Sunday, January 3, 2010

Making Active Life Choices

Sometimes you read an article about a life choice someone has made, and you think: "Wow, they're nuts." At least I used to think that more often than I do now. Now I find myself more open to the fascinating choices that people make.
Yesterday's NY Times featured an article about a family living in a yurt in Alaska titled, "Broadband Yes. Toilet No," describing the life of a couple who live in the wilderness with almost no amenities at all. No running water. No local groceries. Certainly no pizza stores. They even chose a wood stove (that they've got to constantly feed) over a propane model. They shower once a week in town (an hour's trek away in the snow) and use an outhouse. Sounds pretty crazy. I'm not so sure.
But to them, the sacrifices are worth it. “I’m someone who doesn’t mind giving up some level of convenience for having an interesting experience,” Ms. McKittrick said.
How many of us come to take certain amenities for granted, without ever wondering whether we even really want them? If everyone has two cars, then I need them too. If they've got a flat-screen TV, then I need one as well. We fall into patterns of living and expectations, and fail to ask ourselves whether we've even made a choice at all. More often than not we have not.
I might not agree with the Alaskan family living in a Yurt. I have very little desire to live so far out in the wilderness that my walls move with the wind. But I very much respect the fact that they while they could have settled down in a more conventional life, they instead made a choice.
In recent days, a number of articles about North American aliyah have coursed through the veins of the Internet. Some pareve, some strongly negative, they seem to me to miss a fundamental point about a person who moves to Israel by choice: It's very hard to make a choice to change your lifestyle in a fundamental way - even if that change represents an ideal you firmly believe in. This is something Nefesh B'nefesh realizes. So they market aliyah by trying to minimize the impact of that choice. You can find a job. You can live in a community of olim. You can succeed. I don't want to give an impression that moving to Israel is like deciding to live in a yurt in Alaska. Thankfully, we enjoy all the "wonders of modern technology", from always-on internet to running water! We enjoy many more restaurants than we ever did in Detroit, benefit from wonderful neighbors, tremendous amenities, a great community - it's really a long list.
But it's not going to be the same. Moving to Israel has almost nothing in common with moving from one side of the US to another. You have to choose, actively, to give up convenience for a more meaningful, more enriching, deeply rewarding life. You will struggle with the language, and the culture. You will be an immigrant.
And that's a hard choice to make voluntarily.
But it's also the right one.