Aliyah’s New Youth Movement

My friend of 50-plus years, Rabbi Hillel Fendel, recently published an article, “Approaching Aliyah – Youthfully.” He bemoans the fact that many American Jews have used excuses about why they have not made aliyah earlier in their lives, and then later on say that they would have liked to have made aliyah but now it’s too late.

He then goes on to say that while it might be true that it is too late for these folks to pack up their bags and move to Israel, it’s not too late for them to convince their children to make aliyah while they are young – and not make the same mistake that they did.

I think he’s right … but he’s also wrong.

Let me explain.

I think Rabbi Fendel is correct that many American Jews historically have postponed making aliyah for a variety of reasons – professional reasons, economic reasons, and family reasons. Only about 5,000 Jews immigrated to Israel from America last year, which is a very small number.

However, in the past five to seven years, I’ve noticed an interesting development. I don’t have any hard statistics to prove it, but I believe that there are many more young Orthodox Jews who have recently decided to make their home in Israel.

Consider the following trends that I have noticed…

  • Many Modern Orthodox yeshiva high schools routinely have several graduates who now choose to enter the Israel Defense Forces, with the plan to eventually make their home in Israel. There are also several high school graduates each year who choose to go to college in Israel, also with plans to permanently live there.  College tuition is partially or in some cases wholly subsidized in Israel, and many universities offer programs specifically geared to new immigrants. Ten years ago, it was virtually unheard of for yeshiva high school graduates to enter the IDF or attend an Israeli college. Now it’s a significant trend that will factor into an increased number of Americans who make aliyah each year.
  • Young Modern Orthodox families, faced with rising day school tuition and exorbitant housing costs, are now choosing to move to Israel with their families in greater numbers than ever before. It used to be that the only young families who made aliyah from the Orthodox community were the hard-core Zionists; it seems that economic reasons have now factored into the equation as to whether a young family makes aliyah. In addition, an increasing number of Jews feel that antisemitism is getting worse in America, which contributes to the probability that a greater number of young families will be making a move to Israel in coming years. Jews, especially observant Jews, do not feel nearly as positive as they used to about their future in America.
  • Ten years ago it was virtually unheard of for Orthodox singles to make aliyah. The unwritten rule was you needed to first get married – and then decide if you wanted to raise your family in Israel. Today there are thousands of Orthodox singles who have chosen to live in Israel, with several different enclaves in the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas where singles now reside.

It’s dangerous to make predictions about what the aliyah trends will be in the next decade…much can happen that can change the positive trajectory that seems to be occurring. Given the factors listed above, though, I think it’s a good bet that we will be seeing more and more young Orthodox Jews moving to Israel in the next few years.

There is also a corresponding positive trend that I have noticed, too. Older individuals in their 60s and 70s and who are ready to retire are also now making aliyah – specifically because they want to be close to their children and grandchildren who have already made aliyah. So not only are there more young Orthodox Jews choosing to live in Israel; their decision to relocate has spawned additional aliyah among their parents who are now retiring in Israel.

Granted these numbers are still tiny when considering how many Jews could potentially be making aliyah.  However, the percentages are growing – and if the trend continues, we may see aliyah numbers that reach the figures we witnessed after the Six Day War.

Rabbi Fendel ends off his article with something that we can certainly agree on.  Moshe told Pharaoh, “We’re leaving Egypt, with our youth and our elders.” It was not an accident that he mentioned the youth before the elders. That’s often how change happens. If our youth make the move first, their families will often follow afterwards.

No doubt there are many difficulties in moving to Israel – learning the language, earning a living, making new friends, and adapting to a different culture. However, if we can change our thinking, we might be able to minimize the problems. When our children decide to move to Israel, we are not losing them – we are securing our family’s future.

Time will tell whether we will continue to see more young Orthodox Jews making Aliyah.

About the Author
Michael Feldstein, who lives in Stamford, CT, is the author of "Meet Me in the Middle," a collection of essays on contemporary Jewish life. His articles and letters have appeared in The Jewish Link, The Jewish Week, The Forward, and The Jewish Press. He can be reached at
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