Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Aliyah is like Marriage

There have been a number of articles lately about Aliyah from America – or rather the lack of Aliyah from America. While Nefesh B’Nefesh has made the pre and post Aliyah process easier, statistically (and numerically) there simply hasn’t been a significant increase in Olim from the US.

Michael Hirsch’s interesting article in the Jerusalem Post highlights this failure and attempts to explain why this is so.

But what he doesn’t touch on is how to increase Aliyah. (Or why it’s important – but that requires an entirely separate post).

I look at my own reasons for making Aliyah and wonder if (a) they are relevant to anyone else, and (b) if it is something that can be transferred to others.

Like most other Jewish families, Israel was discussed somewhere in the background in the home, and mentioned casually in school, but the country simply never interested me. And Aliyah certainly wasn’t something on my radar or of the schools. Interestingly enough, I usually found the Israeli kids in my schools far more interesting than the Americans to talk with.

That disinterest in Israel changed during my first trip to Israel - and not even then. It was only towards to the end of my vacation that something about Israel just clicked with me. I can define in part what it was, when it was, and where it was, but I don’t believe it could be the same thing for anyone else.

I returned to America distracted. I realized that I wasn’t going to stay in America much longer. A few months later I was made a self-organized pilot trip, and a few months after that I was in Israel – allegedly for the year, but I was already sure it was for good.

I realized that I wanted to stay, and luckily I eventually found myself in a Yeshiva program that supported my idea. And while difficult over the years (and even at points extremely difficult) in the end I stayed and I would define my Aliyah as a success.


I think Aliyah is like marriage.

When you’re young, naive, without baggage, less critical and judgmental, and everything else, marriage is an easier decision to make, but as the years go buy, the older you get, the more difficult it is to decide and commit. Just like one can end up single forever, one can end up in America forever – always rationalizing it away.

So what would make Aliyah an actual option on the table for more people?

Outside of the US it’s easier. There’s anti-Semitism, there’s no financial future, there’s no viable Jewish community. Israel looks better on every level.

But in the US, anti-Semitism is low (though rising), the financial condition right now is poor, but that is likely to be temporary over the long term, the Jewish community is strong (at least the religious one is), and it’s simply easy to be a Jew (though perhaps sometimes a little embarrassing).

For the average American Jew, moving to Israel means a foreign language, coarse people, unwanted bureaucracy, a poor implementation of democracy, high taxes, and low salaries (to name a few issues).

And unfortunately these perceived negatives will almost always outweigh the positives facts that often actually trump them – but you can’t find that out until you actually jump in the water.

While Hebrew can be learned, you soon find out that everyone wants to talk English to you; the people can be rough, but you can say what you want to them in return; the bureaucracy is annoying, but it certainly is not what it was 10 years ago, and in fact most services are now online – you can log in and accomplish almost anything, the understanding and poor implementation of democracy sucks, but you can literally approach your mayors, and Knesset representatives in the street and they will talk to you (I do this all the time), taxes are high and salaries can be lower, but schooling is inexpensive, and medical insurance is not high, while treatment (medical and personal) is excellent (we’ve discussed this in the past) – the system is not the socialized medicine that everyone remembers from years ago.

I am not saying there aren’t difficulties. You need to find jobs, a home, etc. – but these are challenges you might face anywhere. And now there are plenty of Aliyah organizations and support groups that provide mentors and assistance to closely help you with that transition – something that wasn’t really around a decade ago.


But everything I listed above is a “rational decision”. These are things that the older, more established person worries about.

In fact, these are the same types of questions that older single people use to rationalize why he or she shouldn’t marry the person they are dating – unlike a younger adult who only knows that he or she is in love, and marriage is clearly the next step.

Selling Aliyah to someone established in their job or community is like convincing a single person to get married. It sounds like a good idea to them, but it always gets stuck in the implementation.

I think that first of all you have to get them young. Birthright is a good first step – it creates that connection, but it isn’t enough, nor perhaps even young enough. It certainly needs some follow-up programs.

But more than that, every Jewish school (Elementary and High School) should have charismatic Israeli teachers teach teaching there (on rotating limited one year Shlichuts) teaching about Israel – not Hebrew – Israel. Israel’s history, its goals, how it’s relevant to the Jewish people, and most importantly, why Israel is such a wonderful place and of course Aliyah.

Create a sense of mystery for these young students. Create a sense of interest. Create a sense of possibility and challenge. Create a connection.

I certainly did not have that in my very Jewish education growing up.

