THE ALIYAH DIALOGUES
Subject: North American Aliya
I am a current graduate student at NYU. I am writing a paper on North American Aliya. I am having trouble verbalizing why North American aliya is so essential to Israel. As a Jew, an Orthodox Jew, I understand why it is important to an individual to return home. Yet, why is it so important for Israel to have Jews come from a country where they are not being persecuted?
Thus far when the question has been posed, the answer has been that the North American Jews will help/have helped improve Israeli economy. I know the answer must be more nuanced.
Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance.
Chag Kasher v'Sameach!
All the best,
My name is Shmuel Goldman. I'm writing to you from the Galilee, from a little settlement called Eshchar, perched on a hilltop between Sachnin and Karmiel.
I just returned from the Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, ceremony on our Yishuv. It opened with a first grader lighting the commemoration torch in memory of his grandfather who was killed in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Our ceremony, like all the Yom Hazikaron ceremonies around Israel, is taken with the utmost seriousness. Every person there is related to or knows personally a soldier who was killed defending our Homeland. Everyone there, regardless of political convictions or religious observance, acknowledges and appreciates the ultimate sacrifice that it takes to survive and thrive as Jews in Israel.
When Jews come Home to Israel, whether they come from America or Russia, France or South Africa, Morocco or Australia, England or Tunisia, they are threads returning to the fabric of the Jewish People, strengthening and reinforcing our historical and divine connection to the Land of Abraham, Sarah, Yitzhak, Rivka, Yaakov, Rachel and Leah. When they remain in the diaspora, they are but tattered remnants exiled by those who tried to destroy us. Our destiny is here and every Jew has his or her place and function in fulfilling that destiny. By choosing to be here, especially when coming from a country like America, you are choosing to take hold of the reigns of Jewish History and guide it in the direction that you deem correct for your people.
In our Yom Hazikaron ceremony tonight, before the Second graders led us in Hatikva, each one said his or her first name, their family name and the number of generations they are in Israel. We had one girl who is fifth generation Israeli, and one who is first generation and all the numbers in between. Some were Ashkenazi, some were Sephardi. Some were religious, some secular. But all are Jews and Israelis whose ancestors have either been here since Joshua led the Nation of Israel home from slavery or whose ancestors dreamt about returning for generations before making their dream a reality. After this historic roll call, they began singing Hatikva. The national anthem of The State of Israel is not about downtrodden Jews leaving persecution and looking for a place of refuge. Hatikva, The Hope, is about All Jews, yearning to act on our soulful impulse of two thousand years to create a free nation in Zion, in Jerusalem. Now is the time.
It's not about why we should leave America. It's about why we should make Aliyah to Israel. America is itself one of G-d's gifts to the world today. America is truly the Land of Comfort and Plenty. But Israel is where it's happening for the Jews. It's where it happened and where it's going to happen. Every Jew in Israel can contribute in his or her own way to securing and improving the future of our country in a way that is much more tangible and direct than a Jew living outside the Land of Israel.
I hope this somewhat answers your questions. If you would like to discuss, feel free to be in touch.
All the best,
I received your e-mail from Yishai, and I wanted to reply (even though I know you didn't write to me!).
In my opinion, in order to understand why Jews should return to Israel, one must both understand the impact of aliyah on Israel (as alluded to by your question as to why "it's important for Israel to have Jews come..." ), the impact of aliyah on the Jewish community at large, and the impact of aliyah on the oleh (or in your case, the olah).
Israel needs the aliyah of every Jew. As a state, Israel will be impacted tremendously by the aliyah of intelligent, educated Jews such as yourself and other highly-cultured, highly-trained Jews of the exile. The Jewish people are often referred to in the world as a valuable braintrust - what could be better for our foundling state than the importation of valuable, skilled new citizens? I could go on about the virtues of bolstering a "Jewish majority", but I find that argument to be rather dull.
As a land, Israel yearns for the return of the Jewish people to her soil. As it says in the blessings of the Haftorah, "Blessed are You, L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who makes Zion happy with her children." There is nothing more that the Land of Israel could possibly want than to grow you and your children, to nurture you with her fruit, and to inspire you with her vistas. It's what she's built for and her sole purpose on this earth.
As for the Jewish people - they will be much healthier once they unite in Israel. The general malaise of American Jewry is often referred to as a spiritual Holocaust - those who believe that they are safe from persecution in America may have ignored the fact that they are being "loved to death" by the vivacious gentiles of New York, Texas, California... Statistics suggest that for every 2 children you raise in America, one will marry a non-Jew - these are much more realistic and terrifying odds than being treated to a burning cross in your front yard.
