by Rabbi Chanan Morrison
Baruch Duvdevani served as the Executive Director of the Jewish Agency’s Aliyah department. He recounted this tragic story:
It was the winter of 5716 (1956), immediately following the Sinai Campaign. Poland and the USSR had just signed a treaty allowing all Polish citizens who had fled to Russia during World War II to return to Poland. Jewish or not, they had the right to return, as long as they were Polish citizens on September 1, 1939, the day the War broke out. As a result of this treaty, thousands of Jews throughout Russia returned to Poland, and the majority of them subsequently immigrated to Israel.
I was privileged to spend that year, and the next, in Poland, helping organize this mass aliyah to Israel.
One December morning, when the temperature in Warsaw reached 19 degrees below zero (Celsius), I arrived at the Israeli embassy where we were stationed for our immigration work. The courtyard was filled with scores of people who had come from Russia to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael. I stopped and talked to each and every one of them at length. Our hearts were so filled with joy that we did not feel the cold.
I noticed an old Jew standing in the corner of the courtyard. He was bone-thin, with practically no flesh on his body. His dim eyes lacked any spark of life; his cheekbones protruded profusely; and his clothes were tattered and torn, despite the bitter cold. I realized immediately that the man wanted to speak with me and that he was simply waiting for me to finish talking to the others.
I consider history and I consider the near future. Time appears to me as a corkscrew, winding around a stationary pole. I think that is how our Sages taught us. As I view photos of hundreds of automaton Hezbollah-nikim giving the Nazi salute, I feel as if my soul has been here before — and I am disturbed by the visions of the past, the future, dancing painfully in my mind.
Now I know how this happened before, and I know it could happen again……very soon.
Then I watch my beautiful, precious, innocent children as they play, not knowing the dark days we may all face, and I sigh. I read yet another news story obsessively, hearing the drumbeats, the war whoops, the bloody threats. I write, and I pray I am wrong. Someone will stop this madness, no? I sing laments over and over and over, another way to pray. I hope that somehow, this will all make some difference.
Then the lights go on in my mind. And I pack to move back to E”Y – home. American Jews, 6 million strong, back in E”Y – settling where the world forbids us to settle, all becoming obstacles to “peace” (whew), in Yehudah and Shomron, where our history unfolded…. The American can-do spirit, reviving our tired out brethren who have been saving our spot for us all these long, weary years. Our ancient kings didn’t know Tel Aviv. They knew Beit El…they knew Itamar. They knew Jerusalem. They knew Shechem, Hevron.
We need to go home, or we just may perish before we get the chance, chas v’shalom, as Ben Gurion sadly predicted — are we only Jewish dust? Will we continue to abandon half our people by loving the goldeneh golus?
This is not an advertisement for Nefesh b’Nefesh, but…who believes it is an accident, that G-d has given us this generous leg-up? In the history of the Jewish people, nothing is an accident. It all means something.
Prior to the Shoah, Jabo toured Europe, desperately telling his beloved brothers and sisters, “Liquidate the golus before the golus liquidates you.” — to incredulous crowds of European Jews. Many jeered him, did not believe him, thought Eretz Israel was certainly more dangerous than Europe…did not want to leave family, to uproot children…to turn their lives upside down. Even many rabbis, out of well-placed concern for their flock’s souls (the Zionist leadership of Israel was proving hostile to seriously observant communities) advised their congregants to disregard Jabo. And so…many did not heed Jabo’s desperate plea.
We have hindsight as foresight because Hashem has taught us how to use our history as our future. They did not go when they could…and then, one day, Europe was on lock-down. And Jabo was right.