JESSE ROSENBLIT'S HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATION SPEECH OF JUNE 2002:
WHY I AM MAKING ALIYAH IN THREE DAYS
I'd like to start by thanking everyone that's made a difference in my life. From my classmates who are sitting up on this stage tonight with me, to my friends in the audience -- you all know who you are -- each one of you has made me a better person and a little wiser in some way, and for that I am indebted to each and every one of you. I'd like to thank all of my relatives for coming from as far as California, Florida, Atlanta, and Philadelphia. My brothers -- Michael and David -- You cannot even comprehend the path that we are taking together in life. I may be starting it, but I'm waiting for the day when you -- both of you -- can join me. Most of all however, I'd like to thank my parents. I have never met two greater role models, mentors and friends. Michael, David and I are only who we are today because of you. My only wish for my life is that I make you proud.
As many of you here today know, I will be moving to Israel, making Aliyah, in a mere three days. It has been a lifelong dream of mine which will finally begin to be realized. Beginning next March, I will embark on my three year service in the Israel Defense Forces. However, despite the adversity which I will certainly face in the next few years of my life, I have neither second-guessed nor regretted this decision.
It is the obligation of every Jew, regardless of nationality, to live in, and participate in the defense of, the Jewish State of Israel. Why should a Jew be exempted from this critical obligation, merely because he or she was born in a country other than Israel? Were they to be born in Israel, they would be legally required to serve in the IDF. Therefore, I consider myself to be no less responsible to fight for Israel than a Jew born in Haifa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem -- or Hebron. Furthermore, in a time of war, such as exists today, we are all the more obligated to fight alongside our Israeli brothers and sisters. As the Torah recounts: "Moses said to the Children of Gad and the Children of Reuben, 'Shall your brothers go to war while you stay here? Why do you dissuade the heart of the Children of Israel from crossing to the Land that HaShem has given to them?'" (Num. 32:6-7); and, as it commands: "'... You shall not stand aside while your fellow's blood is shed -- I am HaShem. ... You shall love your fellow as yourself -- I am HaShem.'" (Lev. 19:16-18).
There is also another reason, equally important, which has driven me to leave the Diaspora for the Jewish Homeland of Israel. Our history -- the history of the Jewish people -- is replete with examples of persecutions visited upon us by the gentile nations in which we have resided. Dating as far back as our Exile in the ancient Land of Egypt to our current Exile in the modern countries of the World, we have experienced Crusades, Inquisitions, Fatwas, Pogroms, and more recently, the Shoah -- the Holocaust. Indeed, sadly, the Exile is a result of -- and a just punishment for -- our repeated disobedience to G-d while we still possessed the Land of Israel. Its purpose is to cause us, through our traumatic sense of loss, to repent of our sins so that we may be repatriated to the Land of Israel quickly. For the last 2000 years, however, the Jews of the Diaspora, especially those living in affluent countries, have instead treated their Exile from the Land of Israel as a well-deserved reward from Heaven with little or no desire to end it -- this despite our Sages words that: "Living in Eretz Yisrael equals the combined weight of all of the mitzvot in the Torah." (Sifri, Re'ei, 80)
It is absolutely puzzling to me why a Jew today, in an open and free society such as America, would choose to live here in the Exile, when the path to our homeland is, for the first time in 2000 years, fully accessible. If only our ancestors during the times of the Crusades or the Inquisition had had the ability to flee from their gentile countries to the Land of Israel in their time of need, they would have been saved from terrible persecutions and death. Instead, our ancestors were forced to flee to other gentile countries, which would eventually continue the persecution of our people. Indeed, no gentile country will ever be a permanent haven for the Jewish people. As long as we reside in a state ruled by non-Jews, we will be persecuted. Make no mistake; it is only a matter of time.
Our continued rejection of moving to the modern State of Israel mirrors our returning ancestors' rejection of the biblical Land of Israel and, ultimately, of G-d. Following our Exodus from Egypt and the subsequent complaints by the Israelites to return to Egypt instead of continuing on to the Land of Israel, including the tragic episode of the Spies, G-d decreed: "And your young children of who you said they will be taken captive, I shall bring them; they shall know the Land that you have despised. But your carcasses shall drop in this Wilderness." (Numbers 14:31-32). Clearly, the Israelites' fear that their return to the Land was too dangerous an undertaking in light of the open hostility of the Canaanite nations was an illegitimate excuse in G-d's Eyes. So too, our people's rejection of Aliyah to Israel today -- as being too dangerous -- is also illegitimate. As Jews, we must believe that G-d controls everything. Obviously one should not put himself in a dangerous situation, but danger does not exempt one from living in the Land of Israel.
G-d controls and manipulates World events for a purpose. It should become increasingly clear, as our history -- especially the last 50 years -- has shown, that the ascension from the Exile to the Land of Israel does not happen without suffering and death. Sadly, our nation has never internalized the lessons of the persecutions we have endured throughout history. History does not exist in a vacuum. Over the last fifty years, the Jewish communities of various countries such as Yemen, Morocco, Russia, and Ethiopia, just to name a few, have been returned to our Homeland. Sometimes G-d's Purpose is unknown to us in our limited capacity as human beings. However, sometimes G-d allows us to understand just a little of His Purpose for certain things. G-d is systematically eliminating the Jewish communities of the Diaspora, ending the Jewish Exile, country by country. French and Argentine Jews are the most recent to face crises in their respective countries -- crises which will eventually lead to their mass immigration to Israel. How long will Jews in America wait until the rabid anti-Semitism that is sweeping across Europe reaches American shores? It is only a matter of time. If we will not leave of our own free will, eventually G-d will force us to leave, possibly with devastatingly tragic results for our people.
If only the Jews of Germany in the years prior to World War II had heeded the calls by Ze'ev Jabotinsky to flee Europe for Israel. If only they had fled Germany while Germany allowed Jews to leave. If only they had fled Germany before the infamous British White Paper of 1939 choked off Jewish immigration to the Holy Land during the years of the Holocaust.
History can and does repeat itself, but we are not doomed to repeat our historically catastrophic mistakes.
© Jesse Rosenblit
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