I am on a journey, to make Aliyah, and want to share my journey with my family, friends and anyone that is interested. I made the decision to make Aliyah in December 2002 and now I am actually doing it. This blog will chronicle my story and adventures leading up to getting on the plane and then the continuing story of the beginning of my new life in Israel and what I experience once there.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Speaking today at my Shul

Today I was the guest speaker at my shul. I was asked to speak on the topic of why I am packing up and moving to Israel. This is my presentation as I presented it to my congregation:

In today’s parsha God tells Moses to speak to the entire Israelite community. He is to tell them:

קדשים תהיו כי קדוש אני יי אלהיכם You must be holy, since I am God your Lord [and] I am holy.

He proceeds to tell us how we can do that in the form of commandments. What is really being told to us is that we have to live a certain way, in order to be holy. In today’s world it means to live a Jewish life following Jewish law. We have learned that we don’t know everything at once and we have to grow into “our” Jewishness.

I grew up in this community and recall Sunday School at the education building next to the old JCC. I recall the JNF Tzedakah boxes. I recall the posters of Israel, Jerusalem, the kibbutzim, the chalutziim (the pioneers). I especially remember always singing Hatikvah at the end of each school day. We moved to this building and some of the posters didn’t follow but we continued to sing, I became involved in USY. I considered becoming a Rabbi.

I let society dictate confusion and assimilated myself into secular life and for many years I did not attend shul or do anything Jewish. It took Mormon missionaries in Utah to push me back into the shul. That is a story for a different day. But they also started me down a better pathway of life. I reconnected to my roots, both in general family connections, but also to my heritage. When I moved to Atlanta I was seeking out ways to incorporate Judaism into my everyday life. I found a Jewish outdoor group, Mosaic. Named for the first Jewish hiker, you know… Moses… I went to shul regularly, I went on weekly hikes and found other things to volunteer in within the community.
I was feeling pretty good about my reconnection. Sept 8th 2001 shared the parsha from my Bar Mitzvah. This was the 3rd year of the triennial so Maftir matched from years ago when I chanted those words. The Haftorah was of course the same, while I don’t remember who chanted it that day I recall that I was humming along, remembering those words from so long ago. My heritage, my history and my future. I was moved that Shabbat. Three days later the world shook. September 11th, the Gregorian date of my Bar Mitzvah, was now forever shared with the tragedy in New York, DC and Pennsylvania. I did not know anyone that died, but I was somehow connected. My shul in Atlanta had daily discussions followed by the evening minyan. I went each day, somewhat in shock, but comforted by being with b’nei yisrael, the children of Israel.

I continued my participation in Mosaic events, camping, kayaking, hiking and enjoying that all the participants were all Jewish, we didn’t’ travel on Shabbat, we only ate kosher food at our events. I now had a portion of my life that wasn’t ritualistic but allowed me to live a Jewishly integrated “regular life”. I was on a hike in the Georgia Mountains and was walking along chatting with a friend. We chatted about how he had traveled to Israel and volunteered in the IDF. I was intrigued and asked more questions and basically learned about the Sar-El organization that facilitates civilians volunteering in the IDF. I went home from that hike and thought to myself; that sounds really cool. I researched the organization and within a couple weeks I was signed up to volunteer for 3 weeks. I didn’t leave for a couple of months, but I then became an information junkie regarding Israel. I read everything I could on the internet, bought travel books. I recalled stories from years ago in Sunday and Hebrew School and the places we studied about were about to not be distant pictures but places I could and would actually visit. The Sar-El organization sent me all my paperwork and documents to better prepare me for my travels. One thing that struck me was they mentioned in their documentation, that 46% of people that come on this program eventually make Aliyah. I thought to myself “that isn’t going to be me”. I received several other documents from them before my trip. They all stated the same statistic and I still thought “that isn’t going to be me”.

I went to Israel, when I got off the plane, I had the cliché response, but it was genuine, I felt “at home”. Riding in the car and seeing all the signs in Hebrew left me thinking this is really cool. I am in a Jewish place where being Jewish is “normal”. The entire time I was volunteering they reminded us, 46% eventually make Aliyah… And I said it wasn’t going to be me. I rode on busses and listened to people actually speaking Hebrew. It wasn’t the language of the synagogue, but the language of life, everyday life.

