Israel is not a Tzedaka Box
With Hashem’s help, I am scheduled to return to Israel next week, after a long three week stay in the USA. I must admit that I have enjoyed the kosher Dunkin’ Donuts (maybe a little too much…), the sushi-filled kiddushes and watching the NFL on Sunday afternoon. Trust me that when I made aliyah over 27 years ago, it was not because life in America was bad. Not at all! I had a great job, my kids were in wonderful Yeshivot and my community life was centered around Torah. There were mikvahs, shiurim, youth groups in shul for the kids and my wife loved being close to family and friends.
We didn’t “run away” from America or anti-Semitism. Yes, it was tough financially – especially with the Yeshiva tuitions – but we were managing. The reason we made our life-changing decision to move 6,000 miles away was not because of something negative, rather the opposite! We didn’t run away from the bad… we ran towards the good! We packed up our house, said goodbye to our parents (which was not an easy thing to do) and moved to a country where we had very little family, almost no friends and where we did not speak the language well. We exchanged a solid school system for an unfamiliar one and a well paying job for a complete unknown… and we did all this because my wife and I believed that when the Jewish Nation calls, the Jewish individual responds! After 27 years I can honestly say that our only regret is that we didn’t move earlier.
Based on that, let me ask you a serious question. Is life all about comfort and convenience? I hope not. As Jews we strive towards greatness and our task of being the Chosen People is one that must be taken seriously. We cannot sit back and allow ourselves to become just observers of Jewish ritual. We are more than that… much more than that. We are a nation where “Homeland” is not just the name of a TV show. For 2,000 years we were exiled, persecuted, crusaded, pogrommed and holocausted (yes, I made up those words) but now we are home to build, grow, settle, fight and upgrade basic Judaism to Bet Ha’Mikdashism (ok, ok, I made that one up too…) We are here to fulfill our destiny and our Jewish life is intertwined with the Land of Israel.
I know that many of you agree with me. When you hear news about Israel, something inside of you starts to flutter. While we are concerned about the entire world, it’s simply different when the word “Israel” is heard. Even though it might have been 10 years since your last trip and you know more people in Florida than you do in Jerusalem, your body shakes when something happens there. To me, this proves that your Jewish soul is alive and well. The word “Israel” triggers a natural Jewish reaction. You may not know many people personally but you are connected nationally to everything that is going on there and your soul knows that very well!
This also explains another thing that I have noticed. In my few weeks in the USA, all Jewish newspapers are filled with ads for dinners supporting Israeli organizations. In these last 2 weeks alone there were ads for fundraising dinners for FIDF (Friends of the IDF), the One Israel Fund and for the city of Bet El. On one hand it is wonderful to see that Jews are taking some of their hard-earned money and sending it to support IDF soldiers and build settlements across Judea and Samaria. This proves what I wrote above, that Israel is a part of us. When IDF soldiers need help, we are there to do what we can. When Jews want to build kindergartens and medical centers in Bet El, Shilo or Elon Moreh, we are there to support those dreams and bring them to reality.
The only thing I don’t like about these fundraisers is that they make Israel look like a gigantic “Tzedaka box” and nothing can be farther from the truth. Many years ago – before the State of Israel was founded – Golda Meir ran around America raising money for basic needs of the young, idealistic Jews who were draining swamps just to live in the Promised Land. At that time, Israel was indeed a tzedaka box since the country lacked almost everything. Stories are told about Golda passing around a shopping bag for people to put money into! (I guess that would have made Israel a tzedaka bag, not box…) Today however, 70 years later, Israel is a world leader in almost every industry imaginable. From cyber-security to laser technology to medical breakthroughs to drip-irrigation systems to GPS traffic control, Israel is a word leader across the board. If that’s true – and it is – why do Israeli organizations run to NY, Chicago and Sydney, Australia to raise money to build nurseries and IDF training centers?
The answer is complicated and has both positive and negative sides to it. Allow me to focus on the positive angle only. The reason the IDF reaches out to Jews like Larry Ellison, Founder and CEO of Oracle, so that he can give $19.6 million (which he did last week at the FIDF dinner in LA) is because Larry Ellison needs a connection to Israel, even though he might never admit it. I know this may sound funny but the IDF does not need his $19.6 million. Yes, I’m sure they appreciate the donation but trust me on this one; if the IDF wants something – it gets it… no matter what the price tag is! The FIDF was set up for Jews like Ellison, and all the wonderful Jews like him who give whatever they could, so that their souls could be tied to the brave men and women of the IDF.
The same can be said of all these great organizations who build communities in Israel. When they reach out to Jews around the world, it’s not because they need them to survive. Bet El started with a handful of heroic families who sacrificed everything to bring that city to life and they could have continued the same way for the last 40 years and things would have been fine. When Bet El, Hebron, Efrat and Kedumim (as examples) started international fundraisers, it was because the Jews around the world needed the connection to these holy cities. Life in Boca Raton may be very comfortable for Jews but if there’s no connection to Biblical cities such as Hebron, a major void exists.
I realize this is a different way of looking at things but I believe it is true. Baruch Hashem, Israel is a wealthy country and she can build medical centers, schools and IDF training facilities on her own. Don’t get me wrong. I welcome the funds that are sent to Israel and if you can, send as much as possible, just understand that you are doing this to strengthen your connection to the greatest gift Hashem gave our people in the last 2,000 years.
Israel is a lot of things… but it’s not a tzedaka box. It’s the fulfillment of a promise, the exile coming to an end and the Torah coming to life! Make sure you are a part of it with your funds, your dreams and eventually with your body, your soul, your family and everything you own.