Jerusalem the MuseA graduate of Yeshiva University, and the most recent recipient of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship, Zev Eleff was editor-in-chief of Yeshiva College’s student newspaper, “The Commentator,” in ’08-’09. He is also a published author, having written two books, including the popular “Mentor of Generations: Reflections on Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik” (Ktav Publishing House).
by Zev Eleff
I presume that my reflections accord well with the experiences of my young peers living in the United States. Many of us, and here I mean Jewish college students and recent graduates, have memories of time spent in Israel. Some Jewish youth leave for Israel after high school and immerse themselves in the study of Talmud and community service. Others have volunteered their summers to work at Israeli camps or worthwhile internships. Yet, an even larger cohort participates on Taglit-Birthright Israel. And, while these experiences are all vastly different, they are each deeply passionate ones that lead to a magnificent romance with the Holy Land.
Of course, most of the Diaspora Jews who are fortunate enough to visit Israel share another bond: they return home. Surely, this is not an easy transition. Much ink has been spilled by sociologists of American Jewry regarding the so-called “Year in Israel” and students’ struggle to relocate their attentions back to American life. As well, I have witnessed the scene of Birthright Israel participants awaiting their flight back across the Atlantic. Indeed, the sight of these college-age students—many of them experiencing Judaism and Zionism for the first time—sobbing as they prepare themselves to say goodbye to their Israeli chaperones at Ben Gurion International is most humbling. In fact, I vividly recall one Birthright participant, wearing a Texas A&M sweatshirt and baseball cap, pacing back and forth in the Tel Aviv terminal as she deliberated whether or not to cancel her flight!
However, for those of us who have paraded through Jerusalem’s Old City on Yom Yerushalayim en route to the Western Wall may be better prepared to re-enter Diaspora life. We can recall the lessons of a people who are familiar with the feeling of returning to a home after a long time separated. We can recreate the energy felt while dancing on the Jerusalem stone in our blues and whites in our local American communities. And most of all, whether we feel it our mission to return back to Jerusalem when the timing is right or whether our life’s mission is here in the Diaspora, Yom Yerushalayim can serve as our everlasting battery.
As Louis Brandeis articulated long ago, Jerusalem—and more broadly, the entire Israel—in the hands of the Jewish people provides the rest of the Jews in the Diaspora with a greater sense of security against anti-Semitism. Although most agree that Brandeis was speaking about the physical safety of the Jewish people against its enemies, for religious Zionists, we may expand his viewpoint to the spiritual realm, as well. At Yeshiva University, we are in constant contact with Israeli leaders and politicians. They come to speak in our forums and answer our pointed questions. Our student leaders and Israel Club work tirelessly to find ways to fundraise for Sderot and other Israel-minded initiatives. Similar programs are being run by our friends at other universities, including Columbia, Maryland and Penn. Many of these students plan to stay here and become American doctors, lawyers and rabbis. However, they are deeply committed to the notion of a Jewish future in a united Jerusalem—and find ways to help out; ways in which others living in Israel cannot assist.
In a way, these students follow the lead of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. It is well known that shortly after the Six Day War, when Golda Meir was Israel’s Prime Minster, “the Rav” was vocal about his criticism of several of the Israeli government’s programs. At a Mizrachi conference, he turned to an Israeli delegate in the audience and demanded that delegate relay his remarks to Prime Minister Meir. “After all,” Rabbi Soloveitchik is said to have quipped, “who do you think is making Aliyah from America and raising money for Israeli institutions? My students and their communities—that’s who!” Clearly, Rabbi Soloveitchik was encouraged by the prospect of a united Jerusalem and felt that he and his American cohort were joined in the Zionist dream.
The same is true today when, we, the young future of Judaism, are empowered by the beauty of Jerusalem and seek to partner with our Israeli brothers and sisters in building the Jewish state. To this end, nothing energizes us better than the unity personified by Yom Yerushalayim.
The aroma of that day perfumes our love for Israel and informs are mission.
With just a moment of silence and pinch of imagination, we return to a day when we saw Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa and Efrat ascend to Jerusalem. All the parts of the Holy Land seem to collapse into Jerusalem on its historic day. And we too recall that magnificent romance and use it to improve upon tomorrow.