Coming in from the storm: Aliyah catalysts

Recently I read an interesting blog entry by religious Zionist activist Shmuel Sackett entitled “Don’t Make Aliyah Because of a Hurricane.” Sackett argues that Jews should not move to Israel to escape troubles in the Diaspora, whether a storm-ravaged home or some other hardship. “Israel is not a homeless shelter for people whose homes flooded. . . .[b]ecause people who live in shelters always want to go back to their ‘real’ homes,” he writes. “They will always be looking back, remembering what was and wondering what could have been.” Rather, he urges, they should come here for the “right reasons”—a desire to connect with the Jewish nation and join in the fulfillment of our divine destiny.

His argument raises some interesting questions. Does it matter what moves a Jew to settle here? Should aliyah recruitment encourage aliyah for less-than-idealistic reasons (anti-Semitism in Europe, high yeshiva tuition in the States)?

Anyone with a basic understanding of human psychology knows that major life changes—leaving home, getting married, having children, choosing a career—should grow out of deliberation, not desperation. Otherwise, we make mistakes, plain and simple. We’re more likely to fail, and to be miserable. Aliyah is no exception.

Yet the courage and wherewithal needed to pack up one’s life and move to this incredibly special, slightly insane place sometimes develop after a wake-up call in the form of a triggering event. My sister, for example, made aliyah with her young family rather suddenly in 2001—less than a year after the 9/11 attacks which shattered so many people’s perceptions (especially New Yorkers like us) of the world as we knew it.

If a Jew whose home was destroyed by an act of G-d—be it Harvey or Irma or a California wildfire— starts contemplating a different future in a different place, why shouldn’t that place be Israel? It’s only natural that a major upset in one’s life should give rise to introspection. That introspection could lead some Jews to consider aliyah. The calm after the storm: a personal setback marks the genesis of a new beginning. What a beautiful idea.

For others, however, aliyah is conceived as a solution to a problem. It’s what you might term a “cold” aliyah, based on calculated risks and benefits, lacking the spiritual passion or nationalistic fervor which inspired my family and so many thousands of olim before us.

According to Nefesh b’Nefesh, the crushing tuition costs for private Jewish education in the States is the leading factor in American aliyah. Sure, a family could move here to escape that financial burden and in the process gain a greater perspective on and appreciation of our Jewish state. After all, Judaism teaches that performing positive actions brings about inner changes, even if initially those actions are not done with altruistic motives. But a commitment to living in Israel, if it’s not there at the outset, had better develop quickly. Because inevitably it gets hot in this kitchen. The challengescan be exasperating at times, and to withstand them olim must be grounded by deeply held ideals. A relationship built on material benefits, says Ethics of Our Fathers, is primed to fail; one built on higher values will endure.

Cold aliyah is no boon to Israel either.The Land of Milk of Honey should not be milked for its freebies. Venting frustration is fine, but it’s a morale-killer to listen to the sour-tongued olim reminiscent of the Biblical spies who fill the cyber-waves with complaints.This country’s survival depends on thecommitment, faith, and dedication of itspeople. Those who want to know not (only) what Israel can do for them, but how they can participate in, and contribute to, the flourishing of our Jewish homeland.

Remember “Uncle Sam Wants You!”? Well, attention proud Jews: “Israel Wants You!” That’s the type of message aliyah outreach should convey.

About the Author
Ziona Greenwald feels grateful to be living with her husband and children in Jerusalem, where she is a freelance writer and editor. She holds a J.D. from Fordham Law School, and worked both in publishing and in the court system back in New York, when Aliyah was still a dream to be realized.
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