Aliyah and the "Push"
Toward the end of 1999, about two years after I made aliyah, I wrote a column called "Land of Civic Opportunity." In it I spoke about the numerous opportunities for volunteering in contemporary Israel. I marveled at how almost everywhere I turned there were organizations that needed my help—from the P.T.A. at my children's school, to the cultural committee at the local JCC, to the Board of my synagogue, to my wind ensemble. As I look around me eight years later, what then seemed like civic opportunity, now seems like societal dysfunction—and the dysfunction extends way beyond organizations with which I am personally involved. I think to myself: Would it be so bad if Israeli society managed to get just a few more things right?
Not to worry: I am not about to take advantage of all that cheap housing currently available in the United States. But this does bring me to an important point about aliyah. It is often said that aliyah from North America is unusual in the history of Zionism because it is an aliyah for "pull" rather than "push" reasons. That is, unlike immigrants from most other countries, it is said that immigrants from North America do not move to Israel because they are pushed out (by economic difficulties and/or anti-Semitism), but they move to Israel because they are emotionally pulled by life in the Jewish State. What I have realized from my own aliyah, however, is that over time "pull" factors grow dull in the face of the various fashlas (bungles) of Israeli society (whether in mass transit, recycling, public housing, women's rights, etc.) If you are going to make it into your second decade here, it sure is helpful to be able to draw on aliyah "push" factors. Thank God, I have some of these.
Yes, the truth of the matter is that I was pushed out of America as much as I was pulled to Israel. As I tried to explain in a recent column, my "push" came with my growing awareness of the difficulty of full integration into American society as an Orthodox Jew. In American society my Orthodox Jewish culture was never shown to have a place in mainstream culture. On the other hand, there are moments in Israeli popular culture when Orthodox Jewish culture is indeed reflected as being on the cultural spectrum of this society. I passionately hang on to these moments because they remind me of my push factors for aliyah.
One current example here must suffice. For the past four months Israeli society has been riveted to "Hisardut," the Israeli version of "Survivor." As of the writing of this column, the 20 contestants on the jungle island have been winnowed down to 3. One of the contestants, Muli, a gorgeous hunk of a guy, was shown praying with tefilin. He says that he made a commitment to put on tefilin after his father died two years ago, and his fellow contestants are very impressed with this commitment and show support for it. [Unfortunately, Muli was sent packing after a month--the obviously strong and talented are kicked out early according to my children's professional opinion.]
There has never been a Muli in American popular culture. Growing up in America, a teenager who puts on tefilin internalizes the fact that what they are doing is weird. Muli made putting on tefilin seem cool, and the fact that I never saw a Muli in America serves as one of my push reasons for aliyah. But life is full of surprises. So if you happen to see an absolutely stunning Jewish guy praying with phylacteries on a popular television program in America, please let me know. I've got a mountain of newspapers that needs recycling.
Copyright 2008, Teddy Weinberger