Why our family is remaining in Israel

By Michael M. Rosen and Debra Rappaport Rosen

JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — Two years ago, we uprooted our family from sunny San Diego to rough-and-tumble Israel, which at the time was under bombardment by Hamas terrorists. Earlier this week, we became Israeli citizens after deciding to remain in the Holy Land and participate fully in the ongoing noble experiment in Jewish sovereignty.

For two proud Americans who dearly love the United States and its fundamental values, departing the Home of the Free for the Jewish homeland was a difficult, momentous decision, but one we’ve made joyfully and unapologetically for the following reasons, in increasing order of importance:

First, moving here has empowered our family to emerge from our respective linguistic, cultural, and social comfort zones. When we first arrived in-country, we clung anxiously to English as our preferred mode of communication. But within six months, we were comfortably conversing and studying in Hebrew. Debra overcame her apprehensions about studying Jewish texts and leapt headfirst into a daily Talmud class. Michael became more assertive in developing legal business. And our children, whose ages now range from 7 to 13, adapted to studying, interacting, and even thinking in another language, to their enormous credit.

New English-speaking arrivals in Israel are often greeted with friendly, if disconcerting, advice, such as “don’t expect your children to go to class,” “they won’t learn any Hebrew for months,” “they won’t learn anything at all because the school systems are so poor,” “you’ll only be as happy as your most miserable child,” “your oldest child will have the hardest time transitioning and learning Hebrew,” and, our favorite, “you won’t have any time for yourselves because you’ll spend all day preparing your next meal.” Fortunately, few if any of these premonitions proved salient, but in our case, forewarned was forearmed.

Second, we’ve relaxed our uptight, typically American approach to almost everything and become more comfortable living with the uncertainty that characterizes life in Israel. Perhaps because the security situation here is so precarious, Israelis from a young age become staggeringly flexible in coordinating the most complex endeavors (occasionally to the point of distraction), an agility that serves the country well both on the battlefield and in the boardroom.

This trait hasn’t been lost on us. Debra has largely released her obsessive-compulsive tendencies to prepare everything days and weeks ahead of time, since seemingly everything in Israel is done last-minute. We’ve learned to complete back-to-school shopping, plan vacations, schedule appointments, and organize birthday parties all at the eleventh hour — newfound skills that dazzle (and sometimes startle) our American friends and family.

Third, Israel has afforded our children an almost unfathomable sense of independence. Universal conscription in Israel fosters a sense of youthful urgency; the desire by parents to protect offspring headed to the barracks inevitably breeds a willingness to allow them, earlier on, to spread their wings. Young kids freely roam the streets of our suburb, armed only with pocket money, cell phones, and a freewheeling spirit — a freedom we would never in a million years grant our children back in San Diego but happily indulge here.

Fourth, we have learned to do more with less. This country is physically small (roughly the size of New Jersey), and space comes at a premium. Fortunately, the happiness and fulfillment we feel on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis runs much deeper than the house we live in (smaller than our home in San Diego) or the (one, French-made) car we drive (smaller and crappier than our previous sedan and minivan). We’ve also both made significant career sacrifices in moving here.

Because Israelis live their lives with the unsettling feeling that one never knows what tomorrow may bring, they of necessity have learned to get humbly by, and with a deep sense of appreciation. In the words of a popular Israeli song my kids and I saw performed last week, “We may not have Ibiza; not much on our Visa; but we’ve got the breezes; of Eilat, and the Sea of Galilee.”

But fifth, and most important, we are thrilled to participate in the beautiful, messy, inspiring, maddening, astoundingly successful project of Jewish renewal begun by the hardy early Zionists more than a century ago, a spiritual, cultural, material, philosophical, and technological renaissance not witnessed anywhere before. As a friend succinctly puts it, we are fulfilling our Jewish destiny.

Our oldest child expressed this sentiment perfectly a few months ago: “This is our homeland,” he told us, amidst a rash of terror attacks, “and we can’t run from it. Who will defend it if we don’t?” This is the essence of why we’ve chosen to remain here: to experience our history and heritage first-hand; to never be afraid to wear our yarmulkes, as we often are around the world; and to instill in our children the (sometimes contradictory) values of self-reliance and communitarianism so deeply rooted here.

To be sure, not everything is rosy in Israel. The rocket attacks could resume at any time, whether from the south, where Hamas’s recent rumblings have many on edge, to the north, where Hezbollah has over 150,000 missiles pointed our way. Iran continues to develop its nuclear program, now with the connivance of the West. And a delegitimization campaign has in recent years intensified in many precincts on the Left. Our own children will likely be called upon to fight the wars such hostility will inexorably spark.

In addition, it saddens us to depart the United States, the single greatest force for good for the largest number of people in the history of the world, and our many friends and family members whom we’ll see only during periodic visits.

But as we explained two years ago, the values the Jewish State and the United States share are timeless and enduring, and we strive “to bolster the critically important economic, political, military, and moral links between the United States and Israel, two nations conceived, through blood, in ideals of freedom, independence, and religious liberty.”

A few weeks ago, we commemorated Tishah B’Av — the day the temples in this ancient city were razed, exiling our people for nearly 2,000 years — in Florence, whose dwindling Jewish community traces its roots to that exile. The spectacular domed, Moorish Revival sanctuary of the Great Synagogue was bathed in darkness and silence, punctuated only by the plaintive lamentations of the rabbi, cantor, and sexton, which included Psalm 137 and its unforgettable line: “How can we sing the Song of the Lord on foreign soil?”

Now that our national exile has ended, we are privileged to be able to sing the Lord’s song — both literally, in religious and spiritual form, and figuratively, by contributing economically, politically, and culturally to the Jewish revival — on our own soil. Truly, we are blessed.

Michael M. Rosen is an attorney and writer, and Debra Rappaport Rosen is a non-profit fundraiser. They live in Israel. Reach them, respectively, at michaelmrosen@yahoo.com and d_rappaport@yahoo.com