December 30, 2009
by MICHAEL HIRSCH
American Jews make aliya (illustrative)
Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski [file]
A recent analysis by Haviv Rettig Gur ("What American aliya?" December 16) and a subsequent editorial ("How to bring US aliya," December 20) have both focused on the truth that dare not be spoken - the aliya program is a total failure. Both pieces provide a range of causes and possible solutions. When all is said and done, however, I think even the most well-intentioned will have to draw the conclusion that American aliya en masse is just not meant to be.
How the agencies/bodies responsible for promoting aliya position Israel as an attractive alternative is frankly a non-sequitur. It is a smoke screen behind which aliya "careerists" can devote much time and energy to explaining away their tacit failures. Of much greater import would be a thorough analysis of the potential audience - the average American Jew. And if this were to be performed, it would force those at Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency to reach but one conclusion: Any attempt to promote aliya to this audience is pre-doomed to failure.
FOR THE sake of this discussion, let us break the potential audience into two - Orthodox Jews and all others. In the 2004 presidential election, those Jews voting for president George W. Bush were predominantly Orthodox, while those who voted for Sen. John Kerry were not. In exit polls, Jews who had voted for Kerry, "liberal Jews," were asked which issues were of the greatest concern to them. Gay rights and abortion rights were ranked numbers one and two; Israel came in fifth.
I ask the well-meaning people at NBN and the Jewish Agency: With which powers of persuasion do you believe you were endowed that will sway someone to whom Israel is an afterthought into leaving everything behind and becoming an oleh? Perhaps that explains in the order of the current rate of "success," one-10th of 1 percent.
Turning our attention to the Orthodox, the outlook appears to be as bleak. From personal experience, I would have to say that Israel to the average religious Jew living in the Diaspora is in some state of virtual reality. Yes, there is a State of Israel, but I need not move there until the messiah arrives. Yes, there is a State of Israel, but I need not live there as long as secularists run the government. Yes, there is an Israel, but... etc., etc., etc., ad nauseam.
I HAVE often said to religious friends living in the States that prehistoric man would have greater luck extracting mastodons from the La Brea tar pits, than NBN or the agency would have of extracting a religious Jew from the Diaspora. One need only examine centuries of experience to identify this strong bond between the "galutnik" (those sworn to living anywhere on the globe but Israel) and the Diaspora:
1) The Jews of 15th-century Spain are enjoying their "Golden Age," when suddenly the Inquisition falls upon them. How many flee to Israel, how many to other parts of the Diaspora?
2) The Jews of 19th-century Russia are subjected to a long series of pogroms. How many flee to Israel, how many to neighboring states, such as Germany?
3) The Jews of 20th-century Germany are enjoying the "Age of Enlightenment." Along come the signs of impending doom - Kristallnacht, the Nuremburg Laws. How many attempt to flee?
THE JEWS of the Diaspora are fully embedded. Consider the Siyum Hashas (the 7.5-year cycle of learning the Talmud, culminating with a community gathering) held in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan ($500 ringside seats) a few years ago - four-and-a-half hours of lectures by the Torah giants of the Diaspora, but not a single mention of Israel. The prophet may have told us, "For from Zion shall come forth Torah," but that seminal thought obviously does not register with our Diaspora brethren.
That is what is facing the well-meaning folk at Nefesh B'Nefesh and the Jewish Agency in attempting to promote aliya: one body of Jews to whom Israel is at best an afterthought, another group to whom the land exists solely in the mind's eye. The great Torah sage Rashi tells us (Deuteronomy 30:3) that because of the Jews' reluctance to come home to Israel, the messiah will be forced to "pluck" them out one-by-one. To the well-meaning folks at NBN and JA, save your time, money and effort. You will have no better luck.
The writer is a professional portfolio manager for both high net-worth individuals and institutions. He resides in Kochav Yair.