Should UK Jews make aliyah?

Israel’s Deputy Minister Michael Oren MK is reported as having suggested that, should Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn be elected as prime minister in the next UK general elections, Israel should “extend the warmest invitation to British Jews” and encourage them to make aliyah.

Having myself made aliyah from England more than 30 years ago, his proposal sounds at first sight to be a welcome one. However, the Israel to which they would come is one in which most of them would not feel at home.

Anglo Jews tend to be fair-minded and tolerant people both in terms of their religious and political opinions. They have grown up and live in a country in which decency and mutual consideration are hallmarks of the society. There are things you don’t do, because, as they would put it, “that’s not cricket”.

In a nation, which many view as the cradle of democracy, they recognize that minorities have rights and that the acid test of a true democracy is its ability not only to carry out the will of the majority but also to defend the rights of the minority. As the saying goes, “I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Although the majority of Anglo Jews are nominally Orthodox in their religious persuasion, when they do go to synagogue on a Shabbat, they tend to park their car around the corner. They eat kosher at home, but are less fussy when eating out. Approximately 30% of UK Jewry belong to Reform, Liberal and Masorti (Conservative) congregations.

In Israel they would find that Reform and Conservative Jews suffer from religious discrimination and that their rabbis and congregations are not granted equal rights on either a national or a municipal level. Having recently won a District Court appeal against Hod Hasharon’s town council and its mayor, Chai Adiv, for having treated our Reform congregation unfairly, I have personally experienced Israel’s unwillingness to behave decently when it comes to religious pluralism.

Were they to make aliyah, Anglo Jews would find themselves having to choose between sending their children to secular (mamlachti) or religious (mamlachti-dati) schools. They would be unhappy with their children going to parties and participating in organized activities on Friday evenings, but they would also not feel at home in a country in which their children would feel uncomfortable at mamlachti-dati schools for not being shomrey Shabbat (Sabbath observant).

Respecting the rights of minorities and being moderate in their political opinions, most English Jews would not identify with the religious and political policies of a right-wing-religious, Netanyahu-Bennett led government that supports Jewish settlement on the West Bank at the expense of the prospect of a 2-State solution to the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

When many French Jews chose to leave their country several years ago following the growing number of anti-Semitic attacks there, most of them preferred to go to the United States, Canada or the UK rather than come to Israel. Life is easier there. And while Israel is keen on the idea of people making Aliyah, it has a poor record in its treatment of olim (immigrants).

Of course, I would prefer Jews from all over the world to come to Israel. However, there are sadly too many good reasons for them not to do so.

About the Author
Rabbi Boyden was educated and received his rabbinical ordination in London, England. Having served as the rabbi of Cheshire Reform Congregation for thirteen years, he made aliyah with his family in 1985. He has established Reform congregations in Ra'anana and Hod Hasharon and previously served as director of the Israel Reform Movement's Beit Din.