Unity at 40,000 Feet
BY RABBI YEHOSHUA FASS
Over the past 20 years, I’ve had the incredible privilege of personally witnessing nearly 80,000 North American Jews fulfill their dreams of making Aliyah. I have been inspired by their exceptional stories and their powerful connection to the Land of Israel. From Holocaust survivors to high school graduates planning to volunteer in Sherut Leumi and the IDF – each and every story is a stunning expression of the fulfillment of millennia of prayers, our longing to return to our ancestral homeland and the modern-day ingathering miracle of kibbutz galuyot.
Over the last two decades, some of my most fulfilling and treasured moments have come while accompanying every one of our 63 charter Aliyah flights. Flying with 250 new olim imparts a jolt of energy that is hard to describe, and I find myself unable to sleep or even sit still in my seat. I use the time to walk through the aisles to speak with the new olim during these incredibly intense moments of anticipation while absorbing the extraordinary mosaic of our nation.
On these flights you experience the true breadth of the Jewish community. Jews from every walk of life, old and young, religious and secular, Democrats and Republicans, Ashkenazim and Sephardim, all unified in their common dream of returning to our ancestral home. For those few hours, we gain a glimpse of an ideal, a taste of a unified people.
Reflecting on these incredible moments, I wonder if this type of unity is only possible at an altitude of 40,000 feet. With so much divisiveness in the headlines and on social media platforms, locally and around the world, the unity of the chartered Aliyah flight seems otherworldly.
Megillat Eicha focuses on the collective suffering of the Jewish people after the destruction of Jerusalem. The theme of shared suffering emphasizes the unity of the community, as everyone is affected by the tragedy. In the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem, everyone is in a state of mourning, creating a sense of unity as people gather together to grieve the loss of their precious city and way of life.
This feeling persists even today, with our collective reactions to terrorism, wars, and antisemitic acts. The shared struggle against our oppressors engenders unity and solidarity as we work together to resist our common enemies. However, this unity is fleeting, dissipating when the threat wanes. How tragic that we are only unified in times of danger and oppression!
How is it possible to bind Am Yisrael together through positive means?
The prophet Zechariah, who lived during the time of Shivat Zion, the first ingathering of the exiles from Babylonia, prophesied:
כֹּה־אָמַר ה’ צְבָקוֹת בַּיָּמִים הָהֵמָּה אֲשֶׁר יַחֲזִיקוּ עֲשָׂרָה אֲנָשִׁים מִכֹּל לְשֹׁנוֹת הַגּוֹיִם וְהֶחֱזִיקוּ בִּכְנַף אִישׁ יְהוּדִי לֵאמֹר נֵלְכָה עִמָּכֶם כִּי שָׁמַעְנוּ אֱ-לֹקים עִמָּכֶם
“Thus said Hashem of Hosts: In those days, ten people from nations of every tongue will take hold – they will take hold of every Jew by the corner and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you” (Zechariah 8:23).
Zechariah implies that the ingathering of the exiles will occur by assembling a kanaf, literally a corner or a wing. The Malbim comments that the word kanaf refers to the tzitzit hanging from a tallit corner that would reconnect people to mitzvot and lead them to Yerushalayim. This implies that adherence and observance to mitzvot are the means to a glorious geulah.
But one cannot ignore the powerful literary allusion to an ingathering that will occur on a kanaf, on wings, just as Hashem redeemed us from Egypt עַל־כַּנְפֵי נְשָׁרִים, “on eagle’s wings” (Shemot 19:4).
Perhaps Zechariah’s imagery of wings and “flying home” is not describing the culmination of redemption but rather the catalyst for our redemption. Maybe, just maybe, there is something that we, as a people, need to learn from those flying home that can inspire us to be better and do better.
The harmony our olim experience on their Aliyah flights is the secret to positive and long lasting Jewish unity. United in faith and action, olim remind all of Israel that despite our differences, we are one people united by an awesome redemptive vision – a vision that must always remain at the forefront of our consciousness.
This unity at 40,000 ft. can create a contagious sense of unity among all of Am Yisrael. By emphasizing our shared destiny even after the plane touches down in the sweltering summer heat, olim can become our ambassadors of unity, sharing the achdut of Aliyah with the entire nation.
May the hope, pride and unity of those magical flights motivate us to transform our prayers into reality and bring a better and more unified tomorrow for us all.
Rabbi Yehoshua Fass is the Co-Founder & Executive Director, Nefesh B’Nefesh.