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A Mass Post-College Aliyah

Credit: ingimage ASAP
Credit: ingimage ASAP

I usually advocate that the best time to make Aliyah is straight out of high school. In short, at this stage you have the least responsibilities, have the most potential to meaningfully contribute, and can adapt and integrate gradually and comfortably. The reality is though, most American Jews still find themselves either enrolled in or recently graduated from college, providing them a viable alternative: making Aliyah right after college.

I’m not going to come out and oversimplify it by saying “I know it’s scary, but just do it and it’ll work out.” Moving to a new country and starting life from scratch, including finding a place to live, getting a job, dealing with bureaucracy, and maybe finding a partner, is a lot. It is obviously overwhelming and unrealistic, especially to do all at once. Unlike those Olim who move after high school and take it step by step, moving after college must require planning ahead already during college, and not getting “too comfortable,” as they say, in America. 

Credit: Alex Neugroschl

This was precisely the dilemma faced by the generation of Ezra following the destruction of the first Beit Hamikdash. When Cyrus, the Persian King ruling over Israel at the time, permitted the Jews residing in Babylonia to return to Israel and rebuild the Beit Hamikdash, only a small minority chose to accompany Ezra on this journey. Rashi (Kiddushin 69b), attributed this reluctance to the Jews becoming too comfortable in their new surroundings and hesitating to uproot themselves. Years later, Reish Lakish still lamented, “My God! I hate you Babylonian Jews… Had you united like a solid wall and all ascended to Eretz Yisrael in Ezra’s time, you would have been likened to silver, which does not decay,” and the Divine Presence would have been merited in all Its glory. He emphasized that their failure to commit, likening them to cedar, which does rot, resulted in a diminished spiritual experience, and thus only meriting a partial revelation of the Divine Presence (Yoma 9b).

Despite this fact that we as a people became too complacent in exile, there is an interesting Halacha that implies the opposite. In the Diaspora, Birkat Kohanim, the Priestly Blessing, is given only on Yom Tov, unlike in Israel, where it occurs daily. The reason being that Birkat Kohanim must be recited in a state of joy. The Rama explains (OC 128:44) that in the Diaspora, Birkat Kohanim is reserved for Yom Tov because it is only then that are we in a state of joy, “unlike other days, even Shabbat, when our minds are preoccupied with livelihood concerns and work obligations.” 

Pro-Israel students take part in a protest in support of Israel amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza, at Columbia University in New York City, Oct. 12, 2023. (Reuters/Jeenah Moon)

So how can we be complacent in exile, but at the same time be constantly distracted by work? Clearly, it must be that we are complacent with this distraction. In most modern orthodox schools, we are primarily raised with the idea of pursuing a prestigious degree and establishing a successful career. This societal standard has become deeply ingrained in our communities, hindering and distracting those who are contemplating Aliyah, and discouraging and preventing students from considering it in the first place. Despite fostering a deep love and connection to Israel, the practical steps toward actualizing our dream and responsibility of moving there are rarely discussed. For this reason, those currently in college or preparing for it, must be actively conscious and view their time and effort there as a step, or at least a preparation, to make Aliyah immediately afterwards.

A law I strongly believe in is Parkinson’s Law, which suggests that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” In other words, tasks tend to fill the time allotted to them. Take, for instance, the army: if breakfast is scheduled for 9am, the bunk is miraculously clean enough for the commanders at exactly 8:55 every day, regardless of what time we started cleaning. Or another example, how can we have that same rush before Shabbos whether it starts at 4PM or 8 PM? Because we complete the task based on the deadline.

 

Parkinson’s Law illustrated. Credit: VectorMine/Shutterstock

 

Applying this principle to Aliyah, setting a practical deadline becomes crucial, and telling ourselves that we don’t just want, but indeed will do it. Setting an excessively short-term deadline can lead to overwhelming pressure, while having no deadline at all risks never taking the first step. An effective method I recently discovered to solve this issue is opening a Nefesh B’nefesh account with an Aliyah date set for years in the future. So theoretically you could open an account at the end of Shana Alef or the beginning of college, and set your Aliyah date for the summer after graduation. This approach essentially forces you to prepare for that date throughout college, and will direct your decisions toward the goal of succeeding in Israel. By adopting the mindset from the outset that Aliyah is the primary plan, with remaining in America as secondary, you significantly increase your achievement of success in your Aliyah journey, and don’t allow life to get in the way of that dream.

While it’s undoubtedly difficult to reconcile the significant financial and physical investment made for obtaining an American degree with the prospect of earning a meager Israeli salary, I humbly believe that if this is our most pressing challenge—that our degrees are too prestigious—then we have little to complain about. The Gemara (Brachot 9a-b) illustrates this perspective by recounting how Moshe had to beg Bnei Yisrael to accept the Egyptians’ wealth before leaving Egypt. They are likened to a prisoner offered a substantial reward for waiting just one more day to be released. However, at that point, the prisoner’s sole focus is on achieving freedom as soon as possible, regardless of the extra money. Similarly, our mindset in the struggle to break free from exile should prioritize that liberation, freedom, and reconnection with Hashem and our land, above all riches that we can attain by waiting, even just one more day.

Photo Credit: Sason Tiram

Personally, I lack extensive experience in navigating post-college life, or anything about topics like which American degrees do or don’t get jobs here. I don’t know why doctors and nurses get paid so little while cars and apartments are so expensive. I do know however that that the Ministry of Aliyah and Nefesh B’Nefesh really work at identifying and pinpointing the specific challenges Olim face, and offer resources to address them, like graduate school being free for Olim, and Nefesh B’Nefesh offering countless resources on careers and jobs. Additionally, Aliyah benefits usually help cover the initial months of settling in, including a new benefit to cover rent for 2 years(!!). I won’t sugarcoat it though. The benefits don’t solve everything, and living in Israel means embracing that you have to conform to Israel’s system, rather than expecting Israel to conform to your personal situation. 

Mesechet Tamid 32a quoting Pirkei Avot teaches that a wise person is one who sees and anticipates the future causes of their behavior. By far, the most frequent line I hear from older Olim is that they wish they had gone to the IDF, or had made Aliyah sooner. While post-college Olim may have missed out on those opportunities that post high schoolers had, there’s an endless array of contribution and fulfillment, including the profound act of providing your kids the opportunity to be born, live, and fully integrate into Israel. By firmly keeping our focus on our desired destination, starting from the first day of college, we can avoid being ensnared into that constant uphill battle of returning to Israel. We won’t let internships and job offers in New York City distract us from our purpose and role in the Jewish people and mission in Israel. Anyone interested in making Aliyah has the opportunity to carve out their own path, guided by the understanding that the shift is not a matter of if, or even when, but simply a matter of then.

About the Author
Brian Racer grew up in Teaneck, New Jersey and made Aliyah to Ramat Beit Shemesh in 2020. After learning in Yeshivat Lev Hatorah for a year and a half he drafted to the IDF as a Lone Soldier, serving as a sharpshooter in the Nachal Brigade. Afterwards, he returned to his Yeshiva where he is currently a Madrich for incoming students.
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