Why I Moved to Israel (3)

Read the first and second posts in the series for other personal accounts of aliyah and the reasons behind it.

Guest Post by Noah Roth

Most Zionists can be neatly wrapped up and placed into one of two camps- religious Zionists, and political Zionists.

I consider myself both.

And a third category I call practical Zionism.

I suppose I should tip my cap to my parents who raised me to be a Zionist, by which I mean that they taught me Israel was important in hopes that I would live in New York City and send money for someone else to make aliyah. In fact, they sent me to Bnai Akiva and a Zionist summer camp staffed by all of the people who *didn’t* make Aliyah in the previous generation, so you can imagine their shock when my family actually got on a plane.

I grew up in a home that was Modern orthodox (That was capital “M,” small “o” for anyone who was keeping score), and attended day schools that made great hey of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Yet it always seemed to me, as a not yet Orthodox kid (honestly, how much religious choice does a 15 year old have anyway), that it read more like a collective “על חטא”, or atonement,  for living in America. That they should choose Israel or America, not celebrate an apologetic Yom Ha’Atzmaut in New York or Chicago.

Fast forward a few years.

I made the decision to become Orthodox (as opposed to doing what my parents told me) on a trip to Israel with NCSY at the age of 15. It was a rational decision, not an emotional one. Long before, I had decided that the brand of Modern orthodoxy (notice the capitalization again) which I saw in my parents’ home was hypocritical. I spent a few years doing nothing religious, at least when my parents were not around, and then came to the conclusion, that the response to religious hypocrisy is religious consistency, not religious abstinence.

The rational underpinning of that decision will help you understand why I am a religious Zionist. God gave us the land of Israel. He commanded us to conquer and inhabit it. 3 times a day (5 if you count the chazzan’s repition) we say “ותחזינה ענינו בשובך לציון”, that our eyes should merit to see your return to Zion. “Your” in this context means God, not your neighbor from Teaneck.

One of my rabbis once told me that hypocrisy is good. No human is perfect, so it is better to aspire to an ideal and fall short, than to deny the ideal entirely, and have nothing to aspire to at all. I guess in that context I can understand those Yimei Ha’Atzmaut in America.

My political Zionism springs from another place entirely. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the pogroms, The blood libels, the Elders of Zion, the Holocaust, the list goes on and on.

Since Israel’s military victory in 1967, Jews in America, and indeed around the world, have felt a sense of a safety and identity as Jews that was previously unprecedented in Jewish history since temple times. For the first time in a 2000 year exile, Jews have a place to call home, and sense of security when they are away from home.

In fact, America is the last bastion of diaspora Jewry. Sure there are still Jews in England and France, Turkey and Syria, but none outside of New York, Chicago, LA, and Miami, believe that their grandchildren will be both Jews and living outside of Israel.

I met my wife in Israel, on the eighth night of Chanukah, during our year of study following high school. We met in the Sbarro’s restaurant on the corner of King George and Yaffo streets in Jerusalem. It was destroyed in a terror attack 3 days before our second wedding anniversary. Our fourth child will be born in Israel around Rosh Hashanah, each a unique answer to 2000 years of oppression- in a way never possible before 1948.

My sons will defend Jews around the world, and my daughters will serve them. I will stay home and worry, and maybe cry a little bit. But I will never be prouder.

My mother-in-law is the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She lived in Israel for 10 years, when it was a different time and a different place. She moved to America to give her kids a chance at something better. It’s hard for her to understand that I took her grandkids back to Israel for the same reason.

Which leads me to practical Zionism.

I consider myself Dati Leumi, or national religious. This is a brand of observance which is both modern and orthodox, but does not correlate to American Modern orthodoxy.

In theory, Modern orthodoxy and the National Religious movement should be identical theologies of Torah observance in the modern world. In practice, though, they are quite different.

Man, by his very nature, seeks to maximize reward while minimizing the cost of attaining that reward. This is not a uniquely Jewish concept. Most Christians view their religion as a form of identity, but in many ways their core morals deviate from the teachings of the Church. This is most true in regards to sexual mores of Christians. It’s not that they behave against their beliefs, they simply hold core beliefs at odds with the Church. Conservative Jewish theology holds no resemblance to the behavior of Conservative Jews. You get to have all of the pleasure and none of the guilt.

In that context, you can understand the reference to Capital Modern lowercase orthodoxy: a movement dedicated in theological terms to the integration of absolute observance of Torah law with professional and academic integration into the modern world. In reality, modernity simply becomes the crutch, the excuse for everything not observed. Those in America who truly live up to the integration of these ideas recognize that there is no community of peers in America and come to Israel to find a home- out of religious conviction *AND* communal convenience.

Here in Israel, a vibrant community thrives of dedicated, observant Jews, who do not compromise their Orthodoxy to integrate into the modern world, who study Torah, observe meticulously, and maintain their moral compass without hiding from the modern world.

As a parent in America, I would have 2 choices.  I could choose to send my children to an M.o. “yeshiva” school, where I could support the school’s official ideology, though in practice, they would learn torah from Haredim, and Secular studies from Atheists, and have a peer group that did not conform to our beliefs. Or I could choose to send them to a Haredi school, and ask them to listen to my religious advice, not their teachers.

Forcing children to choose between their teachers and their peers is never a fair decision, but here in Israel, I don’t have to. The Dati Leumi movement is authentic and prevalent. I can choose to send my kids to an institution which will embody our way of life in philosophy, practice, and community.

I work until late at night. I miss a few, but not too many of the comforts of what I used to call home. But what I get in return, far outweighs any of the sacrifices I made to get here.

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4 Comments on “Why I Moved to Israel (3)”

  1. David De Zwirek Says:

    Very nicely presented, Noah!

    KOL HA’KAVOD (All the honour)to Hadassah for putting together such an interesting and varied series (I’m the writer of the second one). So far we have seen very different reasons for aliyah. This shows the continuing strength and vibrancy of Zionism. I look forward to reading more!


  2. Hadassah Says:

    Thanks, David! The next one is totally different from the first three so keep reading 🙂

    I am looking for more guest posters so I can continue the series. Any volunteers?

  3. Sarah Says:

    Great piece; thank you.

    It’s fair to point out that if you were living in America, your kids wouldn’t be learning from Haredim, since American Black-Hat Yeshivish and Israeli Haredi are quite different, just as “Modern orthodox” and Dati Leumi are different.

    Thanks again! Loved the post.

    • Noah Roth Says:

      I spent 12 years in the US Modern orthodox schools, and all of my Jewish studies teachers were Charedi, with the exception of 3-4 who might be described as “yeshivish.”

      American Modern orthodoxy is not creating many who choose the rabbinate, and a VERY high percentage of those who do, come to Israel in search of a more authentic modern Judaism. The available pool of authentic modern orthodox teachers left in America certainly cannot meet the demand.

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