The Haggadah begins with the yearning that all of the Jewish People be in the Land of Israel for next year’s celebration of the Festival of Freedom: “This year we are here – next year, an independent people in Eretz Yisrael.” The Seder concludes with the very same hope and message: “Next year in Jerusalem!” Rabbi Kook explained that the Exodus from Egypt was only the beginning of a long process of Redemption, “the springtime of existence,” for the Jewish People and the world, a continuous history-spanning labor and birth which developed over thousands of years. Receiving the Torah at Sinai was a stop on the way. The final destination was, and still is to be, Eretz Yisrael and Jerusalem. Rashi teaches that only a fifth of the Jews in Egypt took part in the Exodus. Four-fifths wanted to remain in Egypt and subsequently died in the plague of darkness. Later, when the Children of Israel neared the Promised Land, the Spies convinced the people not to make Aliyah. In anger, Hashem slew the entire generation of males and waited 40 years for a new generation to rise before allowing the Israelites to enter the Chosen Land. The time has come to put illusions aside. Coming to Israel is serious business. The exile was never meant to last forever.
In the midst of the battle against the Coronavirus, the question needs to be asked whether the hard-pressed Government of Israel is doing enough to bring the Jews home. Dramatic rescue flights brought planeloads of Israeli tourists back home from Peru and Australia. But what about all of the Israeli expatriates, the Yordim, close to a million, who are scattered all over the world, from Berlin to LA? And what about the Jews of the Diaspora, the fourteen, fifteen, sixteen million, who read the Haggadah every year and recite the words: “Next year in Jerusalem” – why not bring them all home as well? After all, Medinat Yisrael was built by ingathered exiles. Operations “On Eagles Wings” brought the Jews from Yemen, and Operations Moses and Solomon rescued Jews from Ethiopia – not to mention the mass ingathering of Jews from the Soviet Union. Could a similar national effort be organized, “Operation Corona,” to rescue the Yordim and the Jews remaining in the Diaspora? Too fantastic, you say? Too grandiose a project? Then be reminded of the fellow who said, “If you will it, it is no dream.”
In 1981, during the First War in Lebanon, I was a young writer, teaching screenwriting at the NYU School of the Arts. Two energetic Israelis, Rabbi Yehuda Hazani, of blessed memory, and Meir Indor, today’s Director of the Almagor Terror Victims Association in Israel, showed up in Manhattan to organize the volunteer emergency recruitment drive, “Volunteers for Israel” (later called “Sarel”) to bring American Jews to Israel to help out during the war. I became the director of the program in the United States during its first two years. We succeeded in sending thousands of volunteers to Israel on specially-discounted air flights, with agreements worked out between the IDF, the Jewish Agency, and El Al, and with the help of “The Jewish Press,” and other Jewish newspapers around the United States, and with the generous support of private donors. A similar, far larger effort could be organized today in order to rescue the myriads of Jews stranded throughout the world. Of course, like in the days of the Exodus, not everyone would agree to come. But with the plague of Corona striking Jewish communities worldwide, growing anti-Semitism, and economic uncertainty, a very great many would now gladly come – especially amongst the young.
True, the Government of Israel already has its hands full with the campaign against Corona, but government monies and private benefactors could be summoned to fund such a Herzlian enterprise. Projects like Birthright and Nefesh B’Nefesh are joint ventures sponsored by the Government of Israel and warm-hearted Jewish philanthropists from America. Jewish Federations could chip in to cover the costs, along with Israel’s many non-Jewish friends.
Where will the manpower be found for such an emergency endeavor? Tens of thousands of young people are out of work at the moment in Israel. They, and the young Jews coming on Aliyah, will comprise the work force, putting up the tents and building the “Tent Cities” that will be erected close to the new Ramon Airport near Eilat. There is plenty of room for the “Marbarot” tent communities with names like “Monsey, Israel,” “Lakewood of the Negev,” and “Boro Parks.” At the beginning, to house the great numbers in the shortest time possible, the accommodations will be primitive, tents and barracks, but, “lo norah,” it won’t be so terrible – tens of thousands of Bedouins live in tent camps throughout the Negev, and young Israeli soldiers begin their army training in similar Spartan conditions – the Jews of the Diaspora will get by as well until they can be integrated into the day-to-day life of the country. If necessary, new arrivals from Boca and Beverly Hills who can’t handle tent living and potable chemical toilets will be able to rent rooms in Eilat’s empty luxury hotels.
Indeed, the idea sounds like the scenario for a funny comedy script, but, in all seriousness, the plan could work. The airport is ready. Lines of idle planes are waiting on the runway. Israel’s Ministries of Housing, Labor, Interior, and Transportation can be harnessed behind the task. The Jewish Agency can be awakened from its slumber. The project would bring new life to the Negev and save the economically collapsing Eilat. “Operation Corona” would unite the Israelis and the Jews of the Diaspora in a common uplifting cause. It would bring new life and hope to the threatened Jewish Nation. The cry of the Haggadah, “Next year in Eretz Yisrael,” could become a reality. What are we waiting for? I’m going to start making phone calls today, but I need your help. Write to me. Leave your name and email. Let’s go!