Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

13 Ellul 5760 - Setpember 13, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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SONG OF ASCENT From a Small Community to the Big City

In Part Two of this series, two American `transplants', or chutznikiot describe their absorption in Israel. In the eyes of both, the point of attraction to life here is not lifestyle or mentality, but clearly only a high spiritual level and the existence of Torah centers that enable perfect Torah study for the husband.

"I don't know if Israelis are aware of one's accessibility to gedolim which in my opinion greatly influences the spiritual progress of every person. When you can come to ask and get advice almost 24 hours a day, your life turns into a daily existence of Daas Torah. It was clear to us and to the children that we were all waiting to immigrate to Israel," tells Nechama (the name has been changed at her request), only eleven years in the country.

Nechama made aliyah when her eldest daughter was already 14, and close family waited for her in Israel, therefore she didn't feel lonely. "In his youth, my husband learned for two years in Bnei Brak, while I spent a year in a seminary in Jerusalem. Our marriage in the States was based on one common dream, to return again to Israel right after the wedding. We had to remain for a year, and in the meantime my husband was offered the opportunity to transfer to a new and unique kollel in a distant city whose goal, besides intensive learning, was also to assist the religious-chareidi community there and strengthen it. My husband accepted the challenge and in the end we stayed there for 18 years. I formed deep and warm bonds with the women of the community and the parting was not easy. But Eretz Yisrael drew us with its magic, mainly due to the quality of its spiritual and Torah life.

"My children thought that all the people in Israel would either look like us or like the people who live in Meah Shearim, where the children sit all day saying Tehillim, that on Shabbos all the girls wore a white blouse and a blue skirt and all had braids. We also had high spiritual expectations.

"Abroad, you get the impression that all the Avreichim in the country sit and learn in kollel without limit until they are old and gray. In reality we met those whose Torah was their only `craft' but there were others. Something else unique in the life of Eretz Yisrael which struck us was the ease and frequency with which we could reach Gedolei Torah. For us, the main difficulty in immigrating to Israel, in our situation, when the children were big and we were no longer young, was leaving elderly parents alone, without our support. The knowledge that I couldn't be close to my parents to support them when they needed me, overshadowed my happiness of integrating into spiritual life here in Israel."

What is she looking for out the window?

"When I attended my daughter's first PTA meeting, and the teacher told me that she couldn't understand why my daughter was always looking out the window, I couldn't explain it to her -- the language did not yet flow fluently from my mouth. I wanted to ask her: If she had been sitting in a class where Chinese or French was being spoken, what would she be doing, if not looking out the window? But this problem was solved pretty quickly, and my children picked up the language easily, integrated into the community and married here with local spouses when that time came.

"Practically every olah is confronted with the challenge of getting used to a standard of living lower than which she was accustomed abroad. Today, the technological advances are slowly arriving here and enter each of our homes sooner or later. Friends of mine tell of their aliyah some twenty years before me, when, in order to inform their families that they had had a baby, they had to cross a number of streets to get to a public phone. Today many homes already have two lines, a cell- phone, a cordless and a fax.

"Our main fear was the level of absorption of our children, who were already big and with minds of their own. I heard from many friends that many families had to send children back to the States to a boarding school or to Grandma and Grandpa because they were unable to learn the language, to integrate into society, to get used to the mentality etc. But we saw here major siyata dishmaya. All our children easily passed the difficult absorption process. I know that many refrain from coming here in our situation because of their fears for the children. My daughters were accepted by the daughters of our relatives who came here before us, and this greatly eased the social integration. Learning the language and adapting were accomplished without pressure. We took a deep breath. We knew this was a process and each one would go through it according to his ability and skills.

"A few weeks after we arrived, there was a Shemirat Halashon Kenes at Binyanei Haumah in Jerusalem. My daughter traveled there together with a relative who saw her sitting transfixed and she asked whether my daughter understood what was being said there. My daughter answered her: `I hardly understand a thing, but I'm absorbing the atmosphere well, and it's so exciting and uplifting.' I was happy to hear this, for, after all, that's why we had come to the country, in order to get the elevated spiritual atmosphere, found in every Jewish- Chareidi area. We knew they would learn the language one way or another, sooner or later.

"The one who is liable to go through a personal and financial crisis in transferring from country to country is the husband, especially if he is a businessman and must start from scratch or find an alternate profession. But my husband was totally immersed in learning, and the Torah is identical everywhere, so that here he was immediately able to open a sefer to the same page where he had closed it in his kollel abroad.

"But there was a difference. We came from a small unique community where he had a position and a certain status, to a big city of Torah, where he didn't know anyone. But he preferred an Israeli Yeshiva to position and prestige. Baruch Hashem, he found a Yeshiva to his liking, and the very fact that here he can sit and only learn in kollel is a special privilege. So my husband is also going through the absorption process easily and has quickly found his place.

"As for me? I had the company of my eight children, and I didn't need society urgently. But to my surprise, the neighbors welcomed me warmly. In our second week here, a neighbor called me over and said: `I'm going to a simcha of one of the tenants, I imagine that you're probably embarrassed to go alone, so why don't you come with me and we'll introduce you all around?' I willingly agreed, and since then, there's been a pleasant relationship between my neighbors and me.

"There are those people for whom the transition from a life of ease and even luxury abroad to the simple living conditions and life here in Israel, leads to a crisis. We, Baruch Hashem, did not have this kind of difficulty, for the simple reason that even in the States, we weren't used to an especially indulgent life. Although we lived in an affluent community, where most people lived, without exaggeration, in houses with 30 rooms, and each family had two to three automobiles, we, kollel families, lived on a simple and lower standard. We lived in small apartments and had what a family needs, not more than that.

"Maran HaGaon Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetzky was a mentor of our community, and when he frequently came to us, avreichim from the community would seek his advice. Someone once asked him whether an avrech could ride a bike to kollel, that is, if there is no disrespect to Torah in a neighborhood where there were a number of cars per family? Maran Hagaon R' Kamitetzky answered them: `You bnei Torah seem to these people, with all your differences in lifestyle, as if you came from another planet. So, really, you can drive by whatever mode of transport you see fit, especially if it serves you faithfully, cheaply and quickly.' "

To be continued...


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