Baka, Jerusalem: October 27, 1990 – Sitting in the basement of The Efrata School on Gad Street, I listened intently to the d’var Torah. The woman stood, speaking haltingly in Hebrew with a heavy American accent:
לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ
“Go out from your country and from your homeland and from the house of your family to the land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1
An Olah Hadasha, a new citizen of Israel, spoke of her choice to leave the comforts of America to make a home in Israel, the motivations for her choice and the adventures she experienced over the course of the year.
By this time, I was in Israel for a total of two weeks. Listening to the refrain of Lekh Lekha, “Go Forth!”, I knew I would never give such a d’var Torah. I felt a tremendous sense that there was something I was supposed to do in the US. In addition to my personal sense of purpose, the idea of serving in the IDF was simply beyond my comprehension. For these and other reasons, I returned to the US after an incredible year filled with exceptional Torah, a few weeks of life in a sealed-room during the first Gulf War, memories of helping participants in the second Aliyah from Ethiopia and a lot of very good friends in Israel.
It seems my choice to return to The US was correct. I met Becca, we built a family and have three truly magnificent children! I was privileged to be the founding director Ramah Darom, a family and home that created numerous Jewish leaders and continues to inspire thousands to be more involved in Jewish living, learning and community. Working with a few very good friends, I got to create Camp Yofi: Family Camp for Jewish Families with Children with Autism. I feel confident that I can honestly say, “Mission Accomplished.”
The Midrash asks why God, while directing Abram to leave Ur for Canaan, uses multiple words to describe the place from which Abram will depart. Abram does not want to go and for each word God uses, Abram has a retort. The give-and-take continues until Abram overcomes fear and begins his journey to “the place I will show you.”
Let’s be clear: I am no Abram. But, like all people, I have internal dialogues filled with voices of fear and of strength. When confronting choices or challenges, I hear encouraging voices pushing me to take risks and try to change worlds just as I hear my own voices of criticism, lack of confidence, fear. Do you hear those voices? Are they purely human or are they partially the Divine within us? I don’t know. But in 1991, I heard voices of mission and vision driving me back to America just as I cowered in fear of the implications of making different choices.
When Rebecca and I made the final decision to make Aliyah, I remembered that Shabbat morning at Kehillat Yedidya in 1991, to the woman with her heavy American accented Hebrew, and to my internal voice telling me I would never stand in that spot. I laughed. How right and how wrong I was! The years of fulfilling North American missions were completed. There would always be voices telling me why it was not the right time to make Aliyah, that I would not succeed, that it was not right for so many reasons. The voices of confidence, of desire to live in Eretz Avoteinu v’Imoteinu, The Land of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs, the constant pull of the air of Israel, the desire to contribute to the Jewish State won out over the voices of fear. On August 20, we landed at Ben Gurion Airport and our Aliyah adventure started.
As fate would have it, I am not in Israel for my first Shabbat Lekh Lekha as a new Israeli citizen. I am in Baltimore, on the waterfront, at the United Synagogue Centennial. We will discuss the future. There will be impassioned voices for a variety of strategic directions. It will be lively and invigorating. There will be great Torah. I will meet new people and reconnect with mentors and friends. And all the while, the words of Yehuda HaLevi, will ring in my ears:
לִבִּי בְמִזְרָח וְאָנֹכִי בְּסוֹף מַעֲרָב
My heart is in the East and I am in the distant West…
Unlike all my previous trips back from Israel, when I felt what Yehuda HaLevi expressed, this time I know that on Tuesday evening, I will board Delta Flight 268 from JFK back to Tel Aviv. My body and being will be reunited in Israel with the heart I left behind as a deposit.
And I know I am blessed: I continue my life work of creating communities where we strengthen the committed core of Jews seeking more Torah, more knowledge, more spirit, more connection and commitment to Jewish living. Now, however, I get to do it where my heart truly is, BaMizrah, in the East, in the State and the Land of Israel, living with the People of Israel and with Torah Yisrael.
Finally, for those of you who are thinking about making Aliyah, I hope and pray that you too will reach the point where the voices of confidence, of support, of action overcome the voices of fear and the perceived and sometimes real barriers to Aliyah. I hope you will choose to start your own Lekh Lekha journey and join us in living in and contributing to The Jewish State, The State of Israel.
Who knows? Maybe next year, you will be giving the Shabbat Lekh Lekha Drasha in Israel!