Every Jew Should Live in Israel for at Least a Year
Religious or not, living in Israel for an extended period is pivotal in forging a connection with the land, the people and Jewish history.
Every Jew should live in Israel for at least a year. This is pretty standard among modern orthodox American Jews, but for the non-orthodox, I believe that this experience is pivotal in keeping our connection with Israel, as a land, people, and history.
Israel is not what it was 50 years ago – a country desperately in need of American Jewish support. Today Israel will lead the future of the Jewish people and is filled with vibrant Jewish life. After being here eight months so far with my family, I contend connecting our youth to Israel is the most important step we can take to help them understand who they are.
My husband and I are professors who worked out doing our sabbatical year in Israel. Was it easy? No, it was months of some stress beforehand (as any move is), and I reluctantly predict there is more stress to come. But when I have seen what my kids have received, I have no regrets.
I can’t even begin to explain what it means to watch my children learn swimming from an Israeli, how cool it is to watch them get excited about the next holiday, or to watch them play with another Israeli child. They are connecting to a country, a history, a people, but more importantly, they are understanding that it is their country, their history, and their people.
My kids are understanding that it is their country, their history, and their people.
And they have been welcomed with open arms from children their age who I worried might make fun of them or exclude them. Instead, these kids defend them. We’ve been welcomed into schools that understand we are only here for a year. We have been invited to Shabbat tables of friends and family separated by degrees and with genetic connections so thin, I hesitate to even call them cousins.
People often ask: do you have relatives in Israel? Do you speak Hebrew? Is it weird going to a foreign country? And the big one – what about your kids' education for the year?
Here's my answer:
If you are Jewish, we all have relatives in Israel. This is your family. Whether we speak Hebrew or not, or understand all the cultural nuances or not, this is your country, your People, your history, and every Jew should consider aliyah, or at least consider how to give your kids a connection to this land and this people so they will understand that they belong to something bigger than the minority group in America.
In the U.S., I never went to the Israel parade. Sometimes I ate felafels at some Yom Haatzmaut event at Hebrew School or the JCC. None of those events would have given me the deep connection I have today with having lived in this country for this extended time.
You want a real Jewish education? You want your kids to understand what they are leaving if they assimilate? You want them to feel like they aren't some minority hanging on to a dying religion? Take them to Israel. Not just on a tour. For as long as possible.
Encourage high school in Israel, gap year in Israel, college in Israel, army in Israel. Consider if you can take a summer or a sabbatical to Israel. Help them understand that Hebrew is a living language (trust me, there is no motivation problem in learning Hebrew when it means that you can't understand the fun your friends are having if you don't learn the language!), that Passover really does celebrate Spring, why we pray for rain on Sukkot, and that the stories they learned about the kings, prophets, and rabbis are real.
We are so blessed to have our homeland back, to watch the ingathering of the exiles, to watch a country only 70 years young with a history of thousands of years being rebuilt. I am so glad to have given my family this gift in a deep, meaningful way.
And as far as my kids' education? Yeah, my six year old can't remember which way English goes anymore. And my ten year old barely could do fourth grade academics alongside Israeli kids. But ask my kids about cultural relativism, exchange rates of money, why this land is important to the Jews, every Jewish holiday, how to say something in Hebrew, what countries border Israel and where they are on a map, how to get on a bus, how to find their way to the main street by themselves, about the other religions in Israel, bomb shelter drills, deserts, coral reefs, beaches, stalactites, archaeology and ancient civilizations, negotiating in a market, democracy vs. communism, how to ride a camel, ride a horse, swim, about the new fruits they tried this year, how to accept and be tolerant of cultural differences, how to conquer your fear of going to school in a different language and know that you can still make friends, how to speak up for yourself, and most of all, how they will treat a foreigner who comes to their land in the future.
Yeah, I'm not worried... they got an amazing education.