The following kasha (question) is sent to Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, a Kabbalist in Eretz Yisrael, regarding forming special kehillos (assemblies) by those who made Aliyah to Eretz Yisrael due to adjustment problems. Hear what Rabbi Hillel has to say.
Forming Foreign Kehillos in Eretz Yisroel
I am part of a new community in Eretz Yisroel. We are trying to form an English-speaking kehillah, because many of us have difficulty integrating into Israeli society. We don’t feel comfortable or welcome in the Israeli shul. Many of us are baalei teshuvah, and even those of us who are FFBs don’t have family in Israel. We feel that we need an English-speaking kehillah to overcome the challenges of life in Israel. Yet, some rabbonim have suggested that forming such a kehillah may hurt us and our children, because it will prevent us from integrating into Israeli society.
Also, does the rov feel that I should change my dress code from the more American style that I am used to from chutz la’aretz?
Rav Yaakov Hillel answers:
Concerning founding a new English-speaking community in Eretz Yisroel, I see this question of kehillos in Israel as the biggest problem we have. Most of the people who are coming here from chutz la’aretz were in an environment where there is a community shul, and community rabbis, and lots of excellent activities led by good rabbonim.
In contrast, many of the new immigrants who come to Eretz Yisroel buy apartments in secular neighborhoods, where they have very few options to practice the Yiddishkeit and community activities that they had when they were abroad. They come to Israel full of good intentions, but wind up assimilating into the non-religious community. This is because there is a lack of established kehillos led by proactive and caring rabbonim such as those in chutz la’aretz.
Coming to Eretz Yisroel is commonly termed “aliyah,” going up. However, whether aliyah takes a person up or down depends on his behaviour. If he plans to go up in his religious observance, then it is truly aliyah.
If a person plans to stay at the same level as he was previously, then he will definitely go down. There are many spiritual trials that exist here in Eretz Yisroel, where we live amongst Jews of many different levels. As such, observing a minimal level of Yiddishkeit will not be sufficient to ensure that one’s children retain clarity as to the religious level that their parents aspire to. A person must first decide what level of observance he desires and then strive for more than this by living amongst people who are complementary to that level.
In chutz la’aretz, things are black or white. We can tell our children to stay away from the people we don’t approve of. For this reason, strong kehillos developed in chutz la’aretz.
In Eretz Yisroel, however, things are not so simple, and it is very possible that a person’s children will associate with other children who are in the same neighborhood but are on a much lower level of Yiddishkeit than they were used to in chutz la’aretz, and they may eventually fall in their religious observance.
Nothing could be better than establishing a kehillah in order to preserve and advance the level of Yiddishkeit of the community. Obviously, choosing an appropriate neighborhood for the level of Yiddishkeit that one wants is imperative.
You are right in saying that being part of such a community can cause difficulties when it comes to getting a child into Israeli institutions. Therefore, I recommend that preferably, this English-speaking community should try and affiliate themselves with an Israeli Chanichei Hayeshivos shul in the neighbourhood. If they separate themselves completely, then they are setting themselves up for future problems.
This will not always work, for these communities cannot always mix. In such a case, the rov should try and bridge the gap between the English-speaking kehillah and the Israeli kehillos. This will ensure that the community will not lose out at a later stage.
Alternatively, the kehillah can establish their own schools on the same level as, or a higher level than, they were used to in chutz la’aretz. The main issue they have to consider is chinuch. The rabbonim of each neighborhood should put their heads together to try to formulate a plan to make this work.
As far as how one dresses, we must realize that in Israel, one’s clothing identifies a person with specific ideologies. If a person decides not to conform, he may have to pay a price for it. He has to weigh how important his mode of dress is to him versus how much he stands to lose from not conforming to accepted modes of dress of those institutions that he would like his children to be educated in.
These are very general guidelines. Every case has to be dealt with individually according to one’s needs and the needs of his community. I give my heartfelt brachah to you and everyone else in your position to be successful in settling in the appropriate kehillah in Eretz Yisroel.
Source: Rabbi Yaakov Travis, Rosh Kollel Toras Chaim, The “Living On” Rabbi