American Jews are feeling afraid.
We didn’t grow up this way, at least I didn’t in the Long Island suburbs in the 1970s. Sure, we knew there was antisemitism, but we felt pretty confident that, at least in its most murderous forms, it would not touch us where we were. But, now, in the wake of a series of antisemitic attacks during the latest Gaza conflict, things are changing. Some people are even considering making Aliyah and starting a new life in the Jewish state.
I certainly understand the urge to move here — my wife and I made Aliyah in 2014, but, for American Jews at least, I think hatred of the Jews is not the best reason to make such a big life change. America, overall, remains a very safe place for the Jews and I, for one, believe that this will continue to be true for the foreseeable future — American authorities, and voters, just aren’t going to tolerate antisemitic violence in the way some European countries have.
That said, there are many positive reasons to make Aliyah, especially if maintaining Jewish identity and Jewish religious practice are important to you and your family. The main reason to live here is just that this is where the Jews are. I grew up in the kind of American suburban neighborhood where it seemed like almost every other family was Jewish. Not that everyone was particularly religious, mind — I don’t know if I ever saw a man on the street wearing a kippah. Most of us were pretty much secular — or ‘secular-adjacent’ — Jews, who nonetheless had a strong Jewish identity. Such neighborhoods were common in major American cities at one time, but now the Jews have scattered. Except for places that have a lot of very religious Jews, it would now be hard to find heavily Jewish neighborhoods anywhere in the States.
Israel, however, is full of heavily Jewish neighborhoods, both religious and not. I’m sure for many secular American Jews, it’s just not important to live near other Jews. But it is for me. It helps me to maintain the strength of my Jewish identity — a core part of my sense of self that I don’t want to lose.
In the States, I felt like I was swimming against the tide to maintain a Jewish identity. In my young adulthood I moved from being completely secular to being quite observant in large part because I didn’t see any other way to support my Jewish identity.
Here in Israel, being religious is not as necessary for my maintaining my Jewish identity. Yet, it remains an essential part of who I have become. And living in Israel just makes it easier to maintain my religious observance. I love living among so many other people for whom keeping a kosher home and refraining from traveling and using electronics on Shabbat is central to the ways that they do Jewish. It just makes it so much easier to do those things myself.
There are many other things I love about living here, including the national healthcare system and the climate. I like living in a country that has less income inequality than the States does and that has a better public transportation system. My kids get a Jewish education just by being here, not by being sent to pricey summer camps or day schools. And, while I don’t know if it actually makes me safer from antisemitic violence than Ameican Jews are, knowing that the IDF is protecting us is deeply meaningful to me. When I see a soldier, I know that she or he is one of our soldiers. We have an army. We’re not helpless anymore. After so many countless years of being helpless, we’re just not anymore.
But there’s no doubt that living here also has its many challenges. I don’t recommend it for everyone. But if you are considering it, don’t do it just because you think you will be more safe here than in America. Do it because you think you can live more fully here.