Eric Silberman

PhD Candidate, Tel Aviv University

Alumnus of IGF Session 9, 2014-2015

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I attended IGF during the 2014-2015 cycle, while in the midst of medical school applications. I completed my applications over the summer before IGF, and I flew home for a week of interviews in December. However, during the course of the program I reached two very important conclusions. First, I could not return to the US and leave Israel behind, and second I could not remain in Israel, so far removed from the rest of my family. As a compromise position, therefore, I withdrew my applications to medical school and applied to rabbinical school, feeling that at least that way Israel would remain front and center in my life. I spent two years in rabbinical school before coming to the conclusion that my heart is lodged firmly and irrevocably in artzeinu, eretz kodsheinu, our land, the land of our holiness. I made Aliyah in September 2017. I have since completed a Master’s degree at Hebrew University (Chemistry) and am now pursuing a Ph.D. (Biotechnology) at the University of Tel Aviv. 

Making Aliyah was simultaneously the most foregone conclusion I have ever reached, and the hardest decision to make. I have no family in Israel and making Aliyah meant putting a tremendous distance between myself and my parents and siblings. But, ultimately, I love Israel. I commute to work on a train that has a regular minyan for morning prayers (and, not infrequently, a Torah scroll). I shop in stores that have no Christmas displays, but that sell ungodly amounts of honey cake before Rosh Hashanah. The street I live on is named for a rabbi. A friend of mine told me of attending a protest and chanting the immortal words of Rebbe Nahman of Bratslav: “The whole world is a narrow bridge… The main thing is to have no fear.” 

And, what is to me utterly incredible, is that at the same time that I experience these profoundly Jewish parts of Israel, I am also living the most normal of lives. I completed a Master’s degree at Hebrew University (Chemistry) and am now pursuing a Ph.D. (Biotechnology) at the University of Tel Aviv. I have had wonderful first dates, miserable first dates, painful breakups, and everything in between. I have sat in traffic, yelled at customer service, and cheered at sporting events. I have celebrated at weddings, cried at funerals, taken vacations, watched television, worked, played, and done everything else that makes up a life.

I chose to make Aliyah, and I love Israel, because “my most basic and simple day-to-day routine is the fulfillment of the most grandiose prophecies of the Prophets of Israel.” (This quote comes from MK Tehila Friedman’s address to the Knesset.) 

There is a debate recorded in the Talmud (Eiruvin 13b) between the followers of Shammai and the followers of Hillel. The one says that it would have been better for man to have never been created, and the other says it is better that we do exist. Not so very long ago, that same debate raged about the Jewish State. For 2,000 years, against all odds, we carried in our hearts a perfect vision of our redemption. Nothing – not Rome, not the Crusades, not the Inquisition, not even the Holocaust – could shatter our dreams. But, in the end, the perfection of our vision was broken. It was ultimately destroyed not by anti-Semites, but by Zionists who chose reality over dreams, existence over ‘not’.

 

There are people who believe that Israel would be better off if it had never been created. IGF avowedly believes that Israel is special because it ‘is’. IGF contends that one who truly cares about Israel must care about Israel as it is. I believe in IGF because IGF is one of the only programs I know that loves Israel as she is. IGF does not ask participants to fall in love with a dream. IGF does not present Israel as anything other than real. There are Jews in Israel who believe we are witnessing the beginning of the redemption; there are Jews in Israel who believe we are desecrating the Holy Land; there are Jews in Israel who do not believe at all. IGF believes that to love Israel is not to choose one group over another, but to choose everyone – all of `am yisrael – together.

 

I believe in IGF because I believe that this form of love – not infantile, not blind, but deep and true – is the only way forward. Too many Jews have either decided to pretend that Israel is an embodiment of perfection or to disavow the Jewish State entirely. But Jews should not be forced to choose between these two extremes. Israel should be the great unifier for all Jews around the world for the simple reason that she ‘is’.