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Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Aliyah and Israel: A Closer Look (Part II)

PART II: Aliyah: An Upward Trend
By Pinchas Orbach for KUMAH

More and more North Americans are making Aliyah. In Part I of this series we examined how the number of North American olim has doubled since 2001 and how the numbers now stand at a 20 year high. It is important to not only look at North American Aliyah numbers as a whole but also to take into account the most influential factor in this sharp increase. Namely, the Nefesh B'Nefesh organization (NBN). Already today most North American's making the move to Israel choose NBN for moral support if not also for financial support.

In short, the trend of North America olim that used NBN looks roughly something like this:

Year - Number of NBN North American olim
2002 - 500,
2003 - 1000,
2004 - 2000,

4000? Could it be? Time will tell. But NBN has already scheduled a whopping six Summer 2005 flights! (Rumor has it a seventh flight may be in the works.)

That is, in fact, twice as many summer flights as NBN arranged in 2004. Plus NBN also lists Fall 2005 and Winter 2005 flights being planned on their website. So by using simple math 4000 olim this year looks -- well, likely.

100,000 North American Jews Home In Five Years

In 2003 Rabbi Fass boldly declared his intention to bring 100,000 Jews home over the next five years. If the current rate of doubling each year holds, NBN would pass the 100,000 mark sometime in 2009, six years after Fass' declaration.

Predictably to meet the vision of its founders, NBN has morphed from an assistor of Aliyah, to a facilitator of Aliyah, and finally into a tremendous promoter of Aliyah. In the past, every oleh that came with NBN actually approached NBN first. No more. Now NBN has started to actually recruit people. In March for example, NBN sent Aliyah Ambassadors (olim that made Aliyah with NBN previously) all over North America. These ambassadors spoke at local synagogues and various cultural events. They spoke of their own Aliyah experiences and encouraged all Jews to make Aliyah as they did.

NBN is also getting perhaps even more aggressive at promoting Aliyah on college campuses across the continent. They have launched an "Aliyah Student Ambassadors" program at least 18 different campuses. These "ambassadors" are a bit different than the ones mentioned above. NBN actually invites students to Israel and trains them on everything there is to know about making Aliyah. These ambassadors then return and promote Aliyah on their respective campuses, encouraging Aliyah and teaching fellow students how to prepare for making it a successful Aliyah.

Come, And Bring Friends

The success of this Aliyah Revolution may lie with another aspect of the Jewish People. It is a characteristic that will explain why the first 50,000 Jews will present a significantly larger challenge to NBN than the second 50,000 olim. It is no secret that we are an incredibly tight-knit people. We live close to our friends and relatives and put plenty of emphasis on the community. Ironically, these qualities are usually used to explain why North Americans are not making Aliyah. It is extremely difficult for North American Jews to just leave there families and friends and flourishing communities behind -- especially when there is so much uncertainly as to what awaits them on the other side. But this trait very well might just become the most powerful force behind a spike in modern day Western Aliyah.

Take for example NBN Aliyah Ambassador (and Kumah friend) Noa Resi Hirsh. Noa was on the very first NBN flight in 2002. Her sister and lots of close friends came on NBN flights the following year. This past December, I had the pleasure of meeting her parents at JFK airport during the ceremony for the Winter 2004 NBN flight. After spotting a man in the front row wearing a yarmulke with Kumah's trademarked "I'm Making Aliyah!" slogan knitted on it, naturally this Kumah volunteer inquired about it. The man turned out to be Noa's father and he explained that his daughter, (Noa's sister) who just made Aliyah the year before, knit it for him.

Now this point might not seem like such a bombshell. But this example illustrates that every Jew that makes Aliyah actually serves as a magnet for the family and friends they leave behind. And many of these family members and friends end up making Aliyah themselves to be with them. (There are countless more cases of grandparents making Aliyah to see their grandchildren, a sibling going to be together with sisters and brothers, close friends reuniting, etc.) And those olim have even more friends and family that they themselves attract.

The Snowball Effect

The ultimate outcome is what can be known as the snowball effect. The more the snowball gets rolled in the snow the larger it gets. And more importantly the larger it gets, the faster its rate growth becomes because with a larger surface more snow can stick to it. So it not only gets bigger, it gets bigger faster. More olim means more olim to attract more friends and family. And it also means more communities established. Would anyone question that a neighborhood such as Ramat Beit Shemesh greatly suits the North American oleh? And that Aliyah is significantly more comfortable with such established Anglo-Saxon communities than it was before they existed?

As a result, as more olim come to Israel, Aliyah gets increasingly more attractive, (more family and friends) and more comfortable (more communities.) Until it one day Aliyah hits critical mass. That critical mass is the day it actually becomes easier and more practical for a Jew the make Aliyah than to live in the Diaspora. And while to many this indeed sounds very much like a pipe dream, and years away, imagine if in 2001 someone wrote about how a 28-years-old rabbi and a businessman from Florida are working on forming an organization to encourage mass Aliyah. And that in Summer 2005 this organization will send home six jumbo jets, full with North American olim. Nice pipe dream!


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