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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