While most Americans are saying goodbye to summer and getting ready for the new school year, 239 Jews did something remarkable last week. Jewish families from 24 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces got on a one-way flight to Israel in an annual immigration initiative organized by a group called Nefesh B’Nefesh.
The organization has assisted more than 57,000 Western immigrants go on “Aliyah” to Israel, contributing to the social, economic, and demographic welfare of Israeli society, while infusing the country with idealistic enthusiasm and optimism and fulfilling the biblical promise of Deuteronomy 30:1-5 given by Moses to the people of Israel before their entrance into the Land of Israel.
“Aliyah” in Hebrew means “going up.” For many Jews, going up or returning to the land of Israel that was given to their ancestors by God is a lifelong dream.
There are many reasons why American Jews choose to move to Israel and leave family and friends behind for a country surrounded by enemies. I have some experience with this since my wife and I celebrated our seventh “Aliyah-niversary” this summer.
When we chose to move to Israel, we were living in Columbus, Ohio, where I had grown up and worked as the pulpit rabbi of an Orthodox synagogue. We had three small children and were living just a few blocks away from my parents. I loved my work at the synagogue and my wife felt equally fulfilled as a teacher at the local Jewish high school.
Nevertheless, there was something whispering into our ear and pulling at our heartstrings: Jewish destiny.
Both of our families originally came from Europe. Our grandparents survived the Holocaust. They arrived in America as penniless orphans who built wonderful lives and raised proud, patriotic families. Love for America and appreciation for what it offered was not something we took for granted. Yet, as committed Jews, we felt that — like the kosher hot dog commercial — we answered to a Higher Authority.
Throughout history, Jews have lived in nearly every country in the world from ancient Babylonia to Spain in the medieval times and all across Europe in the modern era. No matter where and no matter when Jews prayed each day that God should bring us back to the land of our forefathers.
For many generations of Jews, this hope for Zion was but a dream.
I traveled to Eastern Europe last summer to visit the towns in Hungary and the Ukraine where my own grandparents were born. Standing in the desolate synagogues that were once vibrant houses of worship before the Holocaust, I recalled the tales my grandmother told me about how her own mother would read to her children stories about Jerusalem with tears in her eyes.
Certainly, my great-grandmother could never have fathomed raising her own six children in Israel. Instead, she raised her children in Ukraine, until her husband was sent to a forced labor camp and she was thrown onto a cattle car with her little ones and sent to Auschwitz.
The modern state of Israel was created in 1948, just three years after the end of the Holocaust. In 70 years, Israel has become a strong democracy with a booming economy. It has turned its vast desert wastelands into agricultural Gardens of Eden and absorbed millions of Jewish immigrants from more than 100 countries.
Before World War II, there were 17 million Jews in the world with less than half a million in Israel. Today, we still have not recovered from the loss of the 6 million victims of the Holocaust; there are about 15 million Jews worldwide. What is nothing short of miraculous is that today, there are about 6.5 million Jews living in Israel, more than in any other country.
The ancient promises outlined repeatedly throughout the Bible are finally coming true. Isaiah (43:5) wrote, “I will bring your descendants from the east, And gather you from the west . . . bring My sons from afar, and My daughters from the ends of the earth.”
Jeremiah (23:3) similarly promised, “I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase.”
To the Jewish people, Israel is not just another country, it is our homeland. When American Jews move to Israel, as 239 did last week, we are not turning our back on America, but turning toward our heritage.
Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the director of Israel365, which connects 2 million people to Israel every month. He founded the I365 newsletter, is publisher of Breaking Israel News, and editor of The Israel Bible. He lives with his family in Ramat Beit Shemesh. To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.
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