Everyday for the past five years I wore a clunky, over-sized silver ring on the thumb of my right hand. The type of ring that spins around its main band like a miniature, glossy carousel. Engraved on it is the passuk written in Hebrew, “Jerusalem, if I forget you, let my right hand forget its cunning.” But because the ring was a size too big, it was prone to falling off and getting lost. I’d lost it in public restrooms, twice at my rabbi’s house, and countlessly in the pockets of coats. Although it would disappear for weeks at a time, I never gave up hope; for it would always turn up in the nick of time, offering me one more shot at redemption.
One quiet Sunday morning, I was walking through Crown Heights and noticed the ring had fallen off. I retraced my steps, raided my pockets, but eventually, had no choice but to accept it and keep walking. This time, I knew it was gone for good.
Ever since returning from my year in Israel, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life there. The energy I’ve felt in the streets of Jerusalem is intoxicating. I find it In the colorful twists and turns of Machane Yehuda, and in the juicy, crimson seeds of gigantic pomegranates, staining my sunburnt lips. The love I have for Israel is absolutely innate. It goes beyond anything physical, political, or linguistic.I promised myself I would move there no matter what curveball life may throw, as it always does. For a myriad of reasons, I knew that making Aliyah before college was impossible. That little, silver ring was a symbol of return. I knew as soon as it was my turn to go, I’d go, and I wouldn’t forget. Yet after graduating, it seemed that my number had still yet to be called. The next step in my journey was not Aliyah; not just yet. While the decision was both practical and realistic, I lamented profusely. The realization gripped my heart with iron fingers. My poor soul, utterly enslaved to the decisions of my cowardly mind…
When I came back from my year in Israel, I was warned not to get too comfortable.
“Hurry back to Israel, before you get too used to the physicality of America.”
For years now those words have rang in my ears. What if I become one of those people? Naively promising herself she’ll move to Israel “when the time is right.” I can hear the voices of my good friends who have already made the big move themselves.
“But didn’t you want to move to Israel? When are you coming?”
When the time is right… I tell myself, but to their questions I reply, “soon, don’t worry.” On the surface, being a Jew in New York City is just about as easy as it gets. You can get anything kosher (and kosher for Passover) and pray in just about any kind of Shul. However as Passover draws near, I recognize my own current state of enslavement. Of course, there are worse places to be enslaved than in beautiful Manhattan. My job is here, my community, my family; I’m comfortable here, relatively happy, and accustomed.
When God took the Jews out of Egypt, they whined and whined. God offered them the Manna, the holy loaves that tasted like anything one could ever desire, and on Friday before Shabbat, a double portion was generously given. Still, the Jewish people suffered from bitter nostalgia. They missed the fish they ate when they were in Egypt. They craved what was familiar to them, allowing for exile and comfort to go hand in hand. Fresh fish, right from the Nile; convenience and a proclivity to cling to what was familiar and delicious.
But what if the Manna is flavorless? What if I can’t speak the language? Or understand the people? What if it stops falling from the sky one day? What if while I’m navigating the twisty streets of Jerusalem, I find myself salivating over the thought of consuming the fish? The fish from back home in Egypt, fresh and easily attained; familiar. What if I look back?
A friend of mine made a promise to herself to move to Israel by the time she turns 28. Another, in a desperate attempt not to succumb to Western pleasures, vowed never to eat ice cream upon his return to New York. Alas, after Yom Kippur passed, he was finally able to nullify this short-lived attempt not to get too comfortable.
I probe the empty place on my thumb where my ring used to sit loosely. And suddenly I feel empty inside. What if I’m forever enslaved by the physical symbol I’ve come to associate with Aliyah? A handcuff instead of a ring, the type of slavery one may crave without even realizing it. I reminisce on the moment where I lost it in the first place. Did I run back to look for it? Yes. But I eventually let it go and recognized that it was only a piece of silver. It wasn’t my future, my dreams, or my last chance to redeem myself.
Comfort is enslaving, but faith is where my liberation begins. At the end of the Passover seder I choke on the words “B’shana haba b’Yerushalayim.” I make this declaration every year, knowing it may very well be a far-off fantasy. We are only freed from our matzah loitered, wine-stained tables once we declare our own freedom. One day I will say “next year in Jerusalem,” and I’ll do more than mean it with my entire body and soul; I will actualize it.