Yehoshua Yankelewitz, Bayit Vegan, Yerushalayim
As a bochur in shidduchim in the U.S., I was very clear that as far as I'm concerned, living in Eretz Yisroel is the only option. This conclusion of mine was after researching the issue thoroughly. I had been learning previously for a few years in Eretz Yisroel by R' Dovid Soloveitchik zt"l, and had the zechus of learning with R' Eliyahu Zilberman shlita as well. He advised me not to give "hashkafa" drashos while in shidduchim, rather simply state that I know that being in Eretz Yisroel was highly valued by gedolei Yisroel throughout the generations, and even if I don’t exactly understand why it was important to them, it is probably important for me too.
Time went on and it may have seemed that shidduchim did not pull through due to this stance of mine on Eretz Yisroel. It was actually assumed that as time went on with no shidduch materializing, my stance must have softened. In truth, my resolve had actually gotten stronger over time.
One of the main points of contention was "concern" with my parnassah. How could I insist on living in Eretz Yisroel if I didn't know how I would make a parnassah there? My reply was that last I checked, it was the Ribbono Shel Olam who provided parnassah, and I was sure He could provide in Eretz Yisroel too. In an interesting twist, I make part of my parnassah here in Eretz Yisroel in a way I could never do abroad—I'm a tour guide in and around the Old City of Yerushalayim. This is something I can do during Bein Hazmanim and bein hasdorim, and it allows me to devote much of my time to learning. Even when social distancing was mandated, I was able to work by giving virtual tours. In addition, I also am involved in the publishing of manuscripts of Rishonim and Achronim, as well as in the collection and research of various sifrei Torah.
There is much to see in the Old City of Yerushalayim—spanning the entire history of the Jewish people up until today—from the place where the Beis HaMikdash once stood (and will soon B"H stand once again and for eternity) to the places where the sounds of Torah and tefillah can be heard once again. There is so much to learn and so much we can connect to, from our magnificent past through our miraculous rebirth in HaShem's Land, and up until our strong present presence and promising promised future.
After two thousand years in golus, I feel that we are in an amazing period in Jewish history. I would even say I feel a sense of closure as some aspects of the golus of Am Yisroel are gradually coming to an end.
My first Tisha B'Av in Eretz Yisroel was the day after I first landed here. I distinctly remember waking up and hearing the cooing of the doves in Eretz Yisroel's clear blue sky, and thinking to myself, "Wow, I am really here, in Eretz Yisroel!" I just couldn't believe the reality that I was here. It was simply unreal. I mean, just the day before I was in the USA, where the regular normal guys are…. Here in Eretz Yisroel, hearing everyone around me saying kinos just felt a bit strange to me. This was in Arzei HaBira in Yerushalayim, a typical Yerushalmi neighborhood; it wasn't even a place of specific historic significance such as the Kosel. This emotion was triggered just by being in Eretz Yisroel, breathing its air and walking its streets, and being next to so many Yidden who have come back home. Though I could not determine exactly why, it was an overpowering emotion.
This was the feeling I had after just one night in Eretz Yisroel. It is interesting to note the words of Rav Avraham Azulai ztz"l (a forebearer of the Chida ztz"l): "When one is zoche to enter Eretz Yisroel, a new nefesh from Yetzirah comes to him, and envelopes his old nefesh. On the first night that he sleeps in Eretz Yisroel, both nefashos leave him and go up, and only the new one returns to him." (Chesed L'Avraham, Ma'ayan 3, Nahar 12).
One Chol HaMoed, when I was still keeping two days of Yom Tov, I was a guest in the sukkah of R' Eliyahu Zilberman. A discussion had come up earlier about committing to live in Eretz Yisroel and keeping one or two days of Yom Tov. The rav said with much passion that when someone commits to living in Eretz Yisroel he is at once terminating for himself at least some aspects of two thousand years of golus, in a very literal sense, and the time to make such a commitment is right now... The tremendous significance of this reality was not lost on me. With just one firm decision I would make—in a certain sense— two thousand years come to an end!
Of course, significant as it is, coming to live in Eretz Yisroel is only one part of this journey. As a nation, we still have a way to go, up until the ultimate "v'haya HaShem lemelech al kol ha'aretz," speedily in our days. However, being back as His children in His Land, living according to His rules and performing as many of His mitzvos as we can and yearning for more, we are actually headed in the direction of having that become a reality.
Living in an Esrog
While in the U.S. for a chasuna, my wife met for the first time, some of my nieces living in the U.S. They could not believe that we managed to live in such a small apartment in Yerushalayim, and one of them started boasting about their much larger living quarters in America. My wife told her that she did not have anything to boast about since we could buy three American-sized houses for the price of our little piece of Yerushalayim. I later reasoned this with the following mashal, succinctly differentiating for a friend between those two pieces of real-estate: "How many lemons can you buy for the price of one Esrog?!"
Yerushalayim is not just real-estate…