BY RABBI RAEL BLUMENTHAL
As we begin another new year in exile, I find myself asking once again: What on earth are we doing in Boca Raton?
Naturally, I have explanations. I don’t think that Hashem is upset with me, or even disappointed that I am living here. We are doing holy work and there are plenty of halachic justifications for being here now.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Isn’t there holy work to be done in Eretz Yisrael too? Perhaps we don’t have to live only on the sidelines of Jewish history?
We say that we don’t know if we’ll succeed in Israel. It’s no secret that Aliyah isn’t a walk in the park. Even for those with financial means and young children who can more easily integrate, there are countless unforeseen challenges. As Chazal warned: “The Land of Israel is acquired through suffering” (Berachot 5a). But then again, there are challenges everywhere, Florida included. Living here doesn’t guarantee a life absent of hardship.
The greatest challenge of Aliyah is its uncertainty. Maybe our Aliyah will succeed, maybe it won’t. If it succeeds, we will merit to live at the forefront of Jewish history and witness destiny unfolding before our eyes. But if it fails, there is a real risk of ruining our own lives and the lives of our families. Let’s not pretend that there are no horror stories of children of olim that have abandoned Torah and mitzvot or resent their parents for bringing them to Israel. It can happen.
For families of modest means, with older children and doubt about the prospects of their success in Israel, staying in chutz la’aretz is considered the ‘smarter’ option. Though our hearts draw us to the Land, our minds speak louder. But is remaining in America really the smarter option?
American Orthodoxy possesses strong communities, governmental representation, and wide networks of leadership. On a more granular level, we can point to the success and growth of schools, shuls, mikvaot, yeshivot, camps and kosher sushi. Jewish life is very pleasant in Florida, and we hope and pray our children will agree and follow our path of commitment to Torah. But even if we could guarantee that our children will live as dedicated Jews here in Florida, how far is the reach of our certainty? Will our children be able to pass on our Yiddishkeit to their children in a rapidly changing world?
The broader Jewish community in America is facing unprecedented assimilation, intermarriage, and a ceaseless upending of moral paradigms, while college campuses across this country are breeding grounds for antisemitism and atheism. In the face of constant temptation and pressure, can anyone truly ensure the continued success of our Orthodox communities?
Long term, the future of our nation lies squarely in Israel. The problem is that we simply have no idea what the timelines are for American Jews.
This year, over 10,000 Ukrainian Jews made Aliyah, and many more are on their way. These olim were not planning to make Aliyah, but fled war-torn Ukraine to the only place that could offer them safety. For these Jews, the Aliyah calculus changed overnight. America is not Ukraine and our situation is not dire. There is still a wealth of avodat Hashem to achieve in this goldena medina.
But though our present may be in America, our future is in Israel. We are fortunate to navigate this journey on our own terms. We might be the first Jewish community in history to be able to plan for the sunsetting of our presence on foreign soil with dignity. With careful consideration and planning as individuals and communities, we may be able to proudly close the book on the American exile.
At the end of every meal we ask Hashem: May the All-merciful break the yoke from off our neck, and lead us upright, קוֹמְמִיוּת, to our Land. The Sfat Emet explains: The word קוֹמְמִיוּת, “upright”, literally means “double-story”. We are asking Hashem for a double blessing of external and physical success as well internal fortitude and spiritual depth.
We have the opportunity to fulfill the prayers of our ancestors. More than those who came before us, we can walk upright to our Land. We can run towards Eretz Yisrael, without looking over our shoulders in fear.
All that is left is for us to do it.
Rabbi Rael Blumenthal is originally from Johannesburg and currently serves as the Rabbi of Boca Raton West and a Rebbe at Katz Yeshiva High School.