Having just returned from a trip to Israel for my grand-nephew’s bar mitzvah, I found myself in the unique position of making a two-week exodus to Israel and returning to my American homeland in mere hours of travel. To many, our visit to Israel from the U.S. may not seem like such a big deal: a long flight, a gathering of family, some sightseeing and then a longer flight home.
But a sightseeing trip to the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv with Pesach approaching became a big deal. I was struck by the current exhibition, “Leaving, Never to Return: A Tribute to the Jews of Arab Countries and Iran.”
It did more than enlighten us on the lives of the Jews in the Middle East during a 2,500-year period running through the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the Iranian Revolution in 1979. It highlighted their struggles to survive and integrate into those societies while maintaining our Jewish culture.
It also described their ultimate exodus from their homelands after the formation of the State of Israel. Their exodus was, in reality, an expulsion; their passports were stamped “A Trip with No Return.” At one point, there were approximately 850,000 Jews living in the now Muslim countries that surround Israel. Today, only a few thousand Jews live there.
We are all truly blessed. We live in a country where we have the freedom to make a temporary exodus to visit Eretz Yisrael and then return by choice – as often as we can.
Jody Pollack is executive director of the Atlanta Kosher BBQ Festival.