What, You’re making Aliyah!?

Rabbi Sara Brandes
June 11, 2014
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Why would an upper middle class girl from sunny Los Angeles choose to move to Israel?

What is clear from the tears, shock and general mystification around our choice to move our young family is that aliyah was not the intended consequence of the Israel education I received at my Jewish Day School, summer camp, teen Israel trip, and Jewish college experience. And, at the end of the day, while those programs certainly laid the groundwork for my choice to make Aliyah, they are not the whole story. My reasons are deep, and they speak to the fundamental nature of life in America today. Here they are:

I am making Aliyah because…

We are social creatures, and American culture is increasingly isolated and isolating. Since I was a child, I have spent summers at a Jewish summer camp. There, living is intentional and meaningful. We live communally, we sing and dance, we celebrate friendship and sacred moments. We live together, space is shared, and as such, so is laughter and tears – humanity in all of its joy and messiness. While Israel is by no means summer camp, I choose to make my life there because Israelis locate their lives and their personal stories in a narrative of meaning. The rhythms of their lives are set by the Jewish calendar. They are deeply creative and expressive, and regard such behaviors as compulsory. They grow up knowing that they are building a Jewish homeland, a necessary refuge, and they strive to live justly and well. There is no doubt that Israel has faltered in its striving towards justice since 1967, but strive it does.

There, socialism is not a dirty word. 
As an ambitious woman, mother and feminist, I am directly and deeply impacted by the lack of social infrastructure in the United States. Full-time schooling is defined as 8-2pm, 30 weeks a year. My son’s pre-school is closed at least one school day each month this spring. The cost of healthcare is outrageous. Life does not need to be this way, and it is not this way in Israel. Inspired by the values set forth in the Jewish Bible, Israel has a socialist history and socialist aspirations. Healthcare is universal and childcare is loving, affordable and accessible, from infancy to adulthood. The elderly are respected and cared-for. Humans are a part of an interconnected, societal web.

Scarcity breeds ingenuity. 
While there is no doubt that cost of living is rising and malls are multiplying in Israel, there is a fundamental difference in the cultural legacies carried by Israel and the United States. In the USA, the story is one of abundance. Our rich land and wide open spaces have bequeathed us a cherished belief that all resources are abundant and renewable, that more is better and that there is always enough (all false and damaging perspectives). Israel, conversely, holds a cultural narrative of scarcity. The country is tiny and resources are always limited. Conservation and innovation are in the water Israelis drink, literally.

Army. I have one bright and talented daughter and one bright, talented, and macho son, and still, I am making Aliyah knowing they will serve in the Israeli army. I find it difficult to quantify the depths of the damage that “the college experience” as the culmination of a middle class childhood has on American children and teens – four outrageously expensive, indulgent years, when older adolescents are permitted to binge drink and consume without responsibility for producing and supporting themselves. Even with its horrors, and even, God forbid, with its threat of death or physical harm, the positive impact of 2-3 years of self-sacrifice for a higher purpose in the Israeli army reorients childhood, framing play and freedom as deserved blessings of youth, higher education as a means to gain the skills and knowledge one needs to contribute to society and adulthood as a time for responsibility and productivity. 

Security. Yes, security. While there is no doubt that Israel and Israelis live under an existential threat from which Americans are free, day to day, Israeli children live with a far greater sense of freedom and security than I can offer my children in America. In Los Angeles, I do not allow my children to play in our front yard without supervision, and would not expect to allow them to move freely around town until their teen years. We are suspicious of our neighbors, even though we live in a middle class neighborhood and under no circumstances, would we allow our children to run free in nature. This is the unspoken and uncriticized side of the “Helicopter parenting” we so often discuss in the academic realm. Urban life in America is not viewed as safe for children. Our fear of harm and death create the cultural expectation that we must forever keep our children under our wing (and, the illusion that we can protect them from all harm). As a result, they have no space to cultivate independence and resilience, the very purpose of childhood. In Israel, the notion that “it takes a village” is a given, and the country is that village. There, children are independent and free.

I love Israel. Lastly, and most importantly for me, a soulful rabbi. I feel a connection to my soul and to God in Israel that is qualitatively different than anywhere else. It’s not rational and its ineffable, but it’s real none the less.

This post originally appeared on herisrael.com.

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Rabbi Sara Brandes Rabbi Sara Brandes fell in love with being Jewish while Israeli dancing at Camp Alonim in Los Angeles, CA. Since then, she has worked to build Jewish spaces where Judaism is felt, not just heard, space that are as fun and compelling as the feeling of holding hands, laughing, with hundreds of friends. Sara is California Director at Moving Traditions, and returns to Alonim every summer as Rabbi-in-Residence. When she is not engaging Jewish teens and adults in meaningful Jewish life, she is a yogi, partner of Hyim and mom to Michal and Gavi.

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