You say that you are happy where you are and have no desire to live in Israel. Yet you posted this as a question for JVO. Why? Is something perplexing you? Has someone preached to you saying that there is a mitzvah to live in the land of Israel or that for a couple of thousand years we have been praying to return to our homeland? Has a friend suggested that the natural habitat of the Jew is in the Holy Land? Has anyone tried to make you feel guilty that you don't get on a plane and visit here?
I chuckled when JVO assigned me this question. There are more than 100 Rabbis listed as respondents on JVO, and very few of them live here in Israel. So why send this question to biased me? After all, I came on aliyah at age 21 as a religiously ideological Zionist. I came because I believe it is the best place for a Jew to live and raise a family. My siblings and parents eventually followed. All my children and grandchildren were born and live here.
So I was thinking, why is there such a gaping difference between us? Why do I feel an imperative desire to live here, yet you feel very comfortable in the Diaspora? Why do I feel it a punishment if I were required to reside in exile from our land, yet you are much happier there? Why are my friends, community and job here, while you have them only abroad? Is this engrained in destiny or written in the stars? Or is it a choice of free will and focused desire?
I readily admit that many people have legitimate explanations for not living in Israel. However, since you listed three points, I will respond accordingly.
1. The family factor can be crucial. For example, if you have an ailing parent whom you can't leave alone. But, community and job fluctuate over time. Should you move from one city to another, you will find new friends and jobs. Here too, you may very well find a congenial community and a job even more rewarding. But of course, this is very individual.
2. You ask if it is "wrong" not to actually move here since after all you do "support Israeli causes"? My answer is that some people volunteer for the front lines, while others applaud or support from the sidelines. Both activities are needed. It is not "wrong" or "right", but selecting what is truly best for you in the dramatic saga of the renewed romantic return of the Jewish people to Eretz Yisrael.
3. Most important, your "desire". My working assumption is that most Jews at some point naturally feel some sort of "pull" to be in Israel, even if only for a short time. I submit that if you have "absolutely no desire", it may be because you have not encountered the exciting and meaningful parts of life in Israel. Of course, it is your prerogative to conclude that Israel is not for you, but before judging, perhaps you might try Birthright, MASA, Nefesh BeNefesh or an exploratory pilot tour.
To conclude on a positive note, seeing that JVO sent this question to prejudiced me, here is an open invitation to JVO readers to contact me when you plan a visit. I would be happy to walk with you on the streets of Jerusalem, and introduce you to the beautiful parts of being here, combining the spiritual and physical. And perhaps I can invite you as my guest to the Sports Center with the giant windows overlooking the Temple Mount. Where else in the world can you work out while viewing panoramic Jerusalem - live?
Ezekiel 36,28: And you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your forefathers and you shall be My people and I will be your God.
The word "mitzvah" in Talmudic literature can mean both a technical "commandment," incumbent upon you with full legal force; it can also mean "a virtuous practice," something that people really ought to do, but is not necessarily its own requirement.
I would place aliya to Israel in the latter category: it is a virtuous path, and can be a tremendous contribution to building the third Jewish commonwealth. But it is not necessarily an obligation with the full force of laying tefillin, refraining from pork and giving Tzedaka.
Until the 20th century, most Jews throughout history decided to remain in the diaspora -- sometimes very near to Israel -- without moving there. Maimonides, for instance, lived most of his life in Cairo, but probably never visited Israel. The Talmudic sage Rav Yehuda stated that it was forbidden to leave the rich Jewish culture of Babylonia for the relative poverty of Israel.
Of course, all those things happened long ago, when Jewish life in our ancestral homeland was poor and dangerous. That's not the case now. Even despite terrorism, Israel can be a great place to live. So plenty of people have argued that since nowadays there are no necessary impediments to living in Israel, Jews should pick themselves up and come on. That argument has something to commend it, I admit.
But in this day and age, for those like me living in a free, democratic republic like the United States, participating in a vibrant, liberal Jewish community, I do not think moving to Israel is an absolute requirement.
The real question we all face is: even if we live abroad, are we contributing to the building of the third Jewish commonwealth? Are we helping establish Jewish sovereignty and security in our ancestral homeland? Are we helping materially and culturally with the renewal of Jewish life? Even if we live in America, those remain important mitzvot.
The connection between Jews and Israel can be confusing. This is because Judaism is not a religion only but also a nationality. Not all Jews are Israelis (citizens of the modern 63 year old State of Israel), but all Jews are members of Am Yisrael, the ancient 4000 year people of Israel.
At one time, one’s religion and nationality were one and the same. If you were an Egyptian, you worshiped Egyptian gods; if you were Greek, you worshiped Greek gods, etc. Of course if you were an Israelite, you worshiped the Israelite G-d. Judaism is the sole surviving example of this ancient structure. It is often said that Judaism stands on three legs: G-d, Torah (meaning Jewish sacred literature) and Israel (meaning Jewish peoplehood). This unique nature of our tradition allows some Jews who are agnostic or even atheistic to remain proud, involved Jews.
Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel, has always been an important part of our tradition. Although the return of all Jews to the land of Israel may be an ideal, even a messianic ideal, we have for more than 2,500 years been a people who mostly live outside the Land of Israel in the Diaspora. Many, including this rabbi, believe this is a healthy state of affairs.
Living among the nations of the world supports the Jewish goal of teaching the world about the G-d of Abraham. By supporting the State of Israel in the US and in other nations in which we live, we help insure Israel’s stability. Furthermore, if all Jews in the world were to live in Israel, the entire world’s Jews could be annihilated by a single nuclear attack
For all these reasons, I see nothing “wrong” in being a Jew who embraces Jewish causes including Israeli causes but chooses to live outside the Land of Israel.
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