The Wrong Message about Aliyah

There are many reasons that Jews should move to Israel, but running away from Europe is not one of them

I am a fan of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I have time and again supported his views, actions and statements. Most recently, I supported his decision to accept an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of congress on the issue of Iran and the spurt in worldwide terrorism.

Interestingly, while the American people don’t agree with what Boehner did and think it politicized support for Israel, they also do not agree with President Obama’s refusal to meet with him. I agree with my fellow Americans about that. Agree with Boehner or not, once here, President Obama should meet with the Prime Minister of America’s closest ally. Like him or not, he is the leader of the only true democracy in the Middle East. Not doing so is petty.  The symbolism of it is not.

As for politicizing support for Israel, no one is doing more damage to that relationship than the boycotters of his speech to congress.  There are about ten or so members of congress that have announced that they will not attend. They say that Netanyahu will not tell them anything they haven’t heard from him before.

But to presume to know what he is going to say as an excuse for not attending is exactly politicizing it. Furthermore, if you boycott the leader of the country you support, you are in effect boycotting the country itself. It would be like the members of the Likud boycotting Obama if he accepted an invitation from Tzipi Livni to address the Kenesset. Truly a stupid thing to do.

But then again I never really thought too much about the intelligence of Senator Patrick Leahy and Vice President Joe Biden – the 2 most prominent boycotters. They are not the brightest bulbs in the room. Stupid things come out of their mouths all the time.

But this post is not about that. It is about a statement made by the Prime Minister with which I totally disagree. In response to the latest terrorist attack against Jews in Denmark, Netanyahu made the same pitch to Jews there that he did to the Jews of France after they were attacked. He told the Jews of Europe to get out! It is no longer safe for Jews in Europe. And they should make Aliyah (immigrate) en masse to Israel.

Do not misunderstand. I am not God forbid opposed to making Aliyah. The holy land is the place where we Jews belong. It is the place where more Mitzvos are available to us. It is God’s gift to the Jewish people.  There are many reasons to make Aliyah. But running away from Europe is not one of them.

Not that I am a fan of Europe. As Menachem Begin once put it, Antisemitsm is in the mother’s milk of every European. Rashi’s commentary about Esav Soneh L’Yaakov surely applies to Europe. Today just as it did yesterday. That’s why there was a Holocaust. And that’s why today it’s so easy for Muslim fanatics living in Europe to rake up all those old feelings – submerged via guilt after the Holocaust.

But the Holocaust did indeed change things. Antisemtism is not only no longer government policy, it is no longer tolerated. Unlike it was before and during the Holocaust. Then Euroean Antisemitsm was official or at best tolerated. France, for example, had no problems rounding up its Jews and handing them over to the Nazis for shipment to Auschwitz.

There were Jews in the immediate years prior to the Holocaust that saw what was coming and urged their Jewish brethren to get out of Europe… most notably Zev Jabotinsky. He was not a religious Jew. But he saw what was coming and told the Jewish people to get out! Religious leaders were opposed to that and told the Jewish people to stay put. And they did to the tune of six million Jews who ended up dead.

Just to be clear, I don’t blame the religious leaders. They had no way of knowing about the ‘Final Solution’. That wasn’t even decided until 1942 at the Wanasee Conference.  But the fact is that they were wrong and Jabotinsky was right.

Why were the Gedolim opposed to running away from Europe? They feared that leaving the confines of the Shtetl and moving to a free America or a Zionist Palestine would destroy the Yiddishkeit of most Jews. What good was it, they asked, if their lives were saved but their souls weren’t?

But as we all know now, those fears never materialized. The very freedom they feared would destroy Judaism actually enhanced it. America has proven to be a haven for the Jewish people unlike any country in history even in the best of times. The same thing is true of Israel. Torah Judaism is flourishing in both countries like at no other time. There are more Jews learning Torah in these two countries than at any other time in history.

True, assimilation is a problem derived of that freedom. Both America and Israel allow us to choose what kind of life we want to live. The draw of a free lifestyle is very strong.  But as I said instead destroying us that freedom has allowed us to flourish.

Back to Europe. The Antisemitism that exists in Europe today is not government policy. Nor is it even government sanctioned. It is in fact not tolerated. Whereas in pre Holocaust European governments were anxious to rid themselves of Jews, and collaborated with the Nazis, today’s European leaders are begging the Jewish people to stay.

After the attack in France, their Prime Minster Manuel Valls said that “France without Jews is not France.” Denmark’s Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt said: “The Jewish community has been in this country for centuries. They belong in Denmark, they are part of the Danish community and we wouldn’t be the same without the Jewish community in Denmark…”

My message to Prime Minster Netanyahu is… Yes! Urge the Jewish people to make Aliyah. But urge them to do it for the right reasons.  Jews should not make Aliyah to run away. Europe of 2015 is not the Europe of 1939. They should do it because they want to live in Israel. That would be the right thing to do.  Urging them to do it now – saying it is no longer safe for Jews to live there now, is not the way to relate to nations from whom you seek support.

About the Author
My worldview is based on the philosophy of my teacher, Rabbi Aaron Soloveichik , and the writings of Rabbis Joseph B. Soloveitcihk , Norman Lamm, and Dr. Eliezer Berkovits from whom I developed an appreciation for philosophy. I attended Telshe Yeshiva and the Hebrew Theological College where I was ordained. I also attended Roosevelt University where I received my degree in Psychology.