(I admit, while I am sure the Israeli government or the Sochnut would be happy to sponsor such a project, how many principals (or parents) would be happy to have such a curriculum in their school – a curriculum which would eventually drain their student base?)

If you can create that interest, that sense of mission and possibility when they are young, then when they do reach that age of decision, it is actually something they will seriously consider.

Certainly generating interest in Aliyah is a generational mission, not something that should be planned on a yearly basis – how many people can we convince this year with an extra grant or loan.

Going after the families, after the adults is important, but it requires a tremendous amount of resources to both convince and support the process.

If you go after the youth, you are going after the ones that will be able to fall in love and make that emotional decision –without the baggage that accompanies someone who has already made a life in his community.

In fact, often when the kids go, you know what happens? The parents follow.

Hasn’t anyone realized that yet?


If Israel is really interested in significantly increasing Aliyah it needs to start going after the Jewish youth. Create that interest; describe the challenge and the mission. Bring them to Israel in their mid-teens and connect them to Israelis. Get them while they’re in the schools. Get them in the after-school programs.

Spend resources on the low-hanging fruit. Yes, it will take them a few more years to make the move - but after asking any Jew in the US about their 5 (then 10, then 15) year Aliyah plan, getting a High School kid to consider studying in an Israeli University and then making Aliyah is not a long time-line at all – and is far more likely to happen.

Aliyah is like marriage, if you fall in love young, you can jump right in. But if you’re older, you’ll find every rationalization in the world not to do what you really want – and need.


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17 comments:

Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook said...

Calculated Risk:

"When people are asked why they are unwilling to settle in Eretz Yisrael right now, they have all types of cheshbonot - calculations - as to why now is not the time.

One says his chesbon is that his children need to finish school or college; another's chesbon is that he has to vest his pension, and so on.

If we look in the Torah, though, we will see that before the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisrael, they first killed the King of Chesbon.

Once the King of Chesbon is killed, the decision to move to Eretz Yisrael becomes easy."

Julie Lehmann Weisman said...

beautiful and insightful. i'm a fan.

www.metroimma.com

Anonymous said...

"But in the US, anti-Semitism is low (though rising)..."

Actually, the ADL recently reported that anti-semitism in America is down 3% from the year 2007 to 2009.

Lakewood Falling Down said...

You're right,of course, but...
Why didn't everyone come back by Bayit Sheini? I really don't know, but I've been taught that if everyone did, we wouldn't need Bayit Shleshi. Could you imagine the Rosh Yeshivos of Lakewood, Philly, Chaim Berlin, Mir, and so on giving up their power base for the greater good of the Jewish people by having a mass move to Israel? There is a reason by blog is called Lakewood Falling Down. Yes, there is a great deal of learning and wonderful stuff that comes from these places, but the concept of Israel is ignored. There is a sefer called Eim Habanim Semaicha by Rav Yisachar Teichtal Z’L. Briefly, he wrote this book while on the run and hiding from the Nazis. The main idea is proof after proof of why we all need to go to Israel, and he felt that what was happening was because we have lost the idea of loving and settling the land. He was murdered by Ukrainians and Nazis in a train boxcar for protesting against Ukrainian prisoners stealing food from Jews. It was a profound read for me. Will I make Aliyah because of it? I don't know. Like you point out, we get settled and comfortable. My family and Mrs. LFD's family are all here. But it is a moving sefer. Great Post ! HEY! You can't see it but the word verification I'm being asked for is SPIRIT. Somebody is trying to tell me something...

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

LFD: It was mostly the "frum" Jews of Bavel who refused to return during Bayit Sheini -- the yeshiva world decided that Pumpadita would be the new Jerusalem. (Which is why they even tried start Kiddush HaChodesh in Bavel).

I have my doubts whether the Yeshivot in the US will want to come to EY for Bayit Shlishi.

I'm surprised the Ramban hasn't been banned in Lakewood yet, for daring to write that the only reason mitzvot are observed in chutz la'aretz is preparation/chinuch for doing them in Eretz Yisrael.

And yes, Eim HaBanim Semeicha is a great book, also available in English as well.

You need to kill your own personal Melech Cheshbon in order to make aliya. And that's not such a simple task, as he gets bigger and more powerful every passing day.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Yeshivas, did the Israeli Yeshivas push Aliyah? Did they teach the positive commandments regarding living in and conquering the Land?

Most of the boys that come and learn in Israel for a year after high school never even consider Aliyah!

