David Kufeld
Basketball, Israel & Judaism

In Praise of Aliyah Interruptus

Oh no, not this Aliyah photo again!

OK, I roped you in with the snazzy title, but I have a serious issue to discuss – that of the recent phenomenon of partial Aliyah, or as some Chutznik detractors call it “Faux Aliyah.” This is when mostly late middle-aged couples (Anglos and perhaps French) become Olim, but still spend a portion of the year in their respective countries of origin.

You can say that much younger Olim who travel back frequently to the Old Country for work are part of this cohort (you know what they look like…they slip into very comfortable clothes at the beginning of TLV-USA flights, and manage to sleep throughout), which may be true, but they are not really part of this new wave. Their lifestyle is exceedingly difficult on them and their families, and hard to sustain, but that’s grist for another blog.

It’s one thing to make Aliyah with your entire family at a younger stage, where all key aspects of your life are in Israel. That’s ideal, and the only way to achieve true Klita (absorption). You really need to force yourselves to learn Hebrew and be immersed in Israeli society to have a successful transition – that’s fairly clear (just try to maneuver through a government office or a medical clinic where only Hebrew is spoken – it’s quite terrifying).

However, for couples or single parents (or childless singles) whose children are long out of the house but have close family members staying in Galut – or whose work remains grounded in Chutz LaAretz, making an airtight Aliyah is exceedingly difficult or impossible – but why put it off?

In our case, we had a long series of pilot trips and “5 Year Plans” from early on in our marriage which stretched into 10- and 20-year plans. We came to the realization that “if not now…when” despite life’s loose ends. It became a crowning life achievement (it certainly helped that all our kids and grandkids are in Israel).

The last few years of Corona really seemed to accelerate the partial Aliyah trend, where non-citizens had a heck of a time getting into the country, and it became painfully evident that the previously easy travel to and from Israel was not something one could take for granted. Corona also revolutionized the concept and practicality of remote working – so if you were Israel-oriented wouldn’t it be better to remote in from the Homeland, assuming you could handle the time zone difference?

My wife Suri and I were unknowingly prescient when we made Aliyah in August 2019 on the last NBN group flight of the pre-Corona era. In our old shul in Great Neck, NY, there must be at least 10 other couples in our age bracket who have made partial Aliyah since then or are in the process.

For most of our friends and acquaintances at the time of our move, “making Aliyah” meant pulling up all your stakes and fully resettling in Israel. It took some time for people to appreciate the nuances of what we were doing, and then Corona allowed the “asimon” to fall in their minds (which was fortuitous since there were murmurings of their taking back the congratulatory Kiddush they made for us before our Nefesh B’Nefesh flight).

As time went on since 2019 – from what we understand – the Israeli government became not entirely thrilled with this not-yet-100%-residency trend, as they have tightened certain parameters.

Prospective Olim are now interrogated by the Jewish Agency as to whether their center of life is really in Israel, asking if they have sold their Diaspora real estate and left their job, and if they look over their right shoulder when changing driving lanes (a real no-no) and if they use an Ishay Ribo song as their ring tone.

I won’t even mention the inconvenience of the new FBI background check, where rules are stricter than those applied to the Steele Dossier. Heaven forbid if you have problems logging your fingerprints!

As an aside – I think very Chutz La’aretz rabbi worth their Kosher Salt should be frequently asking their flock those “Sochnut” questions concerning the centrality of Israel in their lives.

The main thesis of this blog is that In Progress Aliyah is a good thing and should be encouraged. Life and health is fleeting and not guaranteed, so if you are a true Zionist and committed Jew then why wait? To not join the ultimate Zionist organization (Israel, that is) casts doubt on the sincerity of your professed Zionism, period. And isn’t it better to enter Israel via the top part of the plane, and not feet first in cargo?

There was an article in Israel media recently about the difficulty an older couple is having being granted Aliyah status, since the government does not want them to be a drain on the health system. This is very short-sighted and indicative of bureaucratic idiocy.

In fact, prospective Olim are supposedly now asked about what meds they take, I gather so the authorities can assess what health insurance risk you pose to the Altneuland (contrast that to the matzav decades ago when people in Chutz LaAretz used to think Western Olim should be committed for leaving the good life for the backwaters of Israel).

Aliyah is not just for Jews in distress. In our case (that of not-yet-fulltime Olim), the tax revenue we generate for Israel outweighs the governmental benefits we receive. If our Israeli healthcare coverage is perceived to detract what Israel can offer disadvantaged Olim, then there should be a frank discussion and not a series of apparatchik-built roadblocks.

As an aside, the 30% of the year that we spend in the old country (we’re trying to reduce that figure) is largely devoted (besides family time and work obligations) to being Israel-oriented purchasing missions for our grandchildren. We are in effect Amazon mules, maxing out our luggage capacity with all sorts of hard-to-find items for the kinderlach. How could they survive without them?

What I’d like to know is how is it bad that Jews make a partial Aliyah? The realities for an older demographic are different than for young families, so it’s not a one size fits all issue. What do you think about all of this? Please comment below.

As an allied issue, I’m aware of the problems of absentee home ownership, where large swaths of apartments in Olim-friendly neighborhoods stay vacant between chagim. While that could be part of the partial Aliyah scenario it does precede the trend. It also can be a solution of sorts since once you are a citizen you have added incentive to spend more time in Israel, one would think.

As a diversion from these serious topics, let’s discuss “The Photo” (see what I used at the start of the blog – it was taken on our Yom HaAliyah). If you are a TOI or JPost reader you are probably sick of seeing it used online or in print dozens of times, accompanying all sorts of Aliyah articles (about Anglos, Russians and even Ethiopians) – I’ve totally lost count (if I only had a Lira for every time it’s been used!). That’s me on the stairs trying hard not to fall on my face, and I’m boxing out Suri who’s behind me. The irony is that I was gearing up to dive onto the tarmac for one of those hackneyed kissing-the-ground-when-you-make-Aliyah photo ops, but instead I was captured for photographic posterity before that point. There is a life lesson there somewhere.

So, if you are dual citizens like us, let me know your thoughts. If you are in Galut and considering taking the plunge, go for it. You will enhance your life in so many ways.

About the Author
Always tall for his age, Dave Kufeld made good use of his stature as an undergrad at Yeshiva College, achieving All American status in Men’s Basketball and leading the nation in rebounding – and subsequently becoming the first known Orthodox Jew to be drafted by an American pro team when he was selected by the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers in 1980 (ironically, he was too short and too observant to fill Bill Walton’s shoes). After completing his professional stint in Israel’s first division (at Maccabi Ramat Gan) he embarked upon a still ongoing career in advertising, marketing, and public relations, with a concentration in law firm and litigation marketing. In 2019, he and his wife Suri made Aliya and reside in Jerusalem, just a wind sprint away from their children and grandchildren.
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