JStandard: My Dear Rabbi Talmudic Advice Column for August

Published in the Jewish Standard, Dear Rabbi: Your Talmudic advice column

Dear Rabbi,

My son, his wife and children have decided to make aliyah to Israel. My husband and I understand their practical and idealistic motivations for this decision. We applaud what they are doing and feel pride in their Judaic and Zionist ardor. We plan to visit them in Israel periodically, but we have no plans to move there.

At times we both admit to ourselves that we worry about them and that we will sorely miss them. What advice can you give us to help us cope with this bittersweet situation that we face?

Stuck in Bergen County
New Milford

Dear Stuck,

First, know that you are not alone. In our area, a good number of Modern Orthodox families with young children make aliyah. An underlying motive for this uprooting is the financial burden of local day school tuition. That concern combines with years of sincere devotion to the Zionist dream. Modern Orthodox education encourages pride in the miracle of the State of Israel. And many Jews simply feel a mystical attachment to the Land of Israel.

When younger couples and single college age children decide to make aliyah, that move is logistically less complex. But it also leaves parents with long distance communications challenges and airplane trips to see their offspring.

Many of our area families boast three generations of dedicated Zionists. I recall the excitement in our family when I was a young child and my grandparents announced they were making aliyah. That event took place way before such moves became more common among American Jews, when living in Israel meant making sacrifices and accepting a lower standard of living, even hardships.

Based on what I know from experience and from friends and what I sense in your inquiry, I don’t entertain the notion that you try to dissuade your children from going. Yet there are several ways to reduce the anxiety and loneliness that you fear.

First, do the travel. It’s been said for decades about the situation of American Jews, “There is no galut if you commute.” You are not fully in the exile if you make enough periodic visits to Israel. And you will feel close to your children and grandchildren as you see them progress and grow at intervals.

Next, use the technology. When my grandparents went to live in Israel, plain old telephones were a rarity and long distance calls were expensive and low-quality. Nowadays, even with the time differential, you can vividly see and interact with your Israeli family via Internet video applications such as Skype and FaceTime. Voice phone calls cost little or nothing.

Third, try to form informal social support mechanisms. You can make efforts to connect to other nearby parents and grandparents whose children have made aliyah to share concerns and, of course, to keep abreast of the best airfares and apps to use for the suggestions above.

Last, you can heed your children, when they inevitably suggest to you that you join them in their adventures, and you can make aliyah yourselves.

Dear Rabbi,

After many years of regular worship I started to pay more attention to the Alenu prayer that we recite at the end of every service. I do not understand why we say this so frequently and at the end of each synagogue session. Also, I have become uncomfortable with what I feel is the confrontational tone of the prayer and its proclamation that we are the only true faith and all other gods are worthless and powerless.

Can you help me find renewed relevant meaning in this regular recitation?

Pluralistic, not Pugilistic

Dear Pluralistic,

Your question draws attention to one of the great complexities of our prayer book – the different moods and motivations that flow throughout our services. One of those distinct philosophies, succinctly expressed in the Alenu, is that we are in constant competition with other faiths, that there will be an end to the contest of history, and that there will be only one winner – us.

In religious terms we refer to the “last minutes of the game” as the messianic age, the time at which we will emerge from the battles of the ages and the all the world will recognize us as the worthy people who worship the one true God.

In the services in the synagogue this theme comes to the forefront at particular times. The Alenu is famously one of the crucial liturgies in the Musaf additional service of Rosh Hashanah in the section of the Amidah that we call Malchiyot – kingship. We enthrone God on the New Year as our sovereign and we initiate our declarations of that with the Alenu.

The prayer concludes, “And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall the Lord be One, and his name One.”

Most of the rest of the year, and throughout our prayers, we allow other themes to dominate at the core of our services. I suspect with reasonable certainty that we are not yet at the end of time. But permit me to offer this metaphor to help explain why it makes sense to me that we conclude every service before we leave the synagogue with the not-really-inclusive, and actually somewhat combative, Alenu prayer.

I see our synagogue as our team’s locker room where we gather together at our half-time breaks. We share our diverse team talk there for a while. And when we are done, right before we go outside onto the field to resume the contest and competition in the arena of our communities, we engage in a spirited spiritual pep-talk.

We say team-like things: that we are number-one, that our God is number one, and that we will crush our opponents! In the theological language of our prayer that comes out: “We therefore hope in you, O Lord our God, that we may speedily behold the glory of your might, when you will remove the abominations from the earth, and the idols will be utterly cut off, when the world will be perfected under the kingdom of the Almighty, and all the children of flesh will call upon your name…”

Whether you see yourself as an active team player or as an avid spectator, you should be able to root heartily for your team, the Jewish People, and do so with the Alenu prayer.

Dear Rabbi,

What does it mean when you say you offer in your column “Talmudic Advice”?

Seeking answers
Fort Lee

Dear Seeking,

By saying I supply Talmudic advice I mean that I offer in my column advice only, and not halakhic rulings or decisions. And I also mean that in Talmudic fashion I try to see more than one dimension of an issue and encourage the questioner to find his or her own best solution.

The Dear Rabbi column offers timely advice based on timeless Talmudic wisdom. It aspires to be equally respectful and meaningful to all varieties and denominations of Judaism. You can find it here on the first Friday of the month. Send your questions to DearRabbi@jewishmediagroup.com

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