How Will the American Exile End?

It's a painful thing for me to admit, but over the past few years, I have developed mixed emotions regarding Yom Ha'Atzmaut.

Of course, I am profusely grateful to the Ribono Shel Olam for granting our generation the miracle that is the State of Israel. I have no confusion regarding His Hand guiding us out from Hell of the Death Camps and into our own homeland. My feelings towards Hashem are crystal clear – כי גבר עלינו חסדו – His kindness is overwhelming.

The source of my emotional turmoil is about myself, my family and my community. Every year on Yom Ha'atzmaut, I watch the celebrations in Israel; I see the joy on their faces. I can't help compare it to the strained and farcical performances that we attempt, and I find myself questioning once again: What on earth are we doing in Boca?

Naturally, I have explanations. Some good ones, I think. Truthfully, I don't think that Hashem is upset with me, or even disappointed that I am living here. I think we're all doing some pretty good things. There are plenty of Halachik justifications for being here now.

But in every one of the these explanations there is a little guilt in knowing that perhaps it doesn't quite have to be this way. Perhaps there are good things to do in Eretz Yisrael too? Perhaps we don't have to live only on the side lines of Jewish history?

We tell ourselves that we don't know if we will be able to make it work in Israel. It's not a secret that Aliyah is not exactly a walk in the park. Even for those who have financial means and children at an age that their education will not be disrupted, there are countless unforeseen challenges. Chazal (ברכות ה' ע”א) have already warned us about this: The Land of Israel נקנית ביסורין – it's acquired through challenges.

But then again, there are challenges everywhere, Florida included. We are not so foolish to imagine that any one place can guarantee a life absent of hardship. It's simply not true.

The more I have thought about it, and spoken to friends, family and colleagues, the greatest challenge of Eretz Yisrael lies in the uncertainty.

To summarize countless conversations: Maybe my Aliyah will succeed, maybe it will fail. If it succeeds, we will merit to live at the forefront of Jewish history, and witness destiny unfolding before our eyes. But if it fails, there's a very real risk of ruining our own lives and the lives of our families.

Let's not pretend that there are no horror stories of children of Olim that have abandoned Torah and mitzvos, and wholeheartedly resent their parents for bringing them to Israel. This is real.

For families of modest means, with children in school and doubt about the prospects of their success in Israel, staying in Chutz La'Aretz is the far smarter option. For most of us, it's a decision made with honest and intelligent analysis. It's a choice driven by the head, but tragically, not the heart.

As our hearts burn with Ahavas Eretz Yisrael, this head-decision is a painful and shameful one, one we wish was not so. The truth is, of course, that the accuracy of this decision is likely only correct in the immediate-short term.

Right now in the US we have a modicum of short term control of our future, and the futures of our children. From the top, we have strong communities, governmental representation, and wide networks of leadership. On a smaller and more granular level, we can point to the success and growth of schools, shuls, mikvaos, yeshivos, camps and kosher sushi. With enough resources we can ensure that Jewish live in Florida is good. We hope and pray that it is so good that our kids would not want to consider abandoning Yiddishkeit for something else. This doesn't always work out, as we all know, but historically, the odds have been in our favor.

But even if we could guarantee that our children and their children would live wonderful, passionate, learned lives steeped in Torah and mitzvos here in Florida, how far is the reach of our certainty? Will our children be able to pass on our Yiddishkeit to their children in a world that is changing so rapidly?

The US Jewish Community is facing unprecedented and tragic assimilation, intermarriage, and a ceaseless upending of moral paradigms. College campuses across this country are breeding grounds for anti-semitism and atheism, all in the name of western morality. Is there anyone that holds the keys to ensuring the continued success of US Jewish communities? Has anyone devised the cultural life-raft to carry our grandchildren over the waves of societal pressure that are constantly pressuring us to become a little less “Jew-y”.

I do not think I am mistaken in saying that in long term, the future of our nation is in Eretz Yisrael. The problem is that we simply have no idea what the time lines are for American Jews.

This year, 10000 Ukrainian Jews have already made Aliyah. Some estimate that up to ten times that amount might still be arriving. The vast majority of these new Olim did not plan on making Aliyah this year. They fled war torn Ukraine to the only place that could offer them safety. For these Jews, the variables in the calculus of if and when to move to Israel changed over night.

This is not Ukraine and our concerns here are not nearly as dire right now. There is still a wealth of growth, vibrancy, and Avodas Hashem to achieve in this Goldena Medina. But all of this means that we are living in a unique and almost unprecedented window of clarity. Our future is in Israel. Our present is in the US. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to navigate this journey on our own terms.

We might well be the first generation in the history of our nation to be able to plan for the sunsetting of our presence on foreign soil with dignity. With careful consideration, as individuals and communities, we may be able to proudly close the book on Galus America.

At the end of every Seuda we ask Hashem:

הָרַחֲמָן הוּא יִשְׁבּוֹר עֻלֵּנוּ מֵעַל צַּוָּארֵנוּ, וְהוּא יוֹלִיכֵנוּ קוֹמְמִיוּת לְאַרְצֵנוּ May the All-merciful break the yoke from off our neck, and lead us upright to our land.

The Sfas Emes explains: The word קוֹמְמִיוּת – “Uprightness” literally means double-story. That is to say, we are asking Hashem for a fullness of external and physical success, as well internal fortitude and spiritual depth.

I dare say, but the tefillos of thousands of our ancestors might finally have been answered for our community in this generation. More than anyone that came before us, we have the possibility of walking upright to our land. We have the chance to run towards Eretz Yisrael, without running away from hatred and war.

All that is left is for us to do it.

This Yom Ha'atzmaut I'm grateful to Hashem for giving us this opportunity. More than anything else, I am asking Him for the wisdom and clarity to come home with our heads held high.