Elisha Bruck, Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimmel
I grew up in Boro Park and learned in local mosdos. I went to Chasam Sofer for high school, and for beis medrash I attended the Yeshiva of South Fallsburg where I learned by Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel shlita. I then came to Eretz Yisroel to learn in the Mir yeshivah, where I was in Rav Asher Arieli shlita's chaburah for a zman, and then in Rav Gershon Meltzer shlita's daf chaburah.
Growing up in Boro Park, I felt that I was living in the most Jewish environment possible. With round-the-clock minyanim, shteeblach on every corner, and no goy living within the radius of a good few blocks, nothing was missing. I recall buying my daled minim on erev Sukkos on 13th Avenue, and thinking that the only thing that can compare with this bustling encounter with Jews is Shalosh Regalim in the times of the Beis HaMikdash.
My first deep encounter with the topic of Eretz Yisroel was when I was in tenth grade. One day on my way to yeshivah, I saw a huge poster with a picture of someone who looked like he was beaten up at a hafganah (protest) in Eretz Yisroel. The poster invited people to a hafganah taking place later that day in front of the Israeli consulate in Manhattan. That afternoon I found myself on the ‘F’ train with a few friends, heading to the city to join the hafganah. (Isn't being mekadesh Shem Shomayim in Manhattan more important than English class...?!)
We got off the train stop in Manhattan and walked the few blocks until we reached the protest. It was a very big macha'ah (protest), much larger than what we had expected, allegedly against police brutality – but it turned out to be a more general anti-Zionist protest. This got me thinking – which side do I really want to be shouting on? What are they really shouting about? Maybe there's more to the topic than readily seen.
The entire way home I was thinking, was the protest a good thing or not? What does it have to do with Eretz Yisroel?
A short time later, my older brother came home from learning in Yeshivas Mir in Yerushalayim; I asked him about the subject. He referred me to seforim which dealt with the current significance of Eretz Yisroel – from Eim HaBanim Semeicha of Rav Yissachar Teichtal ztz”l, Hy”d, to Vayoel Moshe of the Satmar Rebbe ztz”l, and everything in between. I came to realize that yishuvEretz Yisroel is not just a minhag or inyan. It is a real and relevant mitzvah which should be fulfilled if possible.
The more I delved into the sugya, the more I realized that I wasn't making any startling discoveries people never knew about; I learned that in every generation many Gedolim actually made the journey and settled in Eretz Yisroel, or at least attempted to.
It was when I came to learn in the Mir and was exposed first hand to life here in Eretz Yisroel that I really decided that I wanted to live here. I saw how for many people, living here in Eretz Yisroel is a reality.
Looking back, I recall thinking that if so many people have successfully moved here and made
Eretz Yisroel their home, then it’s doable; living in Eretz Yisroel is something that could be done.
When I would discuss this topic of living here in Eretz Yisroel with people back in America, they would tell me it just can't be done. They would tell me that housing is unaffordable, mortgage rates are not good, you can't get a good job here, the government makes it hard to live here, and other such assertions. When I would tell them that I see many Americans living in Eretz Yisroel, they would say, “Yes, you can live there for a year or so, but long term? It's not practical; it just doesn't work.”
There seemed to be a bit of a disconnect or a misunderstanding, because all around me I was seeing people who were actually living here – going to work at jobs they had, sending kids to school, taking out mortgages and buying homes, and otherwise doing all the things people do.
Of course, things here aren’t the same as in America – the language, the culture, housing, cars and many other things are unique to Eretz Yisroel. But life itself is pretty much the same – people get up in the morning, go to kollel or to work, drive cars, send kids to school, go shopping, and lead normal and productive lives.
I definitely had my challenges integrating. Learning how others coped didn't really help me, as everyone has their own unique set of challenges. But I did see how everyone managed in their own way and that over time things did tend to improve – I realized that I too could be successful here.
It may take some time and effort to settle in – in fact, it definitely will – but it can be done. That's the message I've been getting from the reality on the ground here, and that's the message I want to pass on to you.
On the Same List
One thing that gave me chizuk and helped me pull through some challenging times is what Chazal say (Berachos 3) about Eretz Yisroel: Along with Torah and Olam Haba, it's one of the three gifts HaShem has given us which are acquired through yissurim.
In the realm of limud haTorah, when times got rough and the learning became challenging, I knew that I just had to persevere and go on learning. Although it might have been hard at the time, it was worth the price, and as time went on it got better and easier. Same with nisyonos. They can be hard, challenging and frustrating, but we know that that is the nature of nisyonos, and that Olam Haba doesn't come without overcoming hardships. Eretz Yisroel is no different; it's on the same list. It is acquired through yissurim, but, just as in the case of Torah and Olam Haba, it can be acquired with time and it is worth every bit of effort.