A Moving Experience
03/01/02
Staff Writer
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Alan Rubin has always worn a kipa, but he says it’s bigger these days. His wife, Debi, has always dressed modestly, but she says she dresses more modestly these days. The couple has always found time for their five children, but they say they find more time these days. These days are the six months since Sept. 11, 2001. The Rubins, who live in Elizabeth, N.J., say they have been on a spiritual journey since 9-11, a path that will end this summer in Jerusalem. The Rubins are making aliyah — because of 9-11. Like many Americans of every faith who re-examined their lives and priorities in the wake of the deadly terrorist attacks on the United States, Alan and Debi Rubin decided to make significant changes. But unlike many, whose emotional fervor waned in the months after that black Tuesday, the Rubins say their spiritual passion has not cooled. The events of Sept. 11 “ignited our flame — our flame is still roaring,” Debi says. Americans were treating each other nicer, they were attending religious services in record numbers, they were considering career changes as a response to the terrorism, to the sudden feelings of mortality, the country’s media reported last fall. By winter, and now on the verge of spring, on the half-year anniversary Monday of Sept. 11, life has returned to normal for many Americans. “I don’t think I see any significant changes” in behavior, says Rabbi Abraham Twerski, a psychiatrist and author of several books about personal growth. “Among most of us there is a feeling that life goes on.” “We’re back to normal,” echoes Rabbi Daniel Freedlander, vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Other Jewish leaders say they have noticed a continuing carryover from 9-11 among members of the community in personal acts of kindness and giving instead of large-scale actions, albeit less intensely than originally. Rabbi Twerski says initially among Jews and non-Jews, the attacks and 3,000 deaths were “a wake-up call.” Now, he says, “there is a feeling that you turn off the alarm and go back to sleep.” “Our alarm clock is still going,” Debi Rubin says. “It’s a big change,” she says of aliyah, “but it’s the right thing.” She and her husband decided immediately they would move to Israel, an action they had considered, then postponed, after getting married 13 years ago. In October they scheduled a “fact-finding mission” to Israel; in November they went for two weeks. They’ve sold their house and started packing. They will live with Debi’s sister in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood until they find their own apartment nearby. Debi, formerly a physician’s assistant, will stay at home with the kids. Alan, a real estate attorney, will commute back here for a while. Long term, he’s not sure what he’ll do for a living. Aliyah officials in New York City say interest in immigration to Israel — and among Israelis who want to go back — peaked in the months after the attacks, then decreased. The total American figures for this year, most visible by the summer when most olim make the move, will be 30 percent to 40 percent above recent years’ totals of about 1,500, the officials say. Representatives of aliyah organizations said many Jews who are planning to emigrate this summer are reluctant to discuss their feelings on the record for fear of upsetting family members, or employers who have not yet been informed of the pending move. Most of the new crop of immigrants-to-be are, like the Rubins, young, Orthodox families: Alan is 34, Debi, 33. Most had previously considered aliyah. “I don’t think 9-11 caused someone who never thought about Israel to go to Israel,” Dan Biron, executive director of the Israel Aliyah Center’s North American delegation. “The event caused those who were sitting on the fence” — indecisive because of the risk of terrorism in Israel or other reasons — “to get off the fence. They realized that [terrorism] can happen anywhere. “Nobody is going on aliyah only because of 9-11,” he says. “They are going because of ideological reasons.” Closer to Ground Zero, Rabbi Joshua Heller sees the ongoing effects of 9-11. “Life has gotten back to normal for most of us,” he says. But for many of his congregants at the Downtown Synagogue in Battery Park City, “Life has definitely not returned to normal” Several members of his congregation, which split off from another area synagogue and is based in rented space in a seniors residence, lived in buildings near the destroyed World Trade Center and were dislocated for months. “The events of 9-11 led people to look more seriously at spiritual issues,” Rabbi Heller says. At the Downtown Synagogue, that has translated into a more intensive search for a permanent home for the congregation. “It has increased their commitment to making this synagogue happen.” “People felt a need … for some kind of connection” after 9-11, says Jerome Epstein, executive vice-president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. That, he says, is why attendance at religious services increased at first. “People saw the importance of reaching out to each other.” Since then, Rabbi Epstein says, many Jews have substituted service for services. While Shabbat attendance has returned to pre-9-11 days, the rabbi says increased participation in such activities as visiting the sick and maintaining shiva minyans for grieving families remains. “People are finding time for chesed [acts of kindness],” he says. “Things people couldn’t find time for before, they’re finding time for now.” Friday-night meals, at home with one’s family, is another example. “A lot of people have told me that Friday night has taken an added significance,” Rabbi Epstein says. “People are looking to Judaism for a structure.” Rabbi Freedlander of the UAHC says he heard an unusual amount of laughter during the Purimshpiels he attended last week. For many Jews, he says, the satirical holiday plays were the first religiously sanctioned catharsis since September. “I think people needed to laugh,” he says. Many temples in the Reform movement have started support groups for those still traumatized by the September terrorist attacks, Rabbi Freedlander says. “People desperately need to be together in a group. People have problems processing this individually,” he says. Another ongoing result of 9-11: “The American Jewish community has moved to the center or the right in terms of Israel,” supporting hard-line policies against Israel’s own terrorist problems, as well as the necessity of racial profiling by police officials,” the rabbi says. Walter Drimer, who runs a Baltimore-based executive recruiting firm that finds professionals for Israel’s biotech industry, says the initial “flurry” of interest among prospective recruits has diminished. The fear of violence in Israel, temporarily overshadowed by 9-11, looms larger with almost-daily attacks by Palestinians. The threat of future terrorist attacks in the U.S. was not used to induce American Jews to consider Israel, says Biron of the Israel Aliyah Center. But, says Chavi Eisenberg, national director of Tehilla-The Union for Religious Aliyah, dangers here give people who want to make aliyah “something to say to their [nervous] parents”: So where is it safe? Increased interest in Tehilla’s aliyah-related events since 9-11 is not limited to the New York area, Eisenberg says. “In Baltimore we had a huge response” at an educational meeting. In L.A., we had a really nice meeting too. Toronto was big.” For the Rubins, aliyah “is part of a general spiritual path — this reawakening that happened to us,” Alan says. He spends more time in formal Jewish learning. “I’m less of a workaholic.” Terror on U.S. soil is not driving them away, Debi says. “We’re going to Israel — because it’s our country.” Second thoughts about their decision? “None,” she says. “We haven’t looked back.” When the Rubins announced last year that the family was making aliyah, one of their children asked, “Moshiach’s here?” “We always told them we were moving when Moshiach [the Messiah] is here,” Debi says. “I explained that Moshiach’s not here yet, but we’re going to have front-row seats.”

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