Over the years I have been asked many times, by many people, ‘Why Israel?’, meaning why did I choose to live in Israel, and more importantly, why do I stay?
Hey, in the 21 years plus that I’ve been here, I’ve asked myself ‘Why Israel’ a couple of times as well.
‘Israel is a dangerous place’, many well-meaning friends have told me. I kind of chuckle to myself. Some of these people live in cities in America where they are afraid to walk out at night!
Israel is an expensive place to live, some of these visiting friends say. Of course it is-for them. They are tourists. They stay in five star hotels. They eat restaurant food, and hire professional tour guides to drive them around.
When I travel inside Israel I prefer mom and pop bed and breakfasts to fancy hotels. I buy most of my fruit and veggies at open farmer’s markets. I have done the arithmetic many times. I could not live as well in America on my income.
But I’ll tell you a little secret. These are not the real reasons I live in Israel. The real reasons go much deeper than money or danger. The real reasons are emotional and existential.
Let me give you an example which may help you to understand how I feel.
I was born and raised in the USA. I am a proud American. I started three small businesses, married, raised a family, and was generally satisfied with my life. But there were things in America that bothered me, offended my senses, clashed with my soul. One of them was the American way of death!
When my father died, I went to the funeral home to make the necessary arrangements. I was escorted into a plush room containing a number of different coffins. The first one I was shown was silk lined with a hand-made pillow and a double lined waterproof interior! Hell, the apartment my father lived in wasn’t this fancy! Including the hearse, one limo, makeup and preparation of the body it came to $16,000 !! I tried explaining to the nice man that my father was a plain man, a hard-working simple man and what I wanted was a funeral to match who he was. With a look of utter disdain, the funeral director led me into a dingy basement room where there were a couple of plain wooden caskets. I selected one made of lovely African wood which contained no bells and whistles.
I decided then and there when the time came I would not be buried. I would be cremated and my ashes would be spread in a beautiful wooded area or dropped from a plane over a mountain lake. And I so instructed my family.
I arrived in Israel in 1984. I attended my first funeral about a year later. I was astounded! The group of friends and relatives gathered at the entrance of the cemetery where the body lay, wrapped only in a white shroud, on a wheeled gurney. We all accompanied the body to an open grave. Inside the grave was a space for the body surrounded by plain concrete blocks. Amidst the prayers of a Rabbi, the body was lowered into the space between the blocks, and everyone picked up handfuls of dirt which were thrown onto the body. In a short while the grave was filled in and mounded, and those who were so inclined laid flowers atop the mound. It was simple. It was dignified. And it was clear that the process of ashes to ashes would rapidly begin. All in all, it was very Jewish, and I decided then and there this was for me. I would be cradled in the warm and holy soil of the world’s only State of the Jews.
I have only one major regret in my life. It is that I did not make Aliyah with my family and young children a long, long time ago. We considered it, but my wife’s mother made such a stink, we gave up the idea. Had we done so, the chances are my kids would not have married out, and I would have Jewish grandchildren instead of Christian ones!
Israel is my spiritual and emotional home. It is where I believe most Jews belong. I am a Zionist, and am so proud to belong to a people that, in spite of every horror the world could throw at us, in spite of Christian Crusades, Inquisitions, pogroms, the Holocaust, and never-ending Islamic terrorism, we are still here, strong and determined to live and to build in our eternal home…the Land of Israel.
proud descendant of the Tribe of Levi.