Anonymous said...

Some Israeli yeshivot encourage aliyah.

Some are apathetic.

And some, their rabbanim leave, make yerida, and then move to YU...and discourage aliya.

Seth said...

I am a young (22) American Jew who has been to Israel many times in my life, even living in the country for over a year. It would seem as if Aliyah was a destiny of mine, yet now I look and it seems impossible. I love Israel. I would love to move my life there. So what is the problem? My fiance, whom I met while living in Israel, wants to live near her mother in the US. This doesn't look like its going to change any time soon. I don't think I am alone in this problem, however I don't see any reasonable solution either.

Shlomo said...

LFD: It was mostly the "frum" Jews of Bavel who refused to return during Bayit Sheini -- the yeshiva world decided that Pumpadita would be the new Jerusalem. (Which is why they even tried start Kiddush HaChodesh in Bavel).

Pumbadita became a center of Jewish learning EIGHT HUNDRED YEARS after Ezra and Nechemiah. Babylonian Jews were not tempted by Pumbadita any more than R' Yehudah Halevi had to decide between making aliyah in the 12th century and learning in Lakewood. In between Ezra/Nechemiah and the amoraim of Bavel, for many hundreds of years the center of religious Jewry was in Eretz Yisrael, and works such as the Mishna were the result. It was the non-frum Jews who ignored the prophets telling them they should return and build Bayit Sheni.

nmf #7 said...

Well, my parents made aliyah in their 60s. Of course, they are atypical.

And, I just made aliyah :D

But, it's true. If my husband had wanted to live in the US, I don't think I would have pushed to go. Not so many can make the total life change that it requires.

And, many are desperately afraid of learning how to speak Hebrew. Despite the fact that most know English, there are MANY who don't speak a word of it. You need basic Hebrew to get around. And Ulpan is tough!!

Kudos to all who 'follow the dream'.

Not putting my name to this one said...

Seth- Dump her.

Seriously, have your future Mother-in-Law talk to Jameel, maybe he can convince her to come.

On the other hand, do you want your M-i-L 6000 miles away, or 6 blocks away...?

'nuff said.

Not putting my name to this one said...

Seth- Dump her.

Seriously, have your future Mother-in-Law talk to Jameel, maybe he can convince her to come.

On the other hand, do you want your M-i-L 6000 miles away, or 6 blocks away...?

'nuff said.

SquarePeg613 said...

What you wrote about educating young Jews to love of Israel -- I would be delighted if my kids got that here, in Israel.

"But more than that, every Jewish school (Elementary and High School) should have charismatic Israeli teachers teach teaching there (on rotating limited one year Shlichuts) teaching about Israel – not Hebrew – Israel. Israel’s history, its goals, how it’s relevant to the Jewish people, and most importantly, why Israel is such a wonderful place and of course Aliyah.

Create a sense of mystery for these young students. Create a sense of interest. Create a sense of possibility and challenge. Create a connection."

Anonymous said...

THE ARMY!!!

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Australia and will be making aliyah in the very near future.

For the last 12 years there have been programs in Melbourne and Sydney run by the Sochnut (I think?) sending Bnot Sherut Leumi to serve in the Diaspora.

These girls come for a year and make a lasting impression on the school's students and the community's approach to Israel. They radiate with the 'taste of israel' and run informal classes and programs throughout the year.

Moreover, they volunteer as madrichot in the various youth movements appropriate to their program.

In forming and strengthening the students' Israel connection from such an early age, the warmth and love they have for their country touches the entire community. Here's mystery. Here's connection. Here's some marriages and subsequent aliyot along the way.

Thank goodness the Australian Jewish community has very strong ties to Israel - it is assumed that most, after graduating high school, spend some time in Israel either on year-long programs or Taglit. Am yisrael chai - even from the end of the world.

-S.

aliyah06 said...

We made aliyah a few years ago. Ulpan is tough; living on the economy is a bit harder because our finances aren't as solid as in the Old Country; getting around in babytalk Hebraish is problematic.

Know what? I love it. I'm sorry I didn't make the move earlier. I have no desire to leave. As a friend of mine, who made aliyah the same year, said, "The flavor here is different." It really is.

I'm home.

Wondering Jew said...

In the Kovna getto, the Slabodka mashgiach, Rb Avrohom Grodzenski hy"d formulated 12 points which he felt people are lax in keeping and which he made his talmidim promise they would keep if they survivied the war.

One of them was yishuv eretz yisrael.

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