For The South African Jewish Diaspora
A friend told me the following fascinating story;
As an idealistic young Rabbi he started working as a campus Rabbi in the US. Faced with the eternal challenge attracting the uncommitted he hung up the following poster-‘’Who’s land is it anyway- a lecture on who can really lay claim to the land of Israel in the main auditorium on Tuesday at 5pm.’’
When he arrived for the lecture he was heartened to see an almost full house. Just before he got up to speak, however, the members of the Moslem students’ society walked in and took places in the front row.
Bracing himself at this unexpected change of events he decided that he would talk, come what may, and if need be sacrifice himself for the cause.
He elaborated the following idea.
The Ramban, one of our greatest thinkers of all time, raises the following question. Hashem warns the Jewish people prior to their entry to the Land of Israel that they should be wary of immorality as the nature of such behavior is that it causes the occupants of the land to be exiled from it. This is a very puzzling statement- immorality is forbidden wherever a Jew finds himself so what does it have to do with living in Israel.
To answer this he the Ramban quotes an idea from the immortal Eban Ezra ‘’ One of the foundations of Judaism is to understand that our actions and reactions are dependent on our circumstances and place’’ in other words in every situation that we find ourselves we have to remember that in Heaven they expect us to act according to the conditions at hand.
This idea was succinctly brought home to me when as a boy in South Africa I asked a Rabbi why he didn’t go live in Israel, to which he replied that he didn’t want to sleep in a shul. To say that just as we understand that there is a certain code of conduct in a shul so too the holiness of the Land of Israel obligates us to keep up a certain standard.
The Ramban continues to explain that this difference stems that even though all countries might seem to us to be physically to be made of the same material Israel is intrinsically different.
The Mabit in his classic Beis Elokim (a monumental work which served as a source of strength to the persecuted Spanish Jews in the time of the inquisition) points out that our world is not as we perceive it. To our mind the living beings, plant world and inanimate objects are completely foreign to relationships and definitely to spiritual concepts. Nevertheless we read in Perek Shira (the Song of Creation) that the lions and birds as well as the flowers and trees and even the sea recognize their Creator and Sing His praise. (The nature of this song is a broad topic and needs a separate discussion).
In other words the world around us has a much deeper dimension than we realize and fundamental spiritual changes are constantly happening under our very feet. The ground we stand on is more than just sand and stones and Hashem gave to His chosen people the choicest section of His world-the Land of Israel, a land in which intrinsic holiness is part of its very nature and can be discerned by the spiritually aware. In this week’s sedra we read about the seventh year-the shmita- and the language that the Torah uses is that the land itself is obligated to observe the shmita as much as we are obligated to observe Shabbos.
And this Holy Land cannot bear adultery within its borders and ejects immoral peoples away from itself.
Eretz Yisrael is ours but we have to deserve it.
After he finished his lecture one of the Moslem students stood up and said “I was born near Damascus gate in the old city of Jerusalem and we the Arabs know that Israel rightly belongs to the Jewish people. However until such time that they are deserving of it we want it to be ours for safekeeping.”(Obviously this is not our viewpoint)
In the years of the British mandate over Palestine, as part of the Peel commission to decide the future of the country, the British government sent a committee to ‘investigate whether the Jewish people in Palestine keep the holiness of the Bible.’ Even the secular kibbutzim made an effort to seem observant. Even to these gentiles it was clear that our right to Israel is eternal but we can only hope to gain from its bounty of goodness and live in it in peace as much as we are deserving of it.
Interview with Rabbi Tuvia (Trevor) Rosen
One of the dominant South African Rabbis in Israel
- Q. Rabbi Rosen what has your experience been with the success of the South African Aliya in Israel?
R.Rosen First of all I would like to point out that wherever South Africans find themselves in all parts of Israel they are highly regarded by both native Israelis and Olim as being a highly ethical and moral community and demand the respect of all. That definitely can be regarded as a success.
- How have South Africans dealt with acclimatizing in a new country and have they been successful?
R.Rosen. I think that the difficulties of adapting to a new country, culture and especially a new language are universal and are challenging for olim of all backgrounds. South Africans are generally determined to make it work and by and large I find that they become well integrated into the society. As I mentioned before we tend to be very well liked and respected by the society at large and that probably helps to make the acclimatizing more pleasant.
Our community is quite unique in a number of aspects and it is unfair to compare it to other communities. I do not have statistics to base it upon but when I think back to those who have been here for some time I think many have been very successful in their fields. A number have become wealthy or influential and many of those who studied here in Yeshivas have become famous and great in Torah.
- How would you compare the olim who came in you day to those arriving in the present?
I have noticed an interesting phenomenon- most of those who came on aliya previously understood that this was to be their new home and put their minds to staying here for good. However the young people who come today very often end up returning to South Africa after a few years of studying or living here. I am not sure for the reason for this but it seems to me that it could be a result of the general strengthening of the community in South Africa. Whereas when we were younger and arrived on the shores of Israel we did not feel that we had much to find in South Africa ,the present generation don’t feel such a great loss by leaving Israel and going back home to their families.