Moreover, the Land of Israel is the "natural habitat" of the Jews. Only in Israel can we truly experience our nationhood, the joys and challenges of Torah governance (speedily, in our days!), the sharing of insights from hundreds of years of forced study-abroad. Once unified in Israel, the Jewish people can truly take upon themselves the mantle of their charge - to be a light unto the nations and a priestly nation. Moving to Israel is much less about building a state than it is about building a home - for the Jewish people, for G-d's universal teachings.
On the personal level, how can one explain the gaping lacks in exilic Judaism, as compared with the depth and fullness of Jewish life in Israel? Have you ever taken tithes from the produce in your garden? Do you know what it feels like to stand in a crush of people in Jerusalem in order to receive blessings from the Cohanim three times a year? Have you planted one of the seven species in the soil of Samaria on Tu b'Shevat? Have you made the pilgrimage to visit our Matriarch Sarah in Hevron on parshat Chayeii Sarah? This is the life of Israel - the life which is at once past, present, and future.
Aside from living a more "biblical" Jewish life, consider living a more all-consuming Jewish life. Ask yourself what it would be like to raise your children in a world in which their friends are Jews, their bosses automatically assume that they're not coming in to work on Pesach, on Shabbat, on Yom HaAtzmaut, where practically all the food is kosher? Do you want to live in a world in which it's socially-acceptable to cover your hair with a scarf, a hat, a wig, whether you're a teacher, a lawyer, or a Knesset member, a place where you can write checks using the date on the Jewish calendar, where every bottle of ketchup mentions whether it can be eaten by Ashkenazim on Pesach? Do you want to see the famiy you've been separated from for a thousand years? This is the life of Israel - the life of belonging completely and of owning completely, of giving in abundance and receiving in abundance.
There are obvious attractive qualities in places like America - no imminently-threatening Hamas, two cars (at least) in the driveway, the sense of higher purpose/morality/ability perhaps than some of your neighbors. Consider those temptations G-d's gift to you - the gift of free will. Without them, living in Israel would be obvious. As it is, you have to/get to choose - I hope you will make the best choice for the Land of Israel, for the Jewish people, and for yourself.
All the best,
P.S. Take a moment to consider the following: "In the Diaspora, whoever increases its settlement (by establishing a home, business, etc) adds to the destruction of the worship of G-d. But in the Land of Israel this same work is considered a mitzvah since it settles the land." The Chatam Sofer, on the Talmud Sukka 36a and Yoreh Deah p. 136
an expert i'm not. but opinionated i am. here's what runs through my head:
the judaism that you are practicing is broken no matter how orthodox it might be. any rabbi worth his weight in salt will admit to that. today we are capable of performing less than half (around 250?) of the 613 torah commandments. lauren, that's not us, we were commanded to be whole, not broken. what's missing? you! the american jews returning to israel is another piece to the puzzle, possibly the last piece.
if the jews keep all of the the commandments, then everything is sababa for israel. the jews have no chance of keeping all of the commandments as long as the majority of jews don't live in israel.
this answer may be good for your rabbi, but most likely not with nyu. you're probably looking for more "practical" answers.
i think you should try the angle of what makes a country good or bad. why is the united states different from brazil or russia? i think it comes down to its ideologies. who ever has the best national ideology wins.
so say this is true. now i give you two different national ideologies and it should be clear which country is going to benefit the most from their chosen ideology.
#1 we want to be like all other nations, nothing special. just leave us alone already. if you are among our people and you are being persecuted we'll take you in. otherwise, there's no reason to bother.
#2 our goal is to be a light unto the nations. our people should move here because it is the right thing to do, because as a people we yearn to live together again.
#2 seems much closer to the puritans stating their desire be a city on a hill. call me crazy but i think that desire made the diffrence between a usa and a brazil. it would be interesting if you could back it up in your paper.
getting even more practical, if you live here you will notice that the average israeli is tired. tired of terrorist attacks. tired of false promises of peace. tired of the pressure. this country would benefit greatly with an infusion of new blood. i'll tell you the truth, i've been here for 4 years and i could already use an infusion. it does every israeli good whether they admit it or not that they are told that their country is a desirable place to live.
here's another one: israel has done a pretty good job in its desire to take everything bad from america, big cars, big malls, movies and fast food. but when it comes to the good things about america the israeli doesn't seem to be so interested: free market economy, freedom of speech, democracy, "don't tread on me" attitude. since we already have what is annoying about america, i think the american jews coming here could help bring what is good about america.
good luck. let me know if i could help any further.