Last week, I received a phone call from an old friend in the States. He was upset about recent blogs and op-eds appearing on Israel-based websites that, in his opinion, castigate Diaspora Jews who don’t make aliyah.
He said that merely calling aliyah a commandment of the Torah that had to be fulfilled like every other precept ignored the many other factors involved in packing up one’s life, saying farewell to beloved relatives, and heading off into the wild blue yonder, not knowing if you would find gainful employment or a suitable place to live for your family.
He claimed that many people he knows who genuinely wanted to come on aliyah were turned away because they were too old or lacked the proper documentation proving their Jewishness, which few Americans have, even though their mothers were Jewish. In addition, he claimed that the government of Israel talks about aliyah, but doesn’t do enough to make sure a new immigrant succeeds when he arrives. Instead, olim are bounced back and forth from one agency to another, as if they have a skin disease that no-one wants to handle.
Frankly, I was at a loss for words. I made aliyah myself, and while it has often, shall we say, not been easy, I’ve managed to survive and actually enjoy living here, feeling a sense of great pride that I am a part of the rebuilding of the Jewish Homeland.
"I agree with many of the points your friend mentioned, and would add some observations of my own.
"First, the Jews of the Diaspora are not to blame for the disgracefully small numbers of olim from the West. No one bothered to teach them about the centrality of Eretz Yisrael to Jewish Life, and about the necessity of living in the Land of Israel for a truly meaningful connection to Torah and to Hashem. Their Diaspora Rabbis didn’t teach them; the heads of Jewish Federations and Major Jewish Organizations didn’t teach them; and their parents didn’t teach them. So they became like children raised amongst the Gentiles, ignorant of the true understanding of Torah. Without honest Torah education which places the Holy Land at the center of a Jew’s life, and the building of the Israelite Nation in Zion as the goal of the Torah, the erroneous notion was fostered that the Exile had value in itself, and that it is perfectly okay for a Jew to live in America, England, Australia, or Timbuktu.
"Instead, of relating to the Galut as a cursed hiatus that we were forced to endure while exiled from our Homeland, the leaders of Diaspora Jewry in Western countries turned the Exile into the goal of Jewish Life. Instead of yearning for Zion, the Diaspora Jew was educated to yearn to become a successful American businessman or lawyer with a lot of money and material comfort – the very opposite of the personal sacrifice and idealism Hashem expects His children to feel for the incomparable mitzvah of living in the Land of Israel, a mitzvah equal in weight to all of the commandments of the Torah."
My friend, and no-doubt many others, blame the Aliyah process itself, and the government of Israel for making immigration so difficult.
"To a large extent, he’s right. When the Rabbis and leaders of Diaspora Jewry failed to inspire Jewish hearts to long for Zion, the Government of Israel should have done everything possible to fill the void.
"Admittedly, this was a difficult task for the State of Israel, not being there in the Diaspora to educate the Jews in the proper religious-Zionist fashion, but the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization, and their sister organizations could be doing much more than they do.
"In my opinion, based on my two years of employment in the public relations department of the Aliya Center in New York, if the Aliyah establishment, with all of its offices and shlichim were to shut down completely, the same number of people would move to Israel each year – maybe more.
"Instead of adopting an aggressive approach to Aliyah, the Jewish Agency has taken a basically passive stance, waiting for Jews to wander into their offices overseas. If more people are registering to make Aliyah today, it isn’t because of the work of the Jewish Agency – it's because of the fear of coronavirus and the far greater, open anti-Semitism of late. Even if the number of olim is doubled this year, it's still less than one percent of Diaspora Jewry, the majority of whom come from Russia, and a large percentage of them are not even Jews. Who needs the Jewish Agency, and its unpleasant process of olim selection, as your friend painfully pointed out?"
Do you think that Israel should let every Jew into the country, even if he or she has obvious problems, whether physical or mental, which would make it hard to for the person to succeed in a completely new setting?
"That is truly a complex question. Indeed, there are many Aliyah candidates with an assortment of personal issues who would become welfare cases in Israel needing constant support. But either the Jewish State is a refuge for all Jews, or it isn’t.
"During the time I worked in the Aliyah Center in New York, a religious couple on roller skates showed up in the office, pushing a baby carriage and followed by five little skaters, ages 3-12. Rabbi Eliezer Waldman from Kiryat Arba happened to be in the office at the time. He spoke a minute or two with the Aliyah candidates, then instructed me to tell the director of the Aliyah Center that he, Rabbi Waldman, would take personal responsibility for the family in Kiryat Arba. If Hashem hadn’t worked things out so that Rabbi Waldman was present when the unusual family arrived, they never would have passed the screening process. I later met them in Israel. The husband and wife were never great breadwinners, but maybe their kids will grow up to be contributors to the building of the country."
My friend criticizes the Government of Israel for talking Aliyah as opposed to doing.
"I tend to agree. Instead of initiating attractive Aliyah incentives in Israel, the Jewish Agency processes applications, often discouraging applicants from making Aliyah, as your friend asserts. Instead of packaging Israel as the one-and-only place for a Jew to live, the Aliyah establishment turned Israel into a ten-day Birthright program to strengthen Jewish Identity in the Galut where assimilation is skyrocketing.
"Recently, at a Makor Rishon conference on Aliyah, the President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, said that once upon a time, Zionism meant coming to live in Israel. Now however, there's a different reality, he claimed, where the Diaspora is here to stay. In effect, he justified living in the exile in foreign countries as a legitimate place to be. Call it 'International Liberalism' from the laboratories of the New Israel Fund.
