|ALIYA: A REALISTIC OPTION
by Avram Hein
|This summer, I am getting married and then we are making aliya to Israel. Many Americans have thought that I must be crazy or
a religious fanatic if I am willing to give up my comfortable life in America and move to a "war zone." They are wrong. I am making aliya for one reason only: Israel is home and, as Dorothy said in the Wizard of Oz, "there is no place like home." The
fictional Dorothy is smarter than many American Jews who shrug off, or worse, actively campaign against aliya. We can not
think that the idea of aliya is "unrealistic" or leave the task of aliya only to a small group of Orthodox Jews (and then, from the comfort of our homes in New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles, or Washington, complain about how the Jews who are living the Zionist reality of aliya are "not the best Jews capable of assisting Israel.")
A few months ago, I had the opportunity to attend a board meeting of the American Zionist Movement. At this conference of supposed American Zionists, the idea of North American aliya was nowhere on the agenda - despite the fact that Nefesh b' Nefesh, with the help of only a few generous funders, brought planeloads of North American immigrants to Israel the past two summers. These olim, with the support and backing of Nefesh b' Nefesh, have had an incredible successful absorption process and have already contributed greatly to the building of the State of Israel. It is only Nefesh b' Nefesh, founded by two Jews who had a dream, and a handful of small and poorly funded organizations, like Kumah, that are supporting the goal of bringing modern and well-educated North Americans to contribute to Israel as productive working citizens.
Only once was the idea of aliya brought up in a positive light. At a panel discussion on Zionism, a young New York University
student who is active on Zionist affairs on campus, had the courage and conviction to bring this group, encompassing a spectrum
of opinions, to task and remind them that the primary goal of Zionism is "the ingathering of the exiles" -- all exiles, even those in affluent countries like America and Canada -- to our home -- Israel. One would think that, at a conference of the leadership of the American Zionist Movement that, at least in theory, the goal of aliya would be lauded and they would affirm, as Israel's democratically elected prime minister Ariel Sharon said just recently that "Aliyah is the central goal of the State of Israel."
What was the response to this courageous young man's plea to place aliya central on the Zionist agenda? Simple -- almost everyone, from every table and every faction got up and declared that he was being "unrealistic" and that the goal of North
American aliya was simply unrealistic. If that were the attitude of early Zionist leaders, the State of Israel would not exist today. The fact that Nefesh b' Nefesh sent planeloads of olim to Israel over the past two years should show that North American aliya is
a realistic goal if we make it one of our priorities. North American aliya is up thanks to Nefesh b' Nefesh. From both a practical perspective, and the demographic threat facing Israel, and an ideological perspective, aliya should be the Zionist movement's top priority! As one young woman who made aliya with Nefesh b' Nefesh said, "The best place for a Jew who defines herself as a Jew is Israel. I'm going specifically now because I think Jews of Israel really need our help and they don't need checks necessarily, they don't need little parades waving flags, they need people. They need bodies, they need people who are going to develop the land." They need you and they need me! The power of the American Jewish community shows that North American aliya can be a realistic goal if we make it one. To that end, I propose the following plan for North American aliya that, if carried out, will make North American aliya a more realistic opportunity:
1. We must change our mindset. Aliya is a realistic goal if we make it so. Who ever thought that the Jewish community
could send thousands of kids to Israel for 10 days and that it would bring so many Jews closer to the Jewish people? Who ever
thought that a country could be born out of the desert and "make the desert bloom" and now have the world's highest concentra-tion of scientists and engineers? It became real only because we dreamed it. North American aliya is the next step to make Israel
a friendlier, more efficient, and more prosperous country.
2. Support all olim -- if you are a Reform Jew, you should still support the Orthodox oleh. The Orthodox oleh should support the Reform and Conservative Jew. The Conservative Jew should support the "secular" Jew in moving to Israel. We must remember that we are all part of k'lal Yisrael -- the Jewish people, and the rabbinic adage "all Jews are responsible for one another" applies regardless of ideological outlook.
