I interrupt my regular programming to reproduce an e-mail exchange I had with Mishpacha magazine, part of which was printed last week in the January 19/14 Shvat issue. I reproduce it here in its entirety, for I feel its points are vital. (Special thanks to Mishpacha, for their kind permission.)

What, in your opinion, is the difference between an aliyah “success” and “failure”?

I will give answers to both meanings of your question.

1) What will determine success or failure, i.e., if the person or family stays or leaves? (THE difference is of course what Hashem has decreed for you.) In terms of a person’s hishtadlus, there seem to be two primary factors: parnassah, and the successful chinuch (and integration) of our children.

2) Assuming the person stays here, how do we determine if he’s succeeded or not? The degree to which he has become part of Israeli society while maintaining his own uniqueness; plus — and this cannot be stressed enough — whether or not he has also made an aliyah in ruchniyus, which should be the raison d’être of anyone’s aliyah.

Do you think a community such as RBS is a good model for aliyah? Or is a more integrated community preferred?

People have different opinions. Mine is that it is ideal for adults to have a place where they feel comfortable, thus enabling their aliyah, and encouraging others to do the same. But it must be done in a way that the “next generation,” their children, will feel “Israeli” (and hopefully the parents succeed at their children’s still maintaining the positive qualities of their country of origin).

Have you succeeded in building a “kehillah,” American-style? Is that something you feel is missing in Israel?

I would like to think so; but you must ask the kehillah people!

[By the way, whenever we talk about something missing here, we must careful to specify that we are talking about something missing from Medinas Yisroel, not from Eretz Yisroel (two completely different entities). Tovah ha’Aretz me’od me’od.]

What seems to me to be missing are precisely that: kehillos, where one grows as an individual, yet is also part of a larger, supportive group.

Americans also feel that a certain spirit of tolerance and broadmindedness is missing. Of course, Americans are missing plenty, too; one hopes that filling those gaps is the reason they made aliyah.

Does it make you sad when you hear that a family has decided to move back?

Of course. Living in Eretz Yisroel should be every Jew’s dream and one of his or her life’s goals.

Can you give some examples of families that could have done something different to make it here?

PLAN, PLAN, before you come. It is amazing to me that people come here and only then start looking into chinuch options for their kids, determining any special needs their kids may have, and seeing how or even if they can be met. You should start making aliyah months and months — probably a year — before you come.

And the same for parnassah options. And the same for aliyah in ruchniyus options.

What are the biggest issues facing immigrant families (we all know about parnassah, education etc. but what’s really behind it — e.g. is there a fear of integration, of lowering standards, etc.)?

Being clueless. Making unwarranted assumptions. There are so many options here, boruch Hashem, but one has to look for them (they’re in Hebrew!) and find out where and how to find them. Talk to people who are here. Israelis, Americans, English, everybody! Before you come. Do diligent research. This takes work, energy, time, ko’ach — but if you don’t do this, you’re lacking in your hishtadlus.

Most olim want to be in Israel but have no desire to be Israeli. They (we) are quite comfortable with our own identity. Do you see that as a good thing? How does it affect the kids?

I think I have already answered that. I have no problem with the oleh, because it enables and encourages aliyah, and in the best-case scenario he or she is, in any event, a foreigner in a foreign culture. But if the oleh davka avoids all things Israeli to whatever degree he or she can, that person is doing a grave disservice to the next generation, who will have an identity crises of who he is, where he belongs, etc. Not a good thing.

What are the big issues that congregants come to you with?

The overwhelming majority come with personal, social work-type issues, that have nothing to do with being an oleh per se. They run the gamut: shalom bayis, chinuch banim, self-esteem, sheilas…

Obviously, it is through the prism of being an oleh. But it annoys me to no end when aliyah is blamed for problems these people would obviously (to me) be facing anywhere they lived! If it weren’t aliyah, it would be other issues, unique to chutz la’Aretz. Tovah ha’Aretz me’od me’od!

After that, it is the unique issues they face in chinuch habanim.

Now for a personal question: Are American rabbanim who come here held up to their former stature, or does the Israeli Torah community not give them their due kavod? How is your kavod level?

My kavod level is, and has always been, way beyond what I deserve!

Anyone wishing to serve Hashem, and His People, in any capacity, needs a heavy dose of Sha’ar Yichud Hama’aseh in the sefer Chovos Halevavos, where he teaches us how to do things lishmah, and let the kavod and thank-you chips fall where they may.

Now for the biggie: Is living in Israel even optional? Can a Torah family or individual just decide “if it’s for him,” or is there a religious/spiritual imperative for everyone to try to get here?

There is a religious imperative for everyone to see if it seems feasible, and then to ask their own spiritual mentor and be guided by that person. Sometimes it will be a psak, sometimes an eitzah.

I do know some success stories, though, where they did NOT listen to their rav or mentor’s advice, and came. But in general, of course, one should be guided by their spiritual guide.

It must be stated, though, that in every case I have heard of in which the gedolim here in Eretz Yisroel have been consulted by a potential oleh, the answer was invariably: Come, come, it will im yirtzeh Hashem all work out!

Thank you for allowing me to clarify things in my own mind!