Back in June, we made a presentation to our congregation in DC, Ohev Shalom, about our motivations for moving to Jerusalem, and we’d like to share it with you on the blog.
Our Trip to Israel
By Rebecca Zimmerman and Eric Friedman
In this week’s Parashat Chukat, Bnai Yisrael arrive in the wilderness of Zin on the verge of entering Eretz Yisrael. Again the Yisraelites are without water, and they tell Moses they would have been better off in Egypt. Perhaps some of their bickering stems from anxiety about their new home. Perhaps they think Egypt would have been better because it was a known entity (even though they were enslaved, they at least got fed), whereas Israel is a complete unknown situation. The neighbors certainly don’t seem very friendly!
We can definitely relate to the anxiety of leaving a comfortable—or at least familiar—
setting and moving to another place in the midst of many unknowns. In a little bit over a week we’ll be flying out of JFK to spend a year in Israel studying at the Pardes Institute. While we are both incredibly excited to take this spiritual journey, we’ve had to come a long way to prepare ourselves for this decision.
Making our decision
You could probably trace our move to Israel to the first day we met: in 2003 on the second day of Sukkot at the DC Minyan, which holds services at the Washington DCJCC (where I would be an employee). Meeting in a religious setting certainly set our life together on the path of religious observance and study.
The actual decision to go to Israel was initially set in motion after we returned from our honeymoon in Israel. I hadn’t been to Israel since I was 13 and originally preferred spending my honeymoon in Greece. I hadn’t expected this trip to inspire in me such an intense love for a country that I was really just starting to become familiar with. As soon as we returned to the states, we found ourselves incredibly dispirited (not to mention jetlagged!). I truly felt like I had left a part of me behind.
We started inquiring about programs in Israel, and found out about the Pardes Institute, which offers a year-long program in studying religious texts. It took us a couple of years to solidify our plans, but the time has finally come. If you want proof just look at our empty apartment!
Why are we going
That’s a question that we’ve been asked quite a lot. How can we leave a comfortable lifestyle, how can Eric leave a lucrative career, what Rebecca’s career? What will happen when we finish our year? Here’s our reply:
Living in the land of Israel—even for a year—is an incredible gift. I’m sure our ancestors would have dreamed of going back to their homeland. Now that there’s a Jewish state, what are we waiting for? And as we’ve discovered from our last 2 trips, it is an incredibly fascinating and energizing place to be. I’m especially excited about observing Shabbat and all the religious holidays in Jerusalem.
The spiritual journey. Both Eric and I are people who value personal and spiritual growth. Taking a year off to engage in intensive study and reflection, therefore, appealed to us. We both studied Talmud way back when, and we’d like to have the ability to do it again. Pardes appealed to us because it opens its doors to Jews from all levels and provides the tools for studying on your own.
To be mensches. Torah study in itself is wonderful, but we both believe Torah has to be lived in the everyday world. One of the menschlike actions we strive to fulfill is to continuously show our families how Judaism values being good to others and how religious observance can be a source of connection rather than dissention. In my conversations with family members I sometimes see myself as an Ambassador on behalf of Judaism! Indeed part of our preparation for Israel has been dedicated toward educating our families not only about how much this journey means to us, but also about how much we care about them and will always be there for them.
Learning Hebrew. Learning Hebrew is another way for us to connect to Judaism. Certainly it would be nice to better understand Jewish texts. But it’s more than that. It’s OUR language and it embodies the Jewish will to survive and thrive.
If not now When? A major factor in going to Israel now was that we wanted to do it before we started a family. We worried that if we had waited, we might have been sidetracked by—well—life! We could always come up with excuses not to go. Seize the day!
As today’s Parasha illuminates, facing the unknown is made easier by having faith in Hashem. Perhaps when Moshe hit the rock instead of speaking to it he didn’t have enough emuna. And perhaps one reason he was punished was because he was modeling bad behavior to his restless people—i.e. by not having faith in Hashem. This is certainly a useful lesson for us as we head off to Israel where we face many unknowns of our own.