The Aliyah Question

It’s especially relevant at this time of year. Certainly among Anglos in Israel (and possible French-, Spanish-, Russian-, or any-foreign-tongue-speakers, but I wouldn’t know) the most popular conversation kickstarter is who is keeping one day vs. two days.

In every country but Israel, the Jewish holidays of Sukkos and Shemini Atzeres are celebrated for two days each. Situated at opposite ends of a week of “intermediate,” quasi-holiday days, this makes for quite a lot of Yom Tov. Especially when the calendar falls out, like it does this year, with each of these two days ending on Friday evening, which of course is Shabbos, extending the prohibitions against labor until Saturday evening (creating the so-called three-day Yom Tov).

Israelis, however, celebrate these holidays for just one day each, the way they were celebrated way back when we had a Temple and the majority of Jews lived in Ancient Israel. The difference between the Israel and non-Israel celebrations has to do with the way the calendar used to be set every year and ensuing concerns that those outside of Israel wouldn’t know which day the holiday really was. They began keeping two days so that either/or would count. Even though we have a set calendar, those outside Israel still keep two days for each of the major holidays. (This, of course, is an overview of the topic.)

However, what happens when a non-Israeli visits Israel for the holidays makes for an interesting question. There are many different opinions as to whether they should keep one day or two, involving a number of factors. Some common factors that would allow a non-Israeli to keep one day holidays in Israel are whether he always spends these holidays in Israel, or whether he owns property in Israel. I’ve always understood that each person should ask his rabbi concerning whether his personal circumstances allow him to keep one day. I’ve encountered families who had lived in Israel for four years who keep two days because they intend to return to their lands of origin, and I’ve encountered families who live abroad but keep one day because their parents own property in Israel, and everything in between.

In our particular Kollel program, most families are keeping one day (many of the families have made aliyah and consider themselves to be living permanently in Israel). This year, for the first time ever, so am I.

And I’m conflicted. We have not fully decided to live in Israel and have -tentative- plans to return to the States at the end of this year. But because we are considering staying, because we will be in Israel for all the major holidays this year, and because we are no longer dependent on our parents’ American salaries…we get to keep one day. And that I’m okay with, except that  heading out to the grocery store while other families are eating their festive meals in the communal sukkah makes a stronger statement than I’m comfortable making at this point in time.

It says, I’m staying.

While in truth I’m saying, not so fast.

I think Israel’s continued safety and good health is vitally important to the future of the Jewish people. I could even concede the point that the future of the Jewish people is in Israel and not any other country. Too, there is a commandment for us to settle the land of Israel. And of course, the Hebrew and the holiday messages on buses, and the strangers who help you in the street, and the way Christmas and New Year’s are completely downplayed while Sukkos and Chanukah and Purim are prevalent and palpable forces is beautiful and nothing to be taken for granted.

And yet.

Something pulls me back to America. Something inside me balks at the bureaucracy, the lines, the discomfort and inconvenience of…well, everything. The poor manufacturing quality and customer service (our Internet problem is still not solved, even after Technician Visit #5). Not to even begin entertaining the much more difficult questions of the taxes, the job system, the education system, and the language I can’t easily speak, which makes every chore that much harder to accomplish, the disdain of those natives who -still- despise English speakers that much harsher, and yet the reward of accomplishment that much sweeter.

In part I began this blog to record my experiences in Israel, good and bad, so that perhaps when it comes time for us to make the decision I will be able to use the breadth of my time here to parse out a clear answer for myself. Of course I worry that there won’t be one.

Keeping one day encompasses my ambivalence about the aliyah question. It’s been both a positive and negative experience. On one hand, after preparing for and keeping a three-day Rosh Hashana, doing the same for one day of Sukkos was giddyingly easy. On the other hand, however, I am terribly attached to the way I grew up in America. I like welcoming Yom Tov knowing that it is a two-day break from ordinary life. This makes it more than a regular Shabbos, because it’s twice as long. I like traveling a distance to visit with family for the holidays, knowing that the long trips are worth it because we will be together for two days instead of one, like a regular Shabbos. I like that if I was tired or sick or not paying attention on the first day of the holiday, I get a second chance. Here, it’s like you blink and it’s gone.

You have to focus differently here, to value time differently here, and it’s hard to let go of the values you acquired growing up, even if they are consequential and not essential to your ultimate values.