I’m always wondering why your family never moved to Israel?
Susan and I did something unusual last week. While we always work on the Ask the Rabbi column together, our answers to this question diverge somewhat because of the different way each of us was raised. Susan answered this question in her Susan’s Musing and I am going to initially answer here, although Susan will join in at some point – you will see us switch from singular to plural.
As Susan said in her response, the commandment to live in Israel is one among many. While she was raised in a religious Zionist atmosphere that does encourage Jews from around the world to move to Israel, I was not. In the worldview of my family and my teachers, the political State of Israel, founded largely by atheistic socialists in the early years of the 20th century, certainly did make it easier to live in Israel. However, from a religious point of view, the obligation for a Jew to live in the holy land had been no less stringent earlier while the land was under Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman or British rule. In other words, the mass return of Jews to the land after the State’s founding in 1948 was not really the equivalent to the return under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah around 400 BC.
Not only was the State of Israel merely a political entity, in its early years there was a great deal of hostility towards religion. My great-uncle and teacher, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, relocated to the land of Israel late in his life and opened a Yeshiva (Bible school). My parents sent me as a 12 year-old to live and study with him for a few years. I clearly remember the taunts and provocations that came my way from anti-religious Israelis. On our part, we loved the land as Jews have for millennia, but the founding of the sovereign State of Israel in 1948 didn’t really change much. That was how I was raised. Needless to say, both the State of Israel and my views have changed over the years.
Fast-forward to the present. While there is some tension between the official religious presence in the country (there is no church-state separation in Israel) and some non-religious Israelis, the old-time hostility towards God and Judaism has pretty much vanished. It is not easy for those of us outside Israel to understand, but even Israelis who maintain little formal religious affiliation are often deeply connected to God. It is hard to ignore the fact that life in Israel is a daily miracle. This is true everywhere, of course, but it is blatantly obvious there.
Thousands of books and articles have, been written about the different political and social distinctions found among Israeli Jews. Many of these are almost unintelligible to those unfamiliar with the historical, religious and social history. One thing is certain and that is that Israel’s founding fathers would be more shocked by the religiosity of the country today than they would be by the military, technological, and economic advances that have occurred over the past 70 years.
Nonetheless, we are American. (There is that singular/plural switch we mentioned) Not only is our work best accomplished here, but even if we were to move to Israel, we would be Americans living in Israel. Our heartstrings do soar when we are there, but they also beat with pride at America’s national anthem. We are quite confident that God was present at America’s founding and we have reason to believe that He has not abandoned us. In many ways, the question you asked presumes that we should be living in Israel. Many of our friends, particularly those who have made aliyah and moved to Israel would agree with you. Many others, basing their outlook on religious and cultural views, do not. We believe that America is part of God’s plan for the security of both Israel and the world. What we do know is that when both the State of Israel and the United States of America respond to God’s wishes, there is no conflict in loving both. Conflict only arises when one or the other betrays its mission. We, like you, pray for that not to happen.
Shalom u’bracha (Peace and blessing),
Rabbi Daniel (and a little of Susan) Lapin
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9 thoughts on “Why don’t you live in Israel?”
To Rabbi Daniel Lapin and Susan Lapin :This is a deeply moving, beautiful and personal co statement. I think it is extraordinarily illuminating. Many points I had never heard or even imagined as a Christian who feels very emotionally connected with Judaism having read Elie WIesel’s books in college and in the 1980s the book by Natan Sharansky: FEAR NO EVIL a true touchstone in my life . When I attended a rally in 1987 I think) for Soviet Jewery (when I lived in the D.C. area) I was able to see with everyone else there and to hear, Elie Wiesel and Natan Sharansky speak. That is forever in my heart. I feel your teaching, inspiration and most of all, dedication of heart is of the same caliber. I hope this doesn’t sound too aery faery but I actually had a dream last night that I should pay much more attention to your programs. It shouldnt have taken a vision to tell me that but I do take certain dreams seriously as I have been guided personally at critical moments to good results by some of them. Blessings unending I wish for you and your family. In this life and the next.and great fruitfulness from all your educational and so delightful programs and books.
