Elazar Larry Freifeld looks at the aliyah process from a personal perspective - and what we find is an emotional, and often amusing roller-coaster ride, following the trials and tribulations of his family's immigration and absorption into Israel.
It is a common experience among Jews, if not of all mankind, to find themselves ultimately, physically alone. We have been nurtured by the fact that though we are among the many, still we are also hopelessly, pathetically, among the few. This not only objectively, but intellectually as the Jew is set apart due to his own, unconscious thought patterns; some inherited, others acquired in our ability to deceive ourselves into thinking we are more other than like each other. Yet we marry our own, live our own lives, and die our own deaths, no matter what the consequences of the life we have chosen to live. All Jews face this dilemma in their drive to escape duplicity, to escape the schizophrenia of Nationality Vs Culture. The only cure for this socio-pathological dichotomy of the Jew is to live in Israel.
When I first walked into the Boston Aliyah offices, smattered with pictures of Ben Gurion and maps of ancient and modern Israel, I felt the loneliness lift while the paranoia set in! Once before when just a boy I explored this alternative, finding myself then on the first floor of a dingy old office on 4th Ave., NYC, just around the corner from the Socialist Labor forum off Union Square. The old shaliach reminded me of Gogol's 'Overcoat' topped by a head as bald as Ben Gurion's was Bushy. Smelled of the old Writers Union with Gorky, and a slice of herring on the side. Everything about the place was dismal, chalutz, full of proletarian schmutz and nostalgia, down to the dirt under the fingernails. He reminded me of my old Rabbi Zalmeyer, but without the kippa and tfillin. But then, as in Boston, I hadn't found the Jewish artistic milieu I was looking for, although all around me, in Manhattan, I was filled with it, surrounded by it everywhere, the Trotskyites, the Leninists, the distinctly off-B'way Jewish theatre scene…the despair I felt then is the same I feel now as I wander the streets of Tel Aviv searching for the same esthetic stimulation. But in searching for something, we usually find other things to equal satisfaction. A milieu is what we make it, not what we find there already made. That is, if we are clever enough not to look the 'Gift Horse' in the mouth, or fail to conceive that the artistic milieu is ultimately alone in its desire to create a society for itself. Nowhere on this planet is such a utopian society to be found, not in Israel, not the U.S., nowhere.
Nonetheless, we made arrangements with our shaliach in Boston to have a promo film shipped up to Vermont to show to the congregation of Jews then living in the Lindonville area, which consisted mainly of a businessman, an ex-cop married to an Israeli, a lawyer, a university professor of music and a motley assortment of Jewish hippies and intellectuals burrowed away in the surrounding countryside. The film was taken on the Red Sea, with lots of young bodies floating about in sailboats, sea-diving among the coral, visiting universities, and of course Jerusalem - with only a hint of the fact we were viewing all this at the height of the Lebanese war.
It was a typical snowy Vermont autumn evening and nobody showed up. Only the professor's wife who was German and David Friedman, a hippie jazz musician friend who never made it to Israel. We removed to the professor's house and watched the film alone.
That's the point! You are alone in this, and there is no real milieu for you in your Zionism except in Israel, even when surrounded by the entire membership of Hillel, or your local synagogue. Since being a Zionist (or any semblance thereof) is both a threat to family and political correctness, another aspect of schizophrenia raises its head like a dragon of historic/socio-pathologic determinism. It is a unique irony that once you make the choice and come to Israel, Zionism as an ideology has served its purpose and ceases to be relevant; it self-destructs as a viable instrument for change, once that change is effected. At best, one can only be a Zionist sympathizer outside the boundaries of the State of Israel.
The seminars that followed in the refurbished Boston office of Aliyah were frequent and more numerous than those provided by the earlier proletarian kibbutzniks. It gave us an opportunity to observe the kinds of people making Aliyah, from different walks of life. And I can tell you as an artist and a poet, a man of esthetic values I saw no hope at first of obtaining the artistic milieu I dreamed of. As a matter of fact, judging from the lack of any but engineers, businessmen, scientists and computer nerds, I would have preferred to move to Boston and open a bookstore in Brookline, than traipse half way around the world in search of an illusive homeland for an equally elusive people, even if I was a Jew in the most elementary sense of the word. Naturally, once I got here, I realized how erroneous was my thinking, and that Israel presented a far greater potentiality than I ever imagined. It may not be Hollywood, but then how much of an hallucination will it take to convince you that tinsel town is not metropolis, and that there is a vast world of possibilities (both esthetic and moral) beyond the shores of the Atlantic and Pacific. After all its not the length that matters, but the quality of your life that counts. I soon learned that in order to live in peace within oneself, a contradiction in terms of what it means to be a Jew must first be resolved and laid to rest. Even today, some claim ascendance through the non-secular religious definition of Jewish culture and tradition; others, secular and non-religious claim they are not Jewish but rather Israeli, first and foremost. These, though resembling the earlier Canaanite kibbutzniks are decidedly non-communist and now lean more heavily to the right wing Capitalist Democracies than the earlier Soviet model of international socialism. In most instances, the youth of Israel care little for politics and ideology and merely want to get on with their lives as best they can, to live in peace and prosperity. But the forces surrounding us on all sides keep weighing heavily toward consensus of thinking, that what you think may not always concur with what must be down in order for the State of Israel to survive the coming century. It is not a given that we will survive, and there are no assurances that the Jews of the world will meet the challenge of the future.
You are that future, and if we fail, it will only be because you haven't responded to the challenge of our times, and haven't come to terms with your own culture and religion. It's time you've made peace between the various conflicts within your Jewish soul - whether secular or non-secular - and come to the realization that everything you have inherited as a Jew must be preserved and made whole in the Land of Israel. Your failure is our failure, and if you think you can wait indefinitely, or delay your 'next year in Jerusalem', you're sadly mistaken and should rethink your priorities. You cannot be a Jew without being Jewish, and being Jewish is both Torah and Haskelah. It's not enough to be a Zionist sympathizer, we are on the frontline and avant-garde of our civilization. The enemies have their hands about your neck and would gladly consign you to the grave. If you think for one moment you are safe and will not move until it's absolutely necessary, until you're pushed up against a wall, think again and learn from history. Study carefully Haskelah and Torah. Study carefully the works of Mendelson, Maimon, Hess, Pinsker, Herzl and Nordau, read the weekly Parusha about Shaul, King David and Joseph in Egypt. Learn the lessons which have been taught over and over again, and which the Jew in the Diaspora refuses to learn and acknowledge. This moment in history will not come again. The stage is set for you, you need only step in front of the footlights. And if you prefer to play backstage or in the lineup, so be it. There is a place for you here, even in the basement or the closet. Your Jules Pfeiffer 'moment of truth' has arrived. It's not enough to be a reflection of the truth, intellectually, for Israel to represent you and be your psychological insurance against the fear of anti-Semitism. It's time for you to stand up and represent Israel, to say kaddish for the fallen soldiers and innocent victims, and to fill the space made empty by their sacrifice. Perhaps the time for you has come to step out of the closet into the sun, into the burning hot sun of the desert. You are needed here and now! The Red Sea never parts until the Jew jumps in.
Don't forget to bring a hat, and to drink at least one-and-a half liters of water a day.