A Brave Man and the Choice Not to Make Aliyah

A Brave Man and the Choice Not to Make Aliyah

By Dave Schechter / dschechter@atljewishtimes.com

Dave Schechter
Dave Schechter

A man stood at a microphone in the ballroom of a Jerusalem hotel and pleaded, “Please do not castigate those of us who, for reasons of family or business or simply because we like where we’re living, choose not to move to Israel.”

The event was a forum on Israel and the Jewish diaspora, sponsored by an American organization. The rabbi at the podium was an American who had made aliyah, founded an academic institute and become a favorite of correspondents for American newspapers.

If the man on the floor hoped for understanding from the rabbi, none would be forthcoming.

The rabbi, his voice rising and his face reddening, pointed a finger in the direction of the man and said, “We will make it hotter for you until you do come to Israel.”

Some in the audience applauded, while others were taken aback by the tone of the rebuke. The brave man on the floor retreated to his seat.

I recalled this incident (the quotes from nearly three decades ago are paraphrased) while reading a recent opinion article titled “The Real Boycott of Israel,” published in The Times of Israel, on online newspaper of Israeli, Middle Eastern and Jewish affairs.

“One doesn’t raise the subject of aliyah in polite conversation,” wrote David Chinitz, a professor of health policy and management at the Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine at Hebrew University-Hadassah.

“Israel is treated, by both American Jewish leaders and their Israeli counterparts, as a Holocaust museum, the world vanguard against Islamic extremism, the refuge for Jews on the run from the former Soviet Union, Ethiopia and, lately, France, but not as a place one would choose to live,” wrote Chinitz, himself an émigré from America.

“To all of these ‘lovers of Israel,’ I say, take two Diasporans and call me in the morning. Boycotting Israel is bad, but not as bad as boycotting part of your own truth,” he said. “Aliya from North America in sufficient numbers, say half a million, is the necessary, and perhaps even sufficient condition to save both Israel and the Jewish people.”

An estimated 3,470 Americans immigrated to Israel in 2014, 7 percent more than the year before. As of a couple of years ago, more than 103,000 Americans had moved to Israel since 1948.

I suspect that most American Jews feel fulfilled in the Judaism they practice in the United States. Some may feel discomfited about moving to a country where the government empowers one movement of Judaism to look down its nose at those who do not follow every dictate laid down by forebears centuries, if not millennia, earlier.

American Jews should not feel guilty nor be guilt-tripped because, for whatever reason, they choose not to make aliyah. Many of us know family, friends or acquaintances who have made aliyah. We admire and support them, but that does not mean that all American Jews must join them.

This is part of a complicated dynamic by which Israel and American Jews need each other in varying degrees — a column for another day.

There is room for living a Jewish life — however you define it — in the United States. American Jews are not “partial Jews,” as an Israeli author said several years ago, though he later explained that he meant that the fullest Jewish experience was possible only in Israel. It may be a different Jewish life than living in Israel, but no one should feel that it is any less valid.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

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