It is also a place of tremendous corruption and immorality just beneath the bright shiny surface.
She became frum a few years ago and has needed to go in for all the “frumified” luxuries and lots of loopholes in order to feel comfortable enough to maintain a frum lifestyle.
It’s hard to understand her compulsion for this, yet at the same time, it’s hard to judge her for this.
Because if you’re really honest with yourself, at some point you realize that all your positive attributes (like, for example, an innate attraction toward more spiritual matters and a kind of “nice, but is it really worth it?” attitude when faced with luxury) are simply gifts from Hashem that you were either born with or imbued with via your family and/or your school—or, if you’re REALLY lucky—both.
And how can you honestly take credit for that OR disdain others for not having been presented with either of those advantages?
If someone neither received an innate "spirituality magnet" nor received a spirituality-focused upbringing, then how much is she really responsible for her tendencies?
Yet when she told me about her shopping plans in Israel, I said, “I’m really happy for you. I think you’ll have a good time and you’ll also be able to pick up some stuff that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to get in the US.”
(Note: This is a very common theme of conversation. A lot of religious Judaica is more easily obtainable and cheaper than in the USA, depending on where you live.)
But she got defensive and huffed, “Oh, you guys have Golf (the clothing line), but you don’t have [the name of some product chain that I didn’t recognize and can’t remember], so it all balances out. Okay?”
I felt like someone just sideswiped my brain. Golf? Bed 'n' bath linens? What in the world was she talking about?
The Tug of War between Esav and Yaakov
But what really got me was that “so it all balances out” comment.
No. It doesn’t.
Accessibility to the most luxurious and exclusive item in no way compensates for living in Eretz Yisrael. Even frum people who live in staffed mansions in the USA understand that living in Eretz Yisrael is still more desirable in Hashem’s Eyes (which is why many of them send their children to live in Eretz Yisrael).
Her parting remark was along the lines of: “Oh, the 5-star luxury hotel in Israel was nice, but if you could experience hotel hospitality where I come from, you would wish that every place would be like that. SOOOO excited to be going back home!”
Yes. Where she lives, I’m sure the hotel staff is fabulously accommodating and friendly. There is fierce competition among hotels in that area and a tremendous amount of money at stake.
The hotel staff, concerned about their reputations and career advancement and bonuses (and fearful of what will happen if they DON’T dance to the tune), will certainly make every effort to make you feel like a valued customer.
The emphasis on just making you FEEL like you have value—not that they actually value your worth, just your money and your recommendations to your friends.
Where is this addiction to "feeling good" coming from?
The Pull of Esav
The 5-star hotel staff in Israel varies; some are personable and friendly while others do their job efficiently and courteously without extra ego-stroking.
Is that enough of a reason to feel SOOOOO excited to be going back “home” to your shiny fake lifestyle?
(Especially since, if you're a Jew, America is not your true home.)
Now, it goes without saying that she doesn’t represent a lot of frum Jews stuck outside of Eretz Yisrael. There are many frum Jews living decidedly NON-luxurious lives:
- Jews who would love to make aliyah, but feel limited by family obligations (like elderly parents or shared child custody with an ex or older children who may or may not weather the transition)
- Jews who fear the differences in economic opportunity and culture
- And so on.
But there is also this other type, the type that cannot see beyond the fact that good-quality clothes, appliances, and housing cost more, and that you can’t get certain brands of whatever has become your favorite item. They can’t see that Israelis, who will often not only treat you courteously, but even exceed expectations to help you out if they see you really need it—but will NOT kiss your feet, no matter how important you think you are or how wealthy you seem (or how much you threaten them).
When I first came to Eretz Yisrael, Israelis were shocked to hear that in self-defense classes, people were taught to yell, "FIRE!!!" when under assault because otherwise, no one would even attempt to come to their rescue. Israelis couldn't imagine ignoring a cry for help and not even calling the police, let alone running there in person to intervene.
With the exception of gun-toting Southerners and Jews in frum neighborhoods, Americans hesitate to help, even in a way non-dangerous way, like calling the police.
But Yaakov Wins, Hands Down
Depending on where you are in Eretz Yisrael, Kever Rachel or the Kotel is just a bus ride away.
Getting thirsty or hungry is no problem because there is likely a kosher café or grocery right there, and the same can be said in many places about catching a minyan.
But most of all, every step you take is a huge mitzvah. Running to catch the bus in the rain or trudging out in humid heat to pick up diapers at the local makolet automatically grants you Eternal points without you even meaning to.
And nothing else can ever compensate for that.
To be fair, some people are so addicted to their materialism that they genuinely can't imagine compromising on it one iota. Deep down, they know they're wrong, which is why they get defensive when faced with life in Eretz Yisrael. But their psyche feels torn because on one hand, they see that it is possible to live happily without such exclusive luxuries. But on the other hand, they truly feel that it's not within their personal ability to do so.