Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) is widely celebrated outside of Israel. I remember going to school as a child and seeing Israeli flags everywhere, watching Israeli movies during class, and then singing “David Melech Yisrael” in our parade through the streets of Dallas. It was a day where everyone would dress up in blue and white (instead of our school uniform), eat falafel, and participate in Israeli dancing. We were proud Jews and proud of our country. And yet, we were content living 11,244 miles away.
This year we’ll celebrate it from sunset on April 14-nightfall on April 15 (5th of Iyyar). Many Jews in Israel recite Hallel, a prayer section giving praise to Hashem that is reserved for festivals and new months. Blue and white Israeli flags dot the landscape. Families have barbeques and picnics.
In light of just having finished Passover, I’d like to share with you a realization that I’ve recently had. Our sages teach that only 20% of ancient Israelites left Egypt, following Moshe to receiving the Torah and then Yehoshua into the Promised Land. What happened to the other 80%? They elected to stay in Egypt.
There is a special connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Our souls are bound to it. Over 2,000 years ago, we were dispersed to the four corners of the globe. And here we are today, celebrating our return to our ancient homeland. What other people celebrate a country’s independence day while living in a different country?
It wasn’t easy returning home, and it hasn’t been easy since. Yesterday was Yom HaZikaron, our Day of Remembrance. On this day, we memorialize and mourn everyone we have lost in battles of war and terrorism. There is a saying that goes, “Yom HaZikaron is a reminder of the price of having the State of Israel. Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is a reminder of the price without it.” This haunting quote illustrates the place of Jews in today’s world. With antisemitism rising worldwide, soon the comparisons to the days leading up to World War 2 won’t just be comparisons.
How can it be that Israel has existed as a Jewish state for 73 years, and still Jews are choosing to live in the Diaspora? Is it denial? Is it the comfort of living abroad? Fear of the unknown? While others are comparing today to the years leading up to the Shoah, I can’t help but compare it to the days when we were enslaved in Egypt. For 210 years, we were forced to do hard labor in a desert. We were less than second-class citizens (if the ancient Egyptians even considered us citizens at all), and our male infants were cast into the Nile. Hashem brings back Moshe, who was raised in Pharaoh’s house as a “Prince of Egypt” (yes I did that on purpose, the movie is fantastic) to be the leader of the Israelites. They witnessed the miracles of the ten plagues and even had Pharaoh’s permission to leave. How could they not run towards their own redemption?
In my opinion, whatever reasons they had for staying are the same reasons many people today have for not making Aliyah. As heartwarming as it is to see people all over the world waving Israel’s flag today, it is chilling to see Jews continue to delude themselves into thinking they can continue to exist outside of the land Hashem specifically commanded us to inhabit. Such a situation can only end in one of two ways: 1. Rising antisemitism reaches critical mass and leads to another Shoah, with people desperately trying to make Aliyah at the last minute as refugees. As we’ve seen with the current pandemic, we should not take Israel for granted as a safe haven. Her borders can and have closed. 2. The rate of intermarriage will continue to climb, and just like the 80% who elected to stay in Egypt, these Jews will disappear as well.
There is no question that the future of the Jewish people is in Israel. And though Israel is not perfect, it is our only home. I think deep down every Jew knows this. So if your reading this and you live outside of Israel, please talk to me. Tell me about your hesitancy in making Aliyah. Your reasons for continuing to stay in exile. Let’s work together to bring you home.