3. Support Nefesh b'Nefesh and the Associations of American and Canadians in Israel. Support Nefesh b' Nefesh in bringing olim to Israel and support AACI to lobby Israel for government policies that are friendlier to olim. If you can't get on a plane and make aliya, help finance those who do. Currently, Nefesh b' Nefesh is forced to refuse assistance to hundreds of productive North Americans who want to make aliya but need a little extra push. Give Nefesh b' Nefesh whatever you can afford -- $18 or $18 million. Forego one dinner out, one trip to the movies or concert, one shopping trip for fancy clothing and instead give to another Jewish soul through Nefesh b' Nefesh and AACI. Instead of endowing another monument to Jewish death, support Jewish life in Israel.
4. Support reform in the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization. Jewish leaders should be speaking out at the shanda that Jewish Agency leaders are bringing non-Jews from the former Soviet Union instead of Jews form Africa and North America. The Jewish Agency just gave another million dollars to bring in non-Jews form Russia. Tell them, instead, that you want those million dollars to go to bringing in North American Jews, of all ideological backgrounds, and supporting a simplier aliya process and more knowledgeable and effective shlichim. In fact, while millions of dollars are going to bring non-Jews into Israel, the Jewish Agency has chosen to not renew the Conservative movement's shliach/shlicha. Call upon the leaders of all North American Jewish organizations to call upon the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization to support an efficient, stress-free, and productive aliya process with an efficient placement of shlichim who are knowledgeable about the needs of American Jews and can provide the type of service that we expect.
5. Visit Israel. Instead of going to Europe, go to Israel. Ski on the Golan instead of the Alps! Pray in Jerusalem instead of
Johannesburg. Support your extended Jewish family. If possible, buy a vacation home and spend a summer or a sabbatical in Israel. Perhaps make a "partial" aliya of six months in America or Canada and half a year in Israel. Invest your retirement savings so that you can retire in Israel.
6. MAKE ALIYA! Israel is our home, yours, mine, and the sabra or oleh from Tel Aviv, Raanana, Efrat, Petach Tikva, or
Jerusalem. Our political views and religious observance is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is that we are Jews. Israel is our home, the eternal homeland of the Jewish People. The time to come home is now!
Aliya is not a sacrifice. Aliya is the dream of the Jewish people for 3,000 years. Imagine what your great grandparents would
think if you were foregoing an aliya that is only one short planeride away. Think about Moses's look over the Jordan into the land of Israel and realize that we can have that which he dreamt about. We have much to gain as well as much to give if we support davka North American aliya -- a tradition of democratic, respectful, and efficient governance, a respect for customer service (imagine what North American aliya can do to Israel customer service), and a desire for a comfortable living that we can make a reality in Israel. As American [sic] and Israel fight Islamic terrorism, it may be a move to Israel that can help America in her fight against terrorism.
Israel is the only home we've got. There may be a lot of things we don't like about the country but there is only one true way to fix it -- by moving there and becoming citizens of the State of Israel. If we support communities over the green line -- move to Israel and vote for politicians and parties that think alike. Think the demographic threat requires a territorial retreat -- move to Israel help reverse the demographic threat, and vote. Want to see more Reform and Conservative communities in Israel? Move to Israel and start Progressive and Masorti kehillot. Let the only armchairs that we commiserate, be our armchairs in our comfortable and modern apartments in Jerusalem or house in Herzliya. Aliya is the only way to reverse the demographic threat Israel is facing. Aliya is the best way to help Israel. But perhaps most importantly, a life in Israel is the only way to live a life full of shalem -- wholeness -- and shalom -- peace. This summer I am making aliya. I hope you will join me.
Avram Hein holds a B.A. in Government & Politics from the University of Maryland. He is currently a research assistant at
the American-Israel Cooperative Enterprises. He previously served as a delegate to the 34th World Zionist Congress in
Jerusalem and is currently a board member of MERCAZ USA: The Zionist Organization of the Conservative Movement.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
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