Thanks Mary Angela–
Looking forward to hearing more from you
“… the old-time hostility towards God and Judaism has pretty much vanished. It is not easy for those of us outside Israel to understand, but even Israelis who maintain little formal religious affiliation are often deeply connected to God.”
My understanding is that there are many who are very active in advancing “modern judaism” in Israel….a large lgbt community for example with rainbow flags numbering as many as Star of David flags… they feel deeply connected to God in this movement to bring modern judaism” to israel…. however you know and I know theyve got the wrong God, but do you still include this movement with “those who maintain little religious affiliation but are often deeply connected to God” ??
Dear Rabbi and Susan,
As you know, Joyce and I have been regular followers of your ministry for some time now. As Christians we believe in both covenants. And even in the New Testament Jesus said he came to bring salvation to the Jew first. We read in revelation that when he returns to rule the world he will make Jerusalem his capital. Even though the social, racial and atheistic unrest and pure hatred of anything biblical throughout our land is appalling. I have to believe that in his own good time
He will ultimately separate the sheep from the goats. No matter their religion or denomination or even nationality.
God bless you both and God bless Isreal and God bless the USA.
There is a divine mission for Israel and the descendants of Jacob. I am absolutely convinced that the USA was established and framed to further the purposes of the Almighty, not the least of which is to protect Israel.
As I accumulate more and more knowledge and experience, the more clear it is to me of the hand of the Almighty in the world. I believe He lets us decide for ourselves what we will do, but He does stack the deck a bit nudging us in the right direction, not leaving things all to chance or leaving us only to our limited wisdom.
That’s right David,
And the course of events is more directed for the larger than for the micro. We get to choose whether we want to be part of the mission. As Morderchai told Esther in Book of Esther, “Look, God is going to save the Jews, that is not in question, however, your choice is whether you’re in or out”.
Dear Rabbi and Susan Lapin…
Your (pl.) assessment comes as no surprise, for many of us have long known that Israel was populated by a great many Soviet Jews, some of whom descended from Bolsheviks. Indeed, Russian Jews were strongly represented among Communists, both Bolshevik and Menshevik, from the outset. It is clear that the Israeli kibbutzim were yet another socialist experiment perhaps deriving from the kolkhoz of the Soviet era. What comes as a great surprise to many is that even those Israelis lacking formal religious affiliation are now experiencing connection to God. But their return to God is predicted in detailed Bible prophecy of several prominent evangelists. For me, given a land so long steeped in Biblical tradition, it is hard to imagine a citizen of Israel NOT being moved to sense the presence of the Divine. In addition, I find it fascinating that recent archaeology seems to be turning up remains of the Second Temple not beneath the Muslim Dome of the Rock as expected, but ironically at some distance from it.
How heartening that you cite the Divine inspiration of America, as I learned on Mother’s knee! It is sad that the programmed perversion of education has concealed the Divine origins of America from our youth, denying American exceptionalism and also catalyzing the neglect of religious tradition and the Golden Rule, to the detriment of routine politeness and basic respect for others. May your revelations succeed in this land and in many others!
Thank you James:-
I do think it hard to know anything about the history of N. America 1600-1800 and not be absolutely sure that resulted from certain supernatural events. This, in my view, is partially why GIC’s avoid teaching children anything at all about real American history. They focus only on slavery and native American Indians. Not surprisingly, their students know nothing about a Divine role in our country’s founding and history.
I feel as if I have two homes. America and Israel are my homes; and regardless of what country one is born and raised in, I think all Jews have a home in Israel whether they choose to relocate and move to Israel, or visit Israel several times, or when ever possible. Because I have two homes, I support several causes that helps people in my community and in Israel, including the IDF. I do admit that whenever I come back from Israel, I’m homesick for a long month.
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