Mazal Tov! Today is our Bar Mitzvah “Aliyaversity”

In 2005 we made the decision to join the future of our people and for the last 13 years Jerusalem has been our home. While it has not always been easy and the challenge of having children and grandchildren in Israel and children and grandchildren in the US is quite formidable, our major objective of becoming part of a historical movement of profound significance for the Jewish people is being fulfilled on a daily basis.

Where I live in Katamon there are plenty of US ex-pats and English speakers are abundant. And while I did get caught up in the World Cup frenzy, there are plenty of folks around who are more than willing to schmooze about the Yankees and Mets et al. That being said, when we get together for Shabbat meals invariably the conversation morphs to the question of questions: Where is everybody else? How can the return to Zion after 2000 years be ignored (too strong a word), disregarded (I don’t think so), deemed impractical by the vast amount of North American Jews? I do not refer to the Zionistically unaffiliated segment of our brethren, but even the flag waving supportive element have not voted with their feet.

According to the statistics put out by Nefesh B’Nefesh, in 2017 there were 3,633 olim from the US. Nefesh B’Nefesh has done an unbelievable job in smoothing out the rough spots in the process and helping olim adjust to their new surroundings. Yet, you do the math and you will come to the sad conclusion that well less than 1% of American Jews decided to come last year, or in other words over 99% decided not to come.

I am well aware of the answers to the above query. Some of the answers are apologetic, but many of the answers are very real and genuine. There are family realities, professional realities, language realities which just don’t allow so many who in their hearts would love to call Israel home, to call Israel home.

But I want to pose a different question of questions: What is going to change these realities? Are we satisfied that only 2-3 thousand Americans annually choose Aliyah? (I’m not!) While there is much for the American Jewish community to accomplish in the Diaspora we desperately need more Jewish people here! The Return to Zion is arguably the most significant event in Jewish History in who knows how long-how can we get more people on the bandwagon?

Yes, after the Six Day War there was a surge of Aliyah. Then as students began to spend their “gap year” in Israel we thought this would lead to increased Aliyah (didn’t really happen). Then Nefesh B’Nefesh was created and this would encourage a surge in Aliyah (they do a wonderful job, but the surge has yet to materialize). Now the media is awash with story after story about the widening gap between American Jews and Israel, affecting all segments of the Jewish community! Help!

I believe that the answer lies in the Torah commandment: “V’Shinantam Levanecha” and you shall teach your children. In the US in the 1950’s and 1960’s there was a legitimate concern that the next generation would lose their connection to their Jewish traditions. Day schools were established, curriculum introduced, teachers trained, Rabbis encouraged, parents encouraged ….and the movement flourished. For those parents who took advantage of the opportunity their children were the recipients of a rich Jewish education.

The Israel Education revolution must begin! The Aliyah Education revolution must begin!

Yes, schools and shuls provide some measure of experiential education. There are programs and parades, but I am afraid that we are teaching our children that it is enough to love Israel from afar. Even if the school or family takes a trip to Israel, we are teaching our children that Israel is important and yes, it is wonderful to visit. The Aliyah statistics show that what we are currently doing is insufficient.

What has to happen?

K-12 Israel Education. Do our children know the centrality of Israel within Jewish text, thought and religious life? Do our children know the basic Geography/History/Culture of our homeland? Do they understand the political system (does anybody?) and judicial system? Have they read the Declaration of Independence? Beyond terror attacks, are they aware of the current events?  Do our children feel that Israel is their homeland and it is there where they belong.

Ivrit! Ivrit! Ivrit! Yes, there are plenty of English speakers in Israel but without Ivrit you will never feel at home. Can you understand the news on the radio? Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or website? Can you communicate with the plumber or electrician? Can you get a job? There was a time when Hebrew language proficiency was an important element of Day School/ Yeshiva education, for a myriad of reasons that is no longer the case. Change is needed.

Parental/Community Support: Like in any other educational endeavor community (Rabbinic leadership) and family are essential partners. We must come to the (happy) realization that Israel is 70 years old and that the center of gravity of our people is shifting. Where will the thriving Jewish communities be located in another 50 years? 100 years?  I’m not a betting man, but the safe money says that for sure it will be in Israel. We need to actively encourage the next generation to join the future of our people.

Ahh, but schools do not have the time and money to devote to such a project! Just a couple of years ago almost nobody heard of the term STEM. Parents/Schools decided that it is a must for every child from pre school on to have a STEM education and suddenly there are STEM teachers/STEM Labs and plenty of time to teach STEM-which may be a good idea. In short, if parents/schools deem something as a priority it can happen-rather quickly!

Revolutions do take time. We had to wait 2000 years for a country of our own. The time has come for the Aliyah Education revolution to begin. As a famous person once said “Im Tirzu Ein Zu Aggada”-If you will it, it will not be a legend.

About the Author
Since receiving his Semicha from YU in 1980 Rabbi Joel Cohn has been a leader in Jewish Education. He is the past Principal of SAR Academy, past Director of Education at Camp Morasha, and currently teaches Anglo Olim at Netiv Meir (YTA) in Jerusalem and serves as Director of "Israed" and non profit dedication to providing Israel Education opportunities for Jews in the Diaspora.
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