In April, 2020 in the midst of a nearly worldwide lockdown, the Jewish Agency reported that inquiries for returning citizens and new immigrants for Aliyah from the United States and other western countries had doubled since the previous April from 30,000 to 60,000. It was a surprising statistic at a time when people were encouraged to “stay home.”
My American immigrant friends here often heard my cynicism that any significant Aliyah would ever come out of the US. France, we understood from incidences of anti-semitism in schools, synagogues and kosher markets was clearly becoming dangerous for Jewish life in large cities. Even though I made Aliyah in the 90’s and later returned as a returning citizen in 2009 I wouldn’t have called myself a great supporter of Aliyah. In my career here as a real estate agent I often dealt with new immigrants both coming into the country with their shipment and later leaving and selling things, shipping the things they brought back. As they were leaving, I heard their reasons and their disappointments, mostly related to financial prosperity and children’s educational opportunities or closeness to family who didn’t want to or couldn’t visit. Rarely was it because they hated the country or disliked Israelis or the Israeli way of doing things.
I wouldn’t have expected an increase in interest in Aliyah because of COVID 19, but there it was. I don’t believe it was because American Jews saw that Israel handled the crisis any better than the States. I believe it was more of a visceral response to the reality that the borders that always seemed open were now closed overnight and Americans in their cultural DNA love freedom.
Now I have changed my opinion. The news in the States showing riots and looting in many major American cities is more convincing to me than reaction to COVID. Something about the riots in SoHo in the end of May in New York city in the beginning of June reminded me of movies where mob rule somehow turned on the Jewish individuals nearby. The majority of American Jews whose families have been in the US for a few generations came as immigrants at the turn of the 20th century before Nazi Germany. Many left Russia, Poland and other countries of Eastern Europe because of pogroms and evictions.
It’s not that the mob vandalized and looted the 450 stores in SoHo, Midtown and Manhattan, New York, and high-end shopping districts in Los Angeles, California because they were Jewish owned or anti-Semitic. It’s the visuals of out of control mobs in a frenzy of theft and violence that in Jewish past often turned onto the Jewish community or individuals who were caught in the crossfire. I wonder how many of those shops were Jewish owned as either franchise owners or building owners.
Then there’s the Fairfax Jewish community of Los Angeles. On Shavuot May 30th, rioters carried out what hearkened to definite anti-semitic motivations. Jonathon Friedman, a store owner in Los Angeles was interviewed by Arutz 7 news, about the looting of his store in Los Angeles, a pharmacy. He and five other Jewish individuals were just looking to protect their stores and were across the street from the looters talking to police who said they would not do anything to stop the looting as they were focusing on “loss of life” that that “your store is your problem, not ours” when he asked the police there why they weren’t doing anything. Friedman commented that they were stealing drugs which could be harmful and a police problem. He watched as looters casually robbed his shop, drugs and merchandise on store shelves casually as if they were shoppers. Anti-Jewish slurs were vocalized by the rioters according to some eyewitnesses. Graffiti was sprayed using profanity and “Jews” in the same sentence. The media except for a few Jewish sites were largely silent.
Cliff Mass, a Takoma Washington weatherman was recently fired for drawing comparisons to Nazi Germany in the 1930’s to the recent property destruction in downtown Seattle. He explains the unjust firing in his August 13th.
As a Hebrew Studies major in University I took a number of courses in Jewish and holocaust history. I’m against comparing modern political figures and tragic political events to Hitler and Nazism believing that it trivializes the reality of that history. I do believe that the true study of that period with its corresponding personalities and events does contain great lessons for how not to allow society to again descend into such darkness. Was his analogy of a broken and boarded downtown Seattle after days of rioting, burning and smashed windows that off? Every American who follows the news should be shocked by the lawlessness and rioting of the last months.
Persecution and loss of opportunity has often been a motivation for Aliyah in the past and likely will continue to be. It’s always been my belief that the Jewish state should be filled not just with those who are refugees from political and religious hatred but by love and desire to build a Jewish homeland. Many American Jews who do make Aliyah have attested to the constant questions of “Why would you come here?” implying a better life in the US. Many immigrants with whom I’ve discussed their reasons for coming were simply a sense of this was home and there was a “call” to be here, a destiny that was planted in their hearts. Maybe we have lost some of that “first love” along the way to even question an American Jewish motivation for making Aliyah. Now that the United States, along with the world is experiencing a series of shakings and great and beloved cities like Portland, Seattle, Chicago and New York have suffered harm at the hands of mob rule, the United States has lost a little bit of its “golden medina” status and will inspire the Jewish community from secular to religious to reconsider the Jewish homeland.
I hope with this blog post to write a series of articles of Aliyah bios that can help encourage those on the fence or even seriously considering that a satisfying Jewish life can be made here in Israel.