Dr. Mori Bank, Bayit Vegan, Yerushalayim
B”H, I have lived here in Eretz Yisroel for twenty-four years, witnessing and being part of the unprecedented blossoming of the Torah world. My connection to Eretz Yisroel, though, existed long before my aliyah.
When I was growing up in South Africa, Eretz Yisroel as our current homeland was an integral part of our Jewish culture. I remember during the Yom Kippur war how everyone was desperately davening for HaShem's salvation. Everyone was emotionally connected to Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel.
It was only when I continued on to dental specialty studies in the U.S. that I came to realize that this connection to Eretz Yisroel is not something natural to all Yidden. One Pesach, at the university, I came across an extreme example of this. A professor, who was Jewish, was eating bread. He told me, “Just like I'm scraping this bread off my plate, Israel should be scraped off the face of the earth.” I later understood the source of his attitude – eating bread on Pesach carries with it the penalty of kares, spiritual excision. This professor had destroyed his soul and was therefore disconnected from his religion, his nation, and his ancestral homeland – Eretz Yisroel.
Even among those who were connected to the Torah, there was a certain disconnect from today's Eretz Yisroel – at least in terms of a desire to live here. There was a question I would routinely ask on shidduchim, “Could you ever imagine living in Eretz Yisroel?” In seven years of prospective shidduchim in the U.S., I got no positive answer, only one “maybe.” This shocked me to my core. I realized that I would need to come to Eretz Yisroel to find a suitable match, which I B”H did.
As a Jew, I felt privileged to be able to live in relatively hospitable places like South Africa and the United States, and to take advantage of what they had to offer in terms of higher education. But it was important to me not to forget what I am there for. One can get caught up in the American Dream, or for that matter, a similar Israeli one. Over a million Israelis caught up in such a dream have been rejected by the Land. Our tachlis here is getting the best Torah education we can for ourselves and our children.
In relation to our tachlis here, I would like to relate an experience I had which left a profound impression on me. I had applied for dental school in Johannesburg, and after a rigorous vetting process was accepted as one of sixty applicants out of thousands who had applied. All sixty of us were overly proud of ourselves, until we were told by the dean on the very first day that only a third of us would graduate to second year. This meant a failure rate of two-thirds!
This terrifying statistic, which I later confirmed as the reality, had a dramatic effect on me. I realized we were in a crisis. I then had three nightmare dreams which haunted me throughout dental school and beyond.
In the first dream, I woke up on the day of my final exam, and when I looked at the clock, the time was 12:00 noon. The exam was scheduled from 9:00 to 12:00. I had just missed the entire exam!
In the second dream, I got early to the exam hall, but the questions were from a field not related to mine in which I did not know the answers.
In the third dream, I got to the hall on time, knew the answers to the three questions, and wrote pages and pages for just the first question, suddenly hearing a bell ring to announce the end of the exam. I hadn't finished answering even the first question!
I later understood these dreams as warnings: Firstly, the infinite tragedy of never doing anything constructive, just oversleeping the exam of this world. Secondly, studying for the wrong exam, succeeding in all sorts of fields but not knowing the aleph-beis about Yiddishkeit. Thirdly, even getting it right academically but just not accomplishing what we were brought to this world for, i.e. to be a light unto the nations.
The failure rate may be high; in Mitzrayim, the success rate [those who managed to get out of Egypt] wasn't more than twenty percent [Rashi, Shemos 13:18]. Many Jews have not survived golus; whether it was pogroms, assimilation, or intermarriage, an enormous percentage of our people have been swallowed up in the Diaspora throughout the thousands of years in exile.
But there are better dreams, too! We are a nation of dreamers, and there is so much to do and accomplish here in Eretz Yisroel, to turn those dreams into a reality. B”H, I have had the siyata d'Shmaya to fulfill some of mine, including running a free dental clinic in Yerushalayim for the poor, opening a soup kitchen, and more. Eretz Yisroel can be a home for every Jew that dreams and believes he can make it here.
The Torah opportunities here are immeasurably greater. Practically speaking, being that the local language is based on the language of the Torah, it is infinitely easier for native Israelis to connect to the Torah. A ba'al teshuvah here can get from zero to a hundred in no time. We also have the quality of avira d'Eretz Yisroel here, which Chazal say makes a person wise.
The bottom line is that building in the Diaspora can be like building in quicksand. Here in Eretz Yisroel there is a feeling of building for eternity.
All for One
I was a little seven-year-old boy back in 1967, when the Six-Day War was raging in Eretz Yisroel. I decided I must go and help. My father came back from work that evening and found me by the door with a little suitcase containing my pajamas and a toothbrush. I told him I needed a ride to the airport and a flight to Eretz Yisroel. When my father asked me why, I responded, "Maybe I can help out at the hospital, caring for injured soldiers!"
My father told me that as long that I was under his care, I would be staying at home. I accepted that decision, but asked instead to sell all my toys for the benefit of those in Eretz Yisroel, to which my father agreed. I had an impressive collection, and sold all my toys for the 150 USD it brought in [equivalent to about 1200 USD today in 2020], which we donated to an Israeli hospital. Although I couldn't help in person, at least my money would.
Fifty years later, that same hospital saved my mother's life when she slipped and broke her hip. At 85 years old, they did a hip transplant, and she was walking one week later. That hospital is the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, here in Yerushalayim.
And the miracles continue…