Neil Gillman

How we talk (back) about aliyah — in the spirit of the 12 spies

This summer, Ben Gurion Airport will once again be thronged by thousands of new Olim from around the world. Whether arriving by Charter flight with great fanfare, or quietly, alone in the middle of the night, the months of July and August are far and away the busiest months for Aliyah with families arriving in time for kids to start the new school year, students in time for University, soldiers coming ahead of the draft and an assortment of Ulpan programs opening their gates.

Planning for Aliyah has never been easier – information is freely available online and as has always been the case, the most valued opinion is from those Olim who have blazed the way in previous years. Going back many years the accepted way of getting information was via a list serve called “Tachlis”. Nowadays my Facebook stream is inundated with questions, posed to almost every group of which I’m a member as this summer’s Olim seek advice.

There are a profusion of Aliyah blogs; hopeful and excited pieces by those who will shortly be arriving; slightly more sober Olim passing on the benefits of their experience; dire warnings from those who have had a less positive experience.

Feel good articles will appear in the English and Hebrew press with quotes from newly minted Olim, excited and emotional about their Aliyah. Government Ministers and spokespeople from the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh will talk about the importance of the choices that these, our newest citizens have made in order to get here.

All is well, or so it seems until we get to the responses and talk-backs. The comments may begin positively but frequently snowball into misinformation, arguments over opinion and sometimes plain nastiness and name calling. Some of the talk-backers give sage advice, others see things through rose colored spectacles, and a large number will warn of how terrible it is here, question why a person would make Aliyah and be generally negative.

This week we read Parshat Shelach Lecha – the story of the 12 leaders who were sent to spy out the country, ahead of Am Yisrael’s intended entry into the land. 10 of the spies gave negative reports whilst Yehoshua Ben Nun and Calev Ben Yefune were positive. As a result, the first mass Aliyah was delayed for a generation.

Looking at the text of the story we note that Moshe briefed the spies as to what they should be checking out – the strength of the people, the fertility of the land and the types of settlements. Upon their return the report begins positively enough – the land is flowing with milk and honey and there is beautiful fruit – but then comes the negativity – the people living there are strong and live in well fortified settlements – the tone is clear – there is no way that the land can be conquered.

At this point Calev Ben Yefune has his say:

“עלה נעלה וירשנו אותה כי יכול נוכל לה”

“Let us ascend and inherit it, for we can surely do it”

He doesn’t disagree with what has already been said – there is no denial of the strength of those who Am Yisrael will meet on their journey, no belittling of the assessment of the other spies – just a far more positive tone – yes it will be tough – don’t think anything else but we’re up to the task.

The other spies however continue in their negativity asserting that it’s not possible, that the people are too strong and that it’s a land that devours it’s inhabitants. This is being reported to a people who in the previous parasha have rebelled against Moses, reminiscing for the fish that they ate for free in Egypt, the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic – already forgetful of the back breaking slavery and the wholesale slaughter of their male children which they had endured under Pharaoh.

This summer thousands of people will make Aliyah, many of them leaving behind the comforts of a Western lifestyle rich in creature comforts. It’s important that they are as well prepared as possible – no-one should be hiding the difficulties of living in Israel of which there are a great many.

There is more than one way to talk about these 21st century swamps however – voicing an opinion is important and issuing a warning can be exceedingly helpful but please, before hitting the enter key consider the tone and intent of what you’ve written. By all means prepare the Olim for what lies ahead but do so in the spirit of Calev Ben Yefune – so that they know what lies ahead and can plan to overcome the challenge.

About the Author
Neil Gillman grew up in the UK but fell in love with the idea of eating all his meals out of a pita when visiting Israel for the first time. His culinary tastes have since developed and he is a keen amateur cook, food blogger and shuk addict. He made Aliyah in 1996 and has been working with Olim from English speaking countries since 1999, He is currently responsible for Aliyah from English speaking countries. The views on this blog are his own.
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