There were several bombings while I was there and that was weird, but I didn’t want to leave. I was part of this and I belonged. I went on a hike with the Mosaic group based in Jerusalem and unlike the Georgia group where we might see a civil war site; we hiked in the valley where David slew Goliath. That left me with a feeling of understanding this was the land of my ancestors and our history was all around me. Spending time in Jerusalem, the old city, the Western Wall just added to this experience. I spent Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, in Jerusalem. Not as a spectator, but a participant. I marched in the parade, waving a flag and ending up at the Western Wall. There was a huge gathering of Israelis. Music playing, dancing and general celebration. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t Israeli, didn’t hardly understand a word of what was going on. They pulled me in, I danced and was an integral part of the celebration. I belonged and they were telling me this, just not in words.

At the end of my trip, I gathered up my memories, got on a plane and returned to the US. I thought to myself, see it wasn’t me. I loved everything about Israel, but Aliyah, not me…

I returned from Israel in May 2002. That summer I read about a charter planeload of North Americans that all were making Aliyah together with the help of a new organization, Nefesh B’Nefesh, Jewish Souls United. I thought that was really cool and at this point didn’t think much more about it. Over the next couple of months I read more and more about Nefesh B’Nefesh and in December I read that they were chartering another plane. I was now thinking ok, “normal people” make Aliyah. People leave North America and move to Israel, just because they want to. My mind was made up. I wanted to be in Israel. I had been wrong. This was me.

I downloaded the application from Nefesh B’Nefesh and started to fill it out. I talked with a child psychologist and was told I either needed to do it right then or wait until my kids graduated. I did some soul searching and decided that right then was not ideal for many reasons, but if I were to wait until the kids were older then it would be their decision instead of me making them go. So, knowing that they would graduate in June 2009 I now had a target date. When I told people that I was making aliyah in six and half years they were saying, YEAH right, today I am telling you about my journey to make Aliyah, six and a half years later. Now I feel many are saying yeah, RIGHT, the same words but the emphasis is on the RIGHT.

What else have I learned about during my journey to this point in my life?
  • The orthodox don’t have a monopoly on Aliyah. Conservative Jews make Aliyah. Non-religious Jews make Aliyah. People actually move to Israel because it is an amazing place to live, to raise a family, have a great career. Oh yeah, live Jewishly without having to make much of an effort.
  • Assimilation is a good thing, in Israel.
  • While we should do everything we can to be supportive of our intermarried friends and family it is still something we have work at. In Israel you would have to work hard just to be intermarried.
  • Israel is constantly trying to grow and improve. Israel is constantly seeking new people to grow the majority but more importantly bring new ideas and strength to the state. I feel I have a lot to offer and to contribute to the future of the State of Israel.
  • The founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass has stated that we are not running from something, but running to something. I couldn’t agree more.
  • Aliyah is not the destination, life is. Living in the land of Israel is the objective
  • I recently read an article by Hanna Zakon, who recently made Aliyah she made the point:

Mark Twain once asked us what our secret is. How is it that despite our meager numbers we have stood the test of time? How is it that despite others turning their heads to our suffering, we have survived? How is it that we have outlasted the greatest empires? He, and the world, saw us as the few, as the weak. They measured us by numeric strength. Mr. Twain was missing one piece of crucial information when he wrote his remarks. He saw us as individuals; he did not see the rows upon rows of ancestors that stood and still stand behind us. With his question he missed the point; we have survived because we are a 'We' and not an 'I'.

Rebbe Nachman stated:לכל מקום שאני הולך, אני הולך לארץ ישראל
To every place I go, I go to eretz yisrael

While you may not be getting on the plane, many of you grew up with me here. You saw the same things; you heard the same things and did the same things. I take with me a piece of this community and you are all invited to join me in Israel, be it for a day, a week, a month, a year or even making Aliyah. I hope I can share a Shabbat meal with each of you when you come. Follow your heart, I am. Please stand and join me in the singing of Hatikvah.


Gilly said...

beautiful Matt.

Looking forward to having a beer with you in Israel!


Amos said...

Oh my...! I have tears in my eyes.

I sure didn't want to miss your presentation, but I was really conflicted, also desiring to support my son in Solo Ensemble shabbat morning. Thank you so much for publishing your talk on your blog!

May Hashem bless you as you follow Him!


Daniel said...

Good decision! May G-d protect you and I am pretty sure it is G-d's will for you!