Elie's Expositions

A bereaved father blogging for catharsis... and for distraction. Accordingly, you'll see a diverse set of topics and posts here, from the affecting to the analytical to the absurd. Something for everyone, but all, at the core, meeting a personal need.


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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Aliyah Contemplations

Invited by The Muqata and inspired by McAryeh and Jack, I will share some of my own feelings on aliyah. I've been trying to finish this post for over a week now so I will make myself do it tonight, for better or worse! This will be part reminisce, part self-analysis.

Unlike many of my peers, I didn't spend a year in Israel right after high school. In those days and in my "out of town" (non-New York) yeshiva high school, only about half of us did so, as opposed to now in my kids' school, where ~90% of the graduating class, year after year, does spend a year or more in Israel. However, after completing college at YU, I signed up for a year in Israel as part of YU's smicha program. The setting for this program, however, was a yeshiva where most of the other students were fresh out of high school.

To put it mildly, the year didn't work out as planned. Among other problems, the environment was much too rule-bound and intense for me, and no close friends - or indeed seemingly anyone who shared my interests and aspirations - was around to commiserate with and lighten the load. I started the year with enthusiasm and hope which gradually turned to disappointment, alienation, burn-out and finally severe depression. By mid-December I had had enough, and one fine morning I just gave up, called home and arranged to return to YU-NY for the second semester.

It would be easy, and partially true, to say that I've been able to separate this negative school experience from my general feelings about aliyah. Certainly on a rational level I realize that what I disliked about that semester had everything to do with my age, maturity level, and the environment I was in, and little or nothing to do with Israel as a country. Still, those few awful months left me with emotional residue, an after-image that has not fully faded during the two subsequent decades.

I've been thinking about how this youthful experience still feels at least a little bit relevant to the me of today, so many years and life-changes later (including, of course, something so much more horrible than what I went through then). It's hard to boil this down to logical analysis, because it is a visceral response, not a cerebral one. But I think it gets back to my innate, instinctive resistance, even rebellion, when confronted with any kind of pressure, guilt-trip or sell-job. I had that quality back then and it is still a part of me today.

I remember one of the things that upset me the most during that half-year was the fact that every single speech given in the school, without exception, whether by staff or by the students themselves, was on one and only one topic - aliyah. And not only - or even mostly - in a positive vein - i.e. focusing on how wonderful and beautiful Israel is, etc. - but rather relentless fire and brimstone rhetoric about how wrong it was for any of us - and by extension our parents - to live in "galut". After a while this started to become annoying, then frustrating, then literally repulsive. I got to the point of being desperate to hear inspiring words on any other subject; bittul torah, hurting others feelings, dishonesty - hey, an anti comic book sermon would have been a welcome change!

So, I come to the point. Am I going to claim that I never made aliyah just because I'm stubborn, simply out of spite from all the "head-trips" (to use one of Debbie's favorite phrases) I received back then, a young man barely out of my teens? Well, no, not really. But there is an aspect of life in Israel that I would find hard to live with, on a very personal level, for much the same reason that the non-stop aliyah propaganda was so repellent to me then.

I don't know if I can correctly express just what I mean. It has to do with the unique difficulty in Israel of being "neutral", though that's not really the exact right word. I guess it seems to me that in Israel you have to take a definite stand on a lot of religious and political issues, and that in fact religion and politics are almost merged. The neighborhood you live in, the school you choose, the very type of kippah you wear, is sending messages that you side, politically and religiously, with this group and against that group. I'm very used to a level of privacy and discreetness with regard to such personal areas (except, of course, what I choose to share, in person or writing.) I tend to have rather idiosyncratic and eclectic views and practices, and am always drawn towards the center, and away from any extremes. It would feel very limiting, very confining, to be in an environment where I am socially compelled to publically and openly align with one group or another.

I'm sure I'll get lot of responses telling me that this feeling is unfounded. But it's an indelible emotional impression that I find it hard to dispel. Despite this, I will say that not a week goes by that I don't think about aliyah regardless. I know that Israel is ultimately where all Jews belong. But along with all the usual hesitations and excuses that people at my age and stage use for why they don't do it - finances, moving far away from friends and family, uprooting children, etc. - this is my own particular misgiving. I guess it's an area for me to focus on... the next time I have the strength to work on personal growth. Right now, as I used to tell the kiddies when they were small, my pillow is calling me.

6 Comments:

At 1/19/06, 2:39 AM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

It all makes sense to me, what you said that is.

 
At 1/19/06, 4:28 AM, Blogger Mirty said...

I sometimes wonder what my life would be like if I had done a year in Israel, during or after college. Back then, I was considering a year at Michlala or Machon Gold (or Bruriah, which seems to no longer exist), but decided against it for a whole variety of reasons. One thing is pretty clear though, that no matter what direction you take in life, you remain yourself. I think you would find a way to be an independent thinker no matter where you are. Last summer, when the entire country of Israel seemed divided between "orange" and "blue", my parents managed to stay quite solidly in the middle. I guess it's possible. Probably not exactly easy anywhere.

 
At 1/19/06, 1:30 PM, Blogger Elie said...

Mirty: I'm pretty confident I would remain independent and unclassifiable, but I worry that the societal pressure to align and conform would be a constant stressor.

 
At 1/19/06, 1:59 PM, Blogger Jack's Shack said...

Sometimes it is fun to look back and say what if, but I try hard to stay in the present. If I can avoid living with regret it makes life that much nicer.

 
At 1/19/06, 2:10 PM, Blogger Elie said...

I don't regret that I tried to spend that year in Israel. But I am the sum of my past experiences and I hope to keep unraveling how each experience shaped (and continues to shape) me, what to learn from it, and how to grow from that knowledge.

 
At 1/20/06, 6:27 AM, Blogger SS said...

There are plenty of people like you here in Israel. Especially in the more American-type communities. I know that people don't really like the idea of making aliya just to "stay in America", but it's still living in Israel, and it does make it easier for people to come live here. One of my rabbeim used to say "you have to fit into the community, but after that, well, you can just do whatever you want, ie be yourself." And he lives in Har Nof!

 

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