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Jan 19, 2011

Mishpacha Magazine: New Heights, New Views

Mishpacha's feature article in this week's edition, which focuses mainly on various aliyah issues, is an article entitled "New heights, New Views". The article is very interesting as it gives a perspective of moving to Eretz Yisrael from the perspective of 3 community leaders.

Why would an American success story leave it all behind and start the painful process of putting down roots in a new country? Ever since Avraham Avinu passed the challenge of Lech Lecha, his descendants have had the yearning for the kedushah of Eretz Yisrael implanted in their genetic composition, and have been drawn there as if by gravitational pull. In a candid discussion, Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, the Bostoner Rebbe, and Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, all of whom were at the height of their “careers” as leaders of communities in America when they made the move, discuss the pull that they felt towards Eretz Yisrael, and share some insight into the prospects of making aliyah today
No Coca Cola?
An announcement from friends or relatives that they have decided to make aliyah will always elicit surprise, but when such an announcement comes from a rav or community leader, it is all that much more shocking. How and by whom will the void left in their wake be filled? Will the community continue to thrive with a new leader?


But devastating as the news may seem to those left behind, aliyah seems to be gaining popularity among leaders, with several North American rabbanim making the move each year.


Gathered at Mishpacha’s headquarters in Jerusalem are three people — giants, really, each in his own way — whose departure from America left great voids: Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, who built and led the Atlanta kehillah for several decades before making aliyah; Rabbi Mayer Horowitz, the Bostoner Rebbe of Yerushalayim, who founded and ran several Torah institutions in Boston before moving; and Rabbi Shmuel Bloom, who recently retired as executive vice president of Agudath Yisrael of America.


Geographic distance between their respective cities in the US notwithstanding, the three turn out to be old friends, and as we settle into our discussion, they commiserate about some of the banes of living here these days: the difficulty in finding parking and the continuous rise in the price of the shekel verses the dollar. The overwhelming mutual respect is obvious, and they all feel that the others should be the first to speak.


The first and most obvious question is: What would make a leader of American Jewry pack up and leave? Were you harboring thoughts of making the move all along and were just waiting for the opportunity, or was it a snap decision at some point?
Rabbi Feldman and the Bostoner Rebbe both yield to Rabbi Bloom, who, the Bostoner Rebbe notes, is “the youngest here” — i.e., the one who most recently made the move and had his “rebirth” in Eretz Yisrael.


Rabbi Bloom
“Back when I was living in America, whenever I used to visit Eretz Yisrael, taxi drivers would ask me, ‘Why don’t you live in Eretz Yisrael?’
‘Where does the Israeli ambassador to America live?’ I would reply. ‘In Washington DC, because that’s where his diplomatic mission is.’
“When you are an ambassador for the Ribono shel Olam, you may have an assignment in a different part of the world. But when the assignment is done or you find a new assignment, then it’s time to go back home.
“For me, the decision was simply to follow what I had been telling the taxi drivers all along.”


Bostoner Rebbe:
“Why did I come here? I want to answer from both my father’s standpoint and my own. My father came here for his bar mitzvah — perhaps one of the first boys to be brought to Eretz Yisrael for his bar mitzvah. My grandfather quoted a Zohar that states that if you become bar mitzvah in Eretz Yisrael, you are given a special neshamah, so he insisted on bringing my father here. For my father, being in Eretz Yisrael was a homecoming of sorts; he always wanted to be here.


“As for me, I benefited from the system that thousands of young Americans are gaining from until today — I came to learn in Eretz Yisrael as a bochur. When I came, of course, it wasn’t de rigueur. It wasn’t an accepted fact that everyone came to learn here. My older brother had been the trailblazer, and I followed in his footsteps. There were three or four Americans in Ponevezh at the time, and almost no Americans in Mir, which had less than 100 talmidim then.


“The experience was life altering. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was the right move for me. I had taken the SATs before I left America, and had scored high enough to make university studies a viable option. But I remember a turning point when I felt that I wanted to be here: I was about to walk up the hill to Ponevezh, and three young children were standing at the bottom of the hill. One of them turned to the others and said with pride as he pointed to me, ‘Hu lomeid b’Ponovezh’ (He learns in Ponovezh).


“When I saw that the recognition of the value of Torah, the importance of Torah, is so much greater here in Eretz Yisrael than it is elsewhere, I knew that I wanted to be here. I’m not putting down America, chas v’shalom. There are great yeshivos there, and a lot of Torah learning there. But there is a counterbalance: the focus on the money that one can earn, which is much less of a consideration here. As soon as you have something on the other side of the scale, the weightiness of Torah is not as significant.”


Rabbi Feldman
“Sometimes, when I’m standing in front of a Misrad Hapnim [Interior Ministry] clerk or some other government bureaucrat, I ask myself that very question: ‘Why am I here?’
“But when I see the side that the Rebbe just mentioned — the ruchniyus that’s available here that’s not available elsewhere — I know why I came. In truth, I wanted to come all through my life. About twenty years before I came, I asked my father, who was a rav in Baltimore, whether I could move. He told me that I have a tafkid, a purpose to fulfill in America, and I may not move. I also addressed the question to other gedolei Yisrael, and they told me the same thing.
“I still had a tafkid when I moved, but I left my son behind to fill that job.”


“My cousin, Rabbi Yosef Nayowitz,” adds Rabbi Bloom, “founded many Jewish initiatives in Memphis, and he made many baalei teshuvah. He wanted to move to Eretz Yisrael, but before doing so, he came here and visited gedolei Yisrael. They told him that he can’t move unless he finds someone to replace him. Their advice to him was always in the back of my mind. As long as I felt that there was no one to replace me in the Agudah, I felt that I had no choice but to stay. But when people came up in the ranks who could take over, I felt that it was time to make the move.”
(you can see more of the article on mishpacha.com (it is too long to post the whole thing here), buy the magazine, or wait until it appears here in full in a few days)

6 comments:

  1. It sounds like a very promising debut in published writing.(I"ll probably by the magazine).

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  2. I like this idea. The article looks promising, maybe, dare I hope, even honest?

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  3. Kudos to Bostoner Rebbe, just read the full article in print.

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  4. http://lettersfromyerushalayim.blogspot.com/2011/01/what-am-i-doing-here.html

    I wrote this In early January, and each time I have to interact with a bureaucrat/pakid I am calm in my experience even if they yell and sound like a broken record ... Because I too know why I am here. The future of Am Yisrael is in Eretz Yisrael!

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  5. Thanks for posting. This sounds like a must read. I think I'll buy the magazine.

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  6. I never realised that the Bostoner Rebbe of Yerushalayim, Rebi Mayer was so well respected by the Pnei Menachem zt"l and yibodel l'chaim tovim Rav Eliyashiv Shlita, that they were mevatel their da'as to his.

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