Yehuda Halevi wrote, "My heart is in the East, but I am at the ends of the West..." I’ve often felt that I wanted to be in two places at once— Jerusalem and Toronto—since I don’t think the Diaspora is vapid and meaningless and the only place to live a full Jewish life is Israel. After all, the Talmud we use as authoritative was written in Babylonia, and our own vibrant Jewish community is a centre of Jewish life no less than any other Diaspora community has been for two thousand years, producing Jewish poetry, art, music, food, culture and identity. No amount of “you should make aliyah” guilt will inspire those who feel most at home here, who believe in the imperative to make that home an example of the best Judaism can offer: with synagogues, day schools, community centres, adult education institutes, Jewish film festivals, walks for Israel, charitable fundraising, and more. Bravo to those who keep the mitzvah to live in Eretz Yisrael, and bravo to those who build and sustain Jewish life here, and bravo to those who live somewhere in the middle.
So, let's think about aliyah in different terms. I was truly excited to hear of a new idea from my colleague Rabbi Stanley Davids, who coined the term aliyat hanefesh, or spiritual aliyah. Rabbi Paul Kipnes writes about this concept in the most recent Reform Rabbis newsletter and calls it “...a soul driven aliyah that places love for Israel near the centre of our lives. Aliyat hanefesh could be expressed by visits for study and for vacations, by making certain that our children and grandchildren have extensive personal experiences of Israel, by becoming informed advocates for Israel and by personally making certain to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut as a religious holiday each May.” This notion of spiritual aliyah makes our frequent or even infrequent visits to Israel that much more meaningful. We aren’t just tourists, we are spiritual pilgrims. It conceptualizes and frames every letter to the editor, a trip to the wine store to counter-protest, the choice of Israel for winter break over Cancun, dancing with an Israeli flag at a rally, supporting a candidate for a Birthright trip. Each act is a soul driven aliyah that may or may not lead to settling in the land, but it is a “going up” all the same.
There are many texts in Rabbinic sources that point toward making physical aliyah. The Rabbis could never have imagined, though, the kind of flowering, safe diaspora we live in here in North America. So perhaps, for us, "spiritual aliyah" is a way of acknowledging that we have two children without having to choose which one we love better.