The silent trickle of Israelis that leave Israel
At the beginning of Megillat Ruth (1:1-2) we read about Elimelech’s journey from Beit Lehem Yehuda to Moav:
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land; and a man of Beit Lechem Yehuda went to reside in the country of Moav, he, his wife and his two sons. The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name was Naomi, and his two sons were named Machlon and Chilion—Ephrathites of Beit Lechem Yehuda. They came to the country of Moav and remained there.
It is interesting to note that the megilla does not mention the possessions that Elimelech brought with him.
In the midrash, Ruth Rabba 1:4 we learn that Elimelech was one of the notables of his place and one of the leaders of his generation. When the famine came, he didn’t want everyone knocking on his door for help and therefore he arose and fled.
Elimelech was a prominent man with possessions. We see in Ruth Rabba 2:10- first their horses, their donkeys and their camels died, then Elimelech and lastly their two sons, so why aren’t their possessions mentioned in the megilla?
Ruth Rabba 1:5 explains: “A man…went”, like a mere stump to which nothing is attached. But surely he didn’t go empty handed! Why is nothing said about what he took with him? Go and see how the Holy One, blessed be He, favors the entry into the Land of Israel over the departure from there.
In the book of Ezra (2:66-67) there is a complete list of what the Jewish people brought back with them from the exile when the returned to the Land of Israel: “Their horses—736; their mules—245; their camels—435; their donkeys—6,720.”
In Elimelech’s case, where he was leaving the Land of Israel for another land, the megilla does not describe their possessions but simply states “A man…went” as though he was empty handed.
We see that when it comes to making aliya (moving to the Land of Israel) no details are left out including how many animals they brought with them, to show appreciation for each new immigrant with the hope that in the merit of the Land of Israel, they will be successful.
However, when people decide not to remain in Israel, they often leave quietly. There is no fanfare when someone leaves Israel the way that there is when they arrive. In fact it is hard to even get proper statistics of how many olim leave Israel. Nefesh B’Nefesh believes that about 90% of olim from North America remain in Israel but there is no way for them to really know unless every oleh that decides to leave contacts them to let them know. According to Israel’s Cental Bureau of Statistics the percentage of olim who decided to leave Israel for extensive periods of time is much higher. The Jewish Agency claims that there is no way to track how many olim end up leaving but obviously it is not a priority for them as they aren’t going to want to advertise that information on their website. If people continue to leave quietly then nobody (aside from their friends and family) will notice as opposed to when airplanes full of olim land in Israel from countries all over the world and are always front page news.
Those who hide the fact that olim are leaving Israel are part of the problem. We need to find out early on why these olim are not happy and figure out how to make it work, not brush the statistics under the table.
In the end, Naomi returns to the Land of Israel as a “toshav chozer” and Ruth makes aliya as a convert. They come with absolutely nothing and rely on the goodness of others to make their aliya successful.
Shavuot is a good time for Israelis to look around their communities and see how the new olim as well as veteran olim are doing to make sure that they have the ability to give life in Israel their best shot.