Israel_general_2007_00021__WinCE_.JPGOver the last few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about Israel–probably because I’ve been there twice in a period of seven consecutive months, which has never in my life happened before. It’s also possible that my involvement over at PresenTense has me delving into the Zionist condition (if, indeed, there is only one condition that can be so defined by the “Z” word) in new and exciting (read: confusing) ways, granting me the opportunity to write about my Diaspora guilt and speak at events where we come up with more questions than answers.

For instance, Monday night I was moderating a PresenTense event at NYU’s Bronfman Center for Jewish Life, and found myself surrounded by a small, but dedicated group of pro-Israel Jews in their 20s, debating the nature of Zionism in the Diaspora today. Some of us spoke of our Israel experiences, those moments when we understood something about our lives or perspectives had changed. Some told of birthright trips, or of journalistic hasbarah as activism, a sort of national service that could make a difference in how Israel is perceived by people in other countries.

And I also felt myself being dragged into the concept of what creates perception, especially as regarding an entity as spiritually loaded as Israel generally, and Jerusalem specifically.

Is Jerusalem beautiful because it intrinsically, essentially, aesthetically, objectively is? Or do I find Jerusalem beautiful because when I look at it, I’ve been conditioned to see a place of history, religious meaning and conflict, a spiritual and legendarily precious territory protected by co-religionists and members of my extended family, and battled over by three religions? If three religions want it, it must be really good.

But Israel is more than just Jerusalem. And in fact, Jerusalem doesn’t resonate for many of Israel’s citizens, especially the non-religious, who may still refer to immigrants as olim, even though they might deny that the pilgrimage has any relationship to an ascendant holiness.

And what of all the people I know who “made aliyah,” often trumpeting phrases like “back to the land of our holy people” and “where messiah will come from” and “going back to the Promised Land,” only to return after a few years. Is there such a thing as a situational or temporary aliyah? Is it akin to the whole discussion of “friends with benefits,” meaning great if both parties agree, but seldom is there such consonance between the parties? And what about for secular Zionists, for whom Jerusalem and religious freedom holds little, or perhaps even negative, appeal…does the term “aliyah” still resonate? If the “elevation” isn’t spiritual in nature, what is it?

Re-reading the above, it’s possible that I overthink things too much. Maybe. But I don’t know how else to uncover the answers. So I just keep thinking and writing, and hoping that the discussion is one that other people care about too.

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Esther Kustanowitz

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  • In general, I find that you overanalyze things way too much.

    Story telling is much more beautiful, bring us plot devs.

    But you bring up an issue that occurred to me as well.

    I was always intrigued by fellow Americans who made Aliyah even after I did, and yet seemed to have so easily shed their Diasporic skin, whilst I was sitting up late at nights listening on my short wave radio, to the US Armed forces radio station. Or I would find which Hotel got the Herald Tribune first usually fairly late in the evening and would camp there. Or I would try to sneak into the American Embassy commissary, ah this was a actual USA supermarket complete with cans of Dr. Pepper. Once or twice I was successful, but tried many times. or I would sit for days on end in the American Cultural center.

    Yet there were Americans who seemed to have become one with the land almost overnight, dressing as natives, speaking with an Israeli accent, forgetting their English, rarely visiting their place of birth.

    After a while I thought of them as hippies, real hippies. While I was too capitalistic to be one.

    Now it is a bit different of course but there does seem to be a realtionship as you have pointed out between ones attachment to the place of birth and how one becomes this one with the land.

  • It is a beautiful question, and I’m happy you are asking it.

    Aliya, in my opinion, isn’t an action–it is a state of being. That is, one recognizes that self-realization hinges upon collective realization–that you can only truly explore the meaning of the traditions and received wisdom once you are in a context in which doing so is not the “other.”

    So yes, even Israelis can make Aliya.

  • Moshiach isn’t here yet, so we are stuck in this kind of time, and this glancing, tangential relationship with the material world. That’s what the physical mitzvot are for, such as lighting candles. They help with that graspless relation to the physical.

    So everybody wriggles in discomfort and dissonance, but the more people are religious, the less of that. There is just no having the Jewish story without its main character. It’s like trying to have Hamlet without Hamlet.

    The main character in our story is G-d. There’s no way out of that.

    But even knowing that and doing every mitzvah does not change the fact that Moshiach is not here yet, and we look through a glass darkly.

    It is NORMAL to be dissatisfied with this, and long for Moshiach. Every Jew longs for Moshiach, although this can take some odd forms. A Jew who thinks things are fine as they are, totally, has left the tribe.

    So Shabbat Shalom. Maybe Moshiach will come this week? I don’t know what that would be like. But I trust that it will be all right.

  • I am a former male exotic dancer and am interested in establishing a “Chippendales” type establishment in Israel. What type of assistance and tax benefits does the Israeli government provide to new businesses of olim chadashim? Are there many such entertainment facilities in Israel? I would like some idea as to how stiff the competition would be. Do Israeli women, as a rule, like to look at males dancing in skimpy G-strings? Are they generous tippers? Would they put a shekel to the shmeckel? If I hire other olim chadashim as dancers, would they have to pay any taxes on their tips? Is a liquor license hard to obtain in Israel. Do I have to bribe any officials to receive one? To whom is it customary to pay proteksia money to start a business and approximately how much to they ask for? Thank you for your help.