April 22, 2024
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Leaving and Living Through Miracles

Learning with shana alef students before the war.

At the start of the Gaza war, my Twitter (now X) feed showcased powerful unity among Jews, who came together to pray for Israel and send support for the war and one another.

However, the narrative has taken a distressing turn, evolving into a stream of posts expressing fears of being Jewish in America, especially from college campuses. Could it be, as has been ironically discussed with other olim also in the reserves, that even after 10 weeks of dodging mortars, rockets and suicide drones on the Lebanon border, we are the ones who “made it out,” since America has apparently become completely unsafe for Jews?

As we learn in the unsung part of “Vehi Sheamda,” “But rather in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us,” and we are forced to realize a harsh reality. Not just the past or the present, but in the future as well, we will face uprisings and attacks from other nations. Therefore, the question becomes: Where do we want to be facing these attacks? In America, fighting antisemitism? Or in Israel, fighting for our nation? This is the key difference between the battles being fought now in Israel and the Diaspora.

The Gemara (Brachot 5a) teaches that Hashem gave three precious gifts to Bnei Yisrael, and they were given only through hardships, one of those gifts being Eretz Yisrael. What is unique about the hardships in Israel is that there is a national understanding that they are an unavoidable part of pursuing our greater mission. For example, in the IDF reserves, everyone has a completely valid reason to not show up, and makes a massive sacrifice to fulfill their duty. Whether they have a family, are enrolled in college, or want to come back to yeshiva and guide shana alef students through their first year in Israel (like me), everyone brings their own life story. When I ask people with many kids at home, and jobs, how they stay in for so long, they answer, “So who’s gonna fight?” The hardships in Israel as opposed to the rest of world Jewry are much more accepted, because of the clear, greater mission attached in Israel.

This isn’t to imply that fighting the hardships is easy. This war has brought awful trauma and tremendous sacrifice to anyone who’s been involved. It’s unfair and no one deserves any of it, but the reality involves clenching our teeth and fighting back, like the mobilization that occurred the day after October 7. War doesn’t align with my nature. I’ve never liked loud noises, I overthink, I hate formalities and being told what to do. Thanks to Hezbollah, I now flinch at lightning and a motorcycle revving its engine, and can relate with the “No fireworks on Yom Ha’Atzmaut” rule. One time, my whole unit instinctively ducked when a car screeched outside a restaurant.

Running into my rabbi, also in the reserves, on a day off.

Yet, I’ve noticed that the more I’ve had to leave my comfort zone, the stronger and deeper my connection with the land and its people have become, and the more I want to give. Hardships lead to giving, and giving sparks a deeper love with the land. Interestingly, the word אהב, love, originates from הב, which means to give—illustrating that love essentially comes from giving. This progression of personal and national hardships, giving, and persevering ultimately ingrains in each one of us a personal bond with the land.

Since my arrival to Israel in September 2020 for yeshiva, my time has been marked by unforeseen difficulties. I sat through weeks of quarantines and lockdowns, witnessed the Meron tragedy and Guardian of the Walls war, went through the army for a year and a half, and after finally starting to settle down, was called back for war. I’ve moved apartments five times and dozens of times in the army, and haven’t been able to finish becoming an official citizen yet.

However, I, and everyone else in the country, find enduring strength in the shared understanding that each of us has equivalent or greater hardships in our lives, yet also has not abandoned the pursuit of Judaism and Israel’s greater mission. The mission of providing a safe and purposeful future for our children here, and recognizing the Divine presence of Hashem in our daily lives. Throughout this war, I’ve merited witnessing miracles that prompted my entire base—religious, non religious, commanders and officers—to admit that only the Hand of Hashem could have safeguarded us, living through the prophecy of “Not by military force and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts.” (Zec 4:6)

A crucial choice lies before us. And that choice is where we want to navigate through our hardships. We can give and invest our efforts and resources in America, and keep chasing the dead-end dream of living free from oppression in the Diaspora, leaving out the bigger mission of Judaism. Or we can shift our efforts to the daunting task of learning the job and housing market, language, communities, and every intimidating task of moving to a new country. Waiting for the perfect moment to make aliyah, and expecting the solution to every last detail to fall into our lap, disregards the reality of how Hashem granted us Eretz Yisrael, and doesn’t allow for Hashem to be there for us. As long as we go through the challenges with the mindset that they are from Hashem, we will each attain a deeper, more personal connection with the land and the people.

There are challenges of being a citizen and challenges of becoming one, and doing both at the same time is sometimes extremely overwhelming. As an oleh, it’s never having a document work the first time, spending entire days trying to schedule a doctor’s appointment, and giving up the convenience of American products. And as a citizen, it’s arguing with your platoon who had a mortar hit closest to them, sending your kid off to fight in Gaza, and never knowing what’s coming next. But we know at the end we will come out on top, in addition to the prosperity Hashem has provided us already.

We can theoretically persevere through the hardships and “fix” America. We have unarguable facts and logic, and have each other’s backs. But that neglects the hardships and sacrifices of all the soldiers and families in Israel, fighting for our divine gift of a limitless future for all of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael. We must all go through this together, on a personal and national level, to receive the gift of Israel in its truest form.


Brian Racer is originally from Teaneck. He served as a lone soldier in the IDF and currently in miluim. When not in the army he is a madrich at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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