I have long been a staunch supporter of making Aliyah, and I continue to feel that those who remain or return to chutz la’aretz primarily for reasons of comfort are turning their backs on the true home of the Jewish people. Additionally, as a religious Jew, I feel aliyah to be preferable both materially, as well as rising to the level of a positive mitzvah, a command from G-d which, in the absence of truly significant extenuating circumstances, we should try our utmost to perform.
However, I found myself becoming extremely angry while viewing a segment of Lazer Beams, by Rabbi Lazer Brody, in which he promotes faith-based Aliyah while completely dismissing the all too real possibilities of financial disaster. The broadcast was a videotaped “Dear Abby” style advice column, in which a couple from Far Rockaway, New York asked if they should move to Israel with their four children. The husband is currently learning in kollel and working part time, while the wife picks up extra income babysitting. In the letter, the husband lamented the negative effects of living in America, where family members were exposed to secular billboards and music while running errands, and where other children in the Yeshiva school system his kids attended might watch television or videos. But the family was afraid to make Aliyah, since they had been warned that it was difficult to earn a living.
After reading the letter, Rabbi Brody said he wanted to clear up some myths and misconceptions. I leaned forward in anticipation. “You tell ‘em, Rabbi Brody! Let people know to spend time studying Hebrew, and working to catalog talents and skills that may come in handy after making Aliyah. Let them know to network actively and to choose a community that is conveniently located near potential sources of employment!” And then Rabbi Brody said, “Anybody who says that it’s hard to make a living in Israel, that is a true statement… for a person with no emunah!”
Excuse me?! Emunah is important. But it is extremely irresponsible to give examples of unemployed nuclear engineers in contrast to millionaire vegetable sellers with a fourth grade education working at the Mahane Yehuda shuk. Educated people who do not speak HEBREW have a hard time finding a position, particularly one on a comparable professional level. People with a trade who speak HEBREW can do quite well. And many people who are fluent in English can find work in sales or customer service on the phone. But the likelihood is that if your Hebrew is poor, and you don’t have a specialized technical skill, life is going to be difficult, emunah or no.
Many times people in distress have made poor decisions, due to lack of planning or lack of understanding of Israeli culture. Sometimes, an illness or injury can lead to unexpected financial consequences, and olim frequently lack the safety net that a native Israeli can call upon when in need. How insulting that he dismisses all those who are struggling or who have returned back to their home countries as lacking in emunah.
But Rabbi Brody’s contempt for his fellow Jew continues. Next, the Rabbi says you can live cheap in Israel by buying a flat in Dimona or Yerucham for $50-60,000 dollars. Um, hello. First, the family from the letter is living off a part-time job and babysitting. Where are they getting 50,000 dollars from? Or even the 15,000 dollars needed for a mortgage, if the bank were to grant them a mortgage without a proven job history.
Plus, the person who wrote in sounds like he doesn’t want to have any exposure to the outside world. If the guy is unhappy in Five Towns, New York, how is he going to manage living in a secular city like Dimona or Yerucham?! The family might be more comfortable if they chose to move to some ghetto (in the ethnic, not financial sense) where they could control what comes in and out.
But then what job is the husband going to be able to get? If he was able to work part time before, due to some sort of proteksia under the guise of “helping out a fellow Jew”, what happens when he’s surrounded by Jews, all in the same circumstances, with many of whom, unfortunately, needing financial assistance? And ch”v that he may be forced to get a full-time job that would turn him out into the world and away from his kollel studies.
In closing, Rabbi Brody invites people to visit the Chut Shel Chesed kollel students in Jerusalem who earn 1500 shekels a month, to see how they support a family with 5, 6, 7 kids, while their wives to a little bit of babysitting or typing on the side. “Nobody understands how!” he says emphatically. “Take a pencil and paper, but nobody understands how they live here. It’s the land of Emunah. The invisible hand of Hashem comes and puts food in your mouth.”
I’ll bite, Rabbi Brody. I would love to see a detailed accounting of how a family of 7 lives in Jerusalem on less than minimum wage. Because, if they can do this without help from outside your community, it should be broadcast around the country as an example for everyone, religious and secular alike. But if they are surviving thanks to government benefits that are taken from people like me, who mix faith with work, then I hope you’ll have the courtesy to amend your overly harsh criticisms. Meanwhile, after work I’m going to go to all the tzedekah boxes here in Bnei Brak and tape them shut, with a sign letting people know to work on their Emunah.