eat cheesecake.
Where I lived, modest clothes were a frustration to seek out. Finding modest Shabbat clothes that weren’t dry-clean only was nearly impossible.
In America, I felt like I was an outsider wherever I went.
But in Eretz Yisrael, whether I’m at the mall or the supermarket or the pizza shop or the hardware store, I’m among family.
Asking, “Which one is the best jam for making sufanganiot?” or “Does this fan have a Shabbat setting?” are questions I can ask and have been asked by both fellow customers and store employees—even those who don’t look frum.
In fact, I remember one heart-warming moment when the long-haired leather-wearing kippah-less delivery boy came with some food I’d ordered. It was pareve food, but it originated from a dairy restaurant.
I asked the young man about whether the restaurant featured a fully separate pareve section which would make this food wholly pareve.
Under his nose rings, he explained with cheerful meticulousness that while this food was technically pareve, it was prepared within a dairy environment, “making it b’chezkat chalav,” he enunciated. “So since it is b’chezkat chalav, it’s recommended according to halacha, to treat it as if it’s dairy and not eat anything meat with it.” He then waited with a reassuring grin to make sure I understood and was on his way.
Of course, I suppose you can also experience something like the above if you live in one of those established frum neighborhoods outside of Eretz Yisrael.
But the point here is that I didn’t live in one of those, nor did I want to.
So for me, living in Eretz Yisrael is an ongoing thrill simply because of the religious convenience.
I feel spoiled and pampered, religiously speaking.
And for me, this makes up for the serious lowering of material standards and inconveniences one usually faces when settling in Eretz Yisrael.
Heck, I even like a lot of the cultural aspects of living here.
There was (and is) a lot I didn’t like about living in America.
Aliyah as an Unearned Gift
Then I married an Israeli. And boy, that sure eases a lot of things too. He knows Hebrew fluently, for one.
But what if things hadn’t been like that for me? And what if my personality was different?
What if I didn’t like Israeli culture and I was completely comfortable in American culture?
What if I’d grown up in a thriving frum environment in the US with the answer to every religious convention and convenience at my fingertips and custom-made to the highest religious and material standards?
The fact that I’m happy here and even when I haven’t been happy here, would never leave because no matter what, I just was never able to be happy in America, whether I was secular or religious…that’s mazal.
That’s not me. What if I was happy in America? What if I actually missed chutz l’Aretz?
(But for the sake of full disclosure: Initially, there were aspects of America I missed that I no longer miss. But even during the initial transition, I didn't miss the USA overall, just certain aspects of it. And sometimes, the yearning for a specific aspect of American life was incredibly strong.)
If I feel the way I do, then it’s mazal. I didn’t do it. It’s something to be grateful for.
It’s a totally unearned gift.
So what right do I have to tell others to make aliyah too when I'm not sure if I'd have been able to do had not the factors lined up right for me?
Should Jews make aliyah? Yes, if at all possible. Halachically speaking, they should at least make an effort, or at the very least, pray for it to happen.
But I always feel like a bit of a hypocrite telling others to come (even though I think everyone should if at all possible).
How can I tell them to do something that might make them miserable for the rest of their lives?
(And I’ve met many dissatisfied unhappy frum Jews living their lives in Eretz Yisrael who constantly harp on how much better it is in America.)
After all, my reasons for coming were purely emotional.
I loved the life here. I hated the life there.
And I still do.
But what if I didn’t? I honestly don’t think I would come.
Oh, sure. There are very real problems for Jews in chutz l’Aretz; England and Europe are already finished as far as I can tell.
But it’s not like there aren’t diseases, car accidents, terror attacks, actual missiles, and even intermarriage here, may Hashem have mercy.
Furthermore, some Jews outside of Eretz Yisrael will survive the coming Geula and some Jews within Eretz Yisrael won’t.
So what do I say without being an ungrateful hypocrite?
I feel very, very grateful to be here and to be happy about it.
And that's not from me; it's only from Hashem.
ADDENDUM TO THIS POST:
Rav Eliezer Papo, author of the Pele Yoetz, composed a prayer for those who wish to come to Eretz Yisrael:
A Prayer to Make Aliyah & Live in Eretz Yisrael