Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Is promoting American Aliya "an exercise in futility?"

I've been mulling this over all day, trying to get here to the blog to organize my jumble of thoughts. Michael Hirsch wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post, saying that Nefesh B'Nefesh "NBN" and the Jewish Agency (agencies which promote and assist with American Aliya [immigration to Israel]) are "pre-doomed to failure". Sure there were about 3,000 American olim (immigrants) to Israel this year, but really, that is the proverbial drop in the bucket of the millions of Jews living in the states.

Mr. Hirsch states, "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 [Jewish] agency would have extracting a religious Jew from the Diaspora."

Before I made Aliya, when I would read an article like this, I'd feel guilty. I'd show the article to Isaac, saying the guy is right. Isaac would say something about he thought we belonged in Israel as well, but really how the hell would we make a living there and that would be that.

Today I read the article sitting on this side of the ocean and felt a different emotion. Reading this article made me angry. Mr. Hirsch called NBN and the Agency "well-meaning" and advised them in his last sentence, to "save your time, money and effort".

I guess what he's trying to say is that those coming to Israel are those who would have come anyway, irregardless of whether some agency helps them out or not. But I'm not so sure that's true. Isaac and I have always been pre-disposed to Aliya, but when I read about NBN's first flight in 2002, well that triggered a process that lead to our move 5 years later. Would we have come without NBN? Impossible to know.

The overall negativity of the article is depressing. I'd rather look at NBN differently. Americans are coming. One-by-one. I find joy and encouragement in that. One person makes Aliya, and suddenly people in a community are talking. It put a germ in people's brains--hey if they could do it, maybe I can. Then others come--their friends, sisters, parents.

To say NBN is wasting their time and money is not fair to an organization that has made it easier for those who want to come and has put the idea of Aliya on the radar of many who would not have thought of it otherwise. In addition, the rate of Americans who stay in Israel has increased dramatically, I believe thanks to the support of NBN.

Could there be more olim? Of course. There is work to be done. Imagine how different the Israeli landscape--geographical, political, social--would look if 100,000 American Jews made Aliya every year? But that is not the current reality, for reasons I don't need to go into here. People come when they are ready. In the meantime, the several thousand a year that have come spread out throughout Israel, impacting the communities they live in