Jan 2009

Parashat Vaera

Evan Muney, a Wexner Heritage alumnus from San Francisco, is a partner in Camp Kimama, an international Jewish camp in Israel. He also volunteers his time with the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation’s “Israel and Jewish Peoplehood Commission,” which works with Israelis on projects that connect the two communities with each other and promote Jewish Identity and Pluralism and help provide equal opportunity for all Israeli citizens. He is planning to move to Israel in July 2009 and welcomes any input or advice. He can be contacted at evan@insiterealty.net.

In this week’s Torah Portion, VaEra (Exodus, 6:1-10:35), G-d tells Moses to say to the Children of Israel, “I will bring you into the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession, I the Lord. But when Moses told this to the Children of Israel, they would not listen to Moses for their spirits were crushed by cruel bondage.” (6:8-6:9)

Each year at the Passover Seder, my family discusses the question, were we truly there in Egypt as slaves, would we have heeded Moses? Would we have joined Moses in demanding Pharaoh let us go? Would we have left our bondage, albeit oppressive and difficult, but also known and predictable in order to follow a man with a speech impediment out into the unknown and risky desert in the hopes of reaching some far away place where our ancestors once lived?

While this is a hypothetical question, for the past 10 years, I have been asking myself a more practical one: “Would I leave the comfort of my life in Northern California to move to modern Israel?” As it turns out, we have decided, “yes.” My family and I are moving to Israel this coming summer. We plan to stay for a year and assess our situation as we go – to see if we enjoy and want to continue living there.

When I tell friends this, they ask something along the lines of, “are you crazy?” In essence, why, amidst a worldwide financial crisis and a war in Israel, would I be planning to leave my secure job and comfortable life in Northern California, ask my wife to do the same and pack our two children off to try and re-create our lives in Israel? The simple answer is perhaps that I am a bit crazy.

But the more complicated answer is that I don’t want to re-create what we have in California. I want to create a life with more meaning, for my family and myself. As an American Jew, I have always been able to live my Judaism as a religion, a faith and even as a culture. Yet, in Israel, there is an opportunity to help forge a collective Jewish society. In Israel, I have a unique opportunity to contribute and impact Jewish society in a positive, meaningful and direct way. I contrast that with my ability to impact Jewish life from the United States. While there is, of course, much work to be done in the US toward Jewish continuity, tzedakah and Tikun Olam, it doesn’t ring as true for me as working on issues facing the Jewish Nation. Just as that pivotal moment in Egypt when the Children of Israel left en masse and became a Nation, it is in Israel where the important and pressing issues of Zionism and the Jewish People are being played out every day.

Despite all the divisiveness in Israeli society, there is still much cohesion. I find that Israelis have a strong sense of responsibility for each other and the knowledge that ultimately, they share a common past and future, even if they disagree on what that future ought to be or how to get there. Danny Gordis wrote in his most recent email article, “A Caterpillar and an Anthem”, about his daughter who was called up for reserve duty, “What I saw on her face was steely-eyed stoicism. There was work to be done, she knew how to do it, and they needed her. So she was heading back to the army.” There is much to be said for being part of building a sovereign nation. 

As we all know, the Children of Israel did leave Egypt. But, it wasn’t only faith or a sense of responsibility that compelled them. Rather, it took the ten plagues and Pharaoh himself practically kicking them out for the Children of Israel to finally leave Egypt and take their first steps toward the Promised Land.

So perhaps I am a bit crazy, since I am certainly not running away from slavery, nor am I being compelled by miracles or government edict. I am relying partly on faith – faith that war will not overcome the whole country, that my family will adjust to the life and culture, and that we can truly lead fulfilling lives in Israel. But, I too am doing my best to ground my family in practical things, like establishing a community of friends in Israel. And with that, I invite any Wexner Alumni in Israel to contact me at evan@insiterealty.net.