A land of dreams, yearnings, hopes, and aspirations. I ask myself and wonder, is it really true? Am I really fulfilling my dream? While sitting on the plane, I am experiencing the culmination of the myriad details of the last few months being actualized. For those who know me well, it came as no big surprise when I announced that I was packing up and moving to Eretz Yisrael – because, for me, the question was never “if” but “when.” Raised by my parents, who instilled in me the desire to live in the Holy Land, my love for Eretz Yisrael only increased the more I traveled there during summer and winter breaks. And for those that don’t know me well and ask why I’m moving, especially as a young single woman, my response is simple, “Eretz Yisrael is home.” It’s not more complicated than that. Where else can you feel so acutely the atmosphere of kedusha (holiness), a sense of Jewish pride, and passion towards the study and practice of our eternal Torah?
“What made you decide to make the move now?” numerous friends and acquaintances have wondered when I informed them about my plans. I look back at the past year and concede that, indeed, it has been quite a process. Over the course of the last few years, I have, baruch Hashem, formed numerous connections during my trips to Eretz Yisrael. Gaining a strong support system was crucial for me if I was to undertake leaving my wonderful family and community in Baltimore.
And then, I saw the handwriting-on–the-wall – literally. Last summer, while working as a madricha in a young women’s seminary, I was given a choice of two rooms. I finally decided upon one room and then had to make the critical decision of which bed to choose. I did it. Phew, at least one decision made! A few nights later, I was quite excited to notice that right under the wooden shelf above my bed was written in glow-in-the-dark puffy paint, “Lech lecha, Jerusalem, Yerushalayim.” Well, if that’s not a sign straight from Heaven, then I don’t know what is! When I shared my “revelation” with Rav Dovid Gottlieb, I was met with a startling rejoinder that we don’t make decisions based upon “signs” but with careful analysis and logic.
My next burst of emotion happened during my flight back from Eretz Yisrael when I went for a winter break trip. My seatmate was curious – was I going home (to America) or visiting? I squelched an inner desire to conceal the truth and responded honestly that I was going home to America. Right then and there, in my heart, I told myself, never again can I tell someone that my home is anywhere but Eretz Yisrael. And so I started to really gauge myself and contemplate and seek advice from those I trust.
A few tumultuous months went by as I tossed and turned the pros and cons in my head. How could I leave my close-knit family, my community, which I felt so blessed to be a part of, and my jobs, which provided so much meaning in my life? With the support and encouragement of my mother and upon the advice of all those I consulted, my decision started to solidify. This summer, as I left on my pilot trip with a wave of emotions, I returned from the other side of the ocean about three months later feeling an enormous sense of clarity and direction. Baruch Hashem, I was able to find a living arrangement, job possibilities, and a study program.
Furthermore, while in Eretz Yisrael someone mentioned an interesting account, which I later verified to be true, that provided tremendous chizuk especially now that terror is unfortunately becoming widespread once again. When Rabbi Naftali Hexter, principal of Bais Yaakov’s middle school, visited Eretz Yisrael in August, he was privileged with a visit to Harav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita. The Gadol’s response to Rabbi Hexter’s question of what message he should bring back for the Bais Yaakov teachers to convey to their students was astonishing. I would have thought it would be a message of bitachon, middos, tznius, chesed, or tefila (faith, character, modesty, kindness, or prayer). But no, the message was to move to Eretz Yisrael!
The process of aliyah was made smoother with help from an amazing organization, Nefesh B’Nefesh, as they patiently explained the procedure and guided me throughout. Of course, it was hard to say goodbye to those I love even with the knowledge that I’ll come back to visit, but as far as my future is concerned in the Holy Land, I feel only joy and excitement.
How does one decide if and when to make the move? Rav Moshe Hauer’s guidelines were clear. Each person must seek advice and counsel for this weighty decision and consider the challenges carefully. These include adjusting to a new culture and language, job hunting. And if children are involved, their education and adjustment take on prime importance. Every person must make the decision best suited for his or her individual circumstances, but a desire to live in Eretz Hakedosha can be achieved by all, even if the decision for the here and now is to live in chutz la’aretz (the Diaspora).
The desire and yearning for yishuv ha’aretz, settling in the Land, has been passed down from much earlier generations. Whether the trek was accomplished by foot, camel, or ship – or in modern times in the comforts of flight, yishuv ha’aretz has always been a cherished dream. One moving account is described in the biography of Harav Aryeh Levine, zt”l, in the book A Tzaddik in Our Time by Simcha Raz. Rav Aryeh was only a young man of about 20 when he made his “...decision to carry out a hidden dream...to go to the Holy Land of Israel.” Leaving his hometown Urla, Poland, in the early 1900s to journey all alone to Eretz Yisrael, Rav Aryeh describes how, on the first ship from Odessa to Constantinople, “I myself felt sick from the rolling of the ship and the hardships of the journey....” (pg 40) Upon arrival, a second ship took the passengers to Jaffa, and he fell sick again. Finally, after the nightmarish voyage came to an end in Jaffa, Rav Aryeh writes that he merited “...the privilege of entering the Land of the Patriarchs. Forgotten was all my suffering. I was gazing at the Land so many thousands dreamed and yearned to see.” (pg 40-41)
Following the footsteps of former generations and building upon dreams of the present toward the future in the Holy Land has prompted many families in Baltimore to make the monumental move. In future columns, I hope to give Where What When readers insight, knowledge, and advice from those who have been privileged to make the journey and have returned home to Eretz Yisrael. May Mashiach come soon so we can all unite together again in Yerushalayim Habinuya!
Shira Bracha Shugarman is the daughter of Marsha Shugarman and the late Chanan Shugarman, a”h.