"Even Shimon Peres, when speaking to Jewish audiences around the world, would exhort them to come home to Israel. Today, however, talking about Zionism isn’t politically correct. When Israeli op-ed writers raise up the banner of Zionism, the Jews living in foreign countries don’t like to hear it. It makes them feel uncomfortable."
My friend implies that there are many Jews who would come on aliyah if they received the necessary assistance.
"Indeed, there are many Jews who want to move to Israel, and we should exert great effort in bringing them here and helping their successful absorption in the country. But, unfortunately, he exaggerates. The vast majority of American Jews are totally alienated from Judaism, and they never think about moving to Israel; the Reform and Conservative also identity themselves as loyal Americans and have no interest to live in the Holy Land; and the Modern Orthodox, who know that a Jew belongs in Israel, have 1.000 excuses for not coming.
"Recently, for example, I've been exchanging emails with a friend, a Rabbi in New York, who is the spiritual leader of a well-to-do Modern-Orthodox community. When I challenged him to save the future of his congregants and personally lead them to Israel to live, he stubbornly maintained that his work against the skyrocketing assimilation, bringing Jews closer to Judaism, is his Number One mission. He fails to understand that if a Jew returns to Yiddishkeit in New Rochelle, New York, he is going to end up tar-and-feathered, or else his children or grandchildren will marry out of the faith – without any doubt whatsoever. Aliyah is the only answer."
I recall a recent op-ed written by a woman from California. She insisted that if Israel seriously wanted olim from affluent Western countries, then the Jewish State would have to offer the same level of lifestyle that they were accustomed to, including high-salaried jobs and luxury homes. Do you believe that the government of Israel has to pamper the Jews from the West? Why should they get special treatment when all other mass aliyahs from Eastern Europe, Morroco, Yemen, Ethiopia, and the Soviet Union provided new immigrants with little more than tents and back-breaking labor. Many of the olim from Russia held doctorates in physics, engineering, and the Arts, but they had to literally make do with sweeping streets and cleaning stairwells.
"I agree with you one-hundred percent. These are the descendants of the Complainers in the Wilderness, who every ten minutes found something else about which to gripe. This is no good, and that’s no good, na na na na na na. But if we don’t meet their lofty expectations, the Jews from the West simply won’t come. Their idealism and religious enthusiasm aren’t enough to bring them here, nor to keep them here once they discover that no matter how many government benefits they receive, Aliyah demands a measure of suffering and self-effacement, because that it how Hashem refines and humbles a new immigrant’s character to make him worthy to reside in the Palace of the King."
In your opinion, what needs to be done?
"We have to be creative and think outside the box. In the wake of coronavirus, the rioting around the world, and the sharp increase in anti-Semitism, the government of Israel must declare a NATIONAL ALIYAH CAMPAIGN OF NUMBER ONE PRIORITY to save Diaspora Jewry, including building a new and dynamic CITY OF OLIM in Israel with job opportunities, a medical center for Jewish doctors, a high-tech park, tennis courts, golf courses, a wide-range of housing possibilities, Boca-style lakes with water fountains, and financial aid for all those who need it – everything to make even the spoiled Jews of America feel at home."
Maybe the target of such a campaign should be the Jews of France, Belgium, and England who have a higher likelihood of coming?
"That’s fine with me. Whoever wants to come, we have to bring them here and make them know that they are welcome via a full-scale national endeavor like we did with mass aliyahs in the past. The Prime Minister must raise the banner himself and let the Jews know: 'Either Now or Never!' The gates of Aliyah will not remain open forever!
"But it can only work if the Rabbis, Jewish leaders, and Jewish parents in the Diaspora take up the call and lead the way themselves, through their own personal example, by their own Aliyah. A special focus has to be on the young Jews, to rescue them the melting pots of assimilation on college campuses, and from the brainwashing of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda. The brave among them will go straight into Tzahal, and the faint-hearted will do three years of national service, while learning Hebrew. Others will be put to work constructing the new olim metropolis. We can erect the city on the grounds of the Mevo Modiin Moshav which burnt down, or in the Negev, near the Rimon Airport. There are open acres of land all over Israel to transport entire Diaspora communities intact. The Five Towns could easily fit on the hillsides between Shilo and Eli, or between Yitzhar and Har Bracha.
"When the millions of Jews return home to the Promised Land, the Arabs will pack their bags and flee on their own. The State of Israel will become the utopia about which Herzl dreamed. The massive national project, with the giant influx of manpower and talent, will provide endless jobs for Israelis and new immigrants, and bring an explosion of start-ups, economic development in all fields, new inventions every day, military invincibility, and a spiritual revolution with the long-awaited reunion of the all of the Nation in all of the Land."
With the coronavirus pandemic, the economy of Israel has suffered a blow, like with other countries, and it is doubtful whether the State budget could take on such an expensive project.
"Then the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization, and their sister organizations, with all of their overlapping and unnecessary functions, they all should be shut down, and their astronomical budgets and fundraising networks transferred to the emergency aliyah, 'Save the Diaspora Jewry Campaign', leaving only the highly-praiseworthy Nefesh B’Nefesh organization to carry out their holy task of providing the guidance which olim need during each step of the journey.
"Already, in Israel, veteran olim have come forward to encourage and assist all newcomers, setting up Aliyah websites and support groups on Facebook, to let our brothers and sisters in the Diaspora know that friends and family are waiting. A part of the national Aliyah project, every concerned family in Israel will be called upon to adopt an oleh. The Exile must be totally vanquished and drained of its Jews like the malaria-filled swamps of old. If we will it, it can be! The time has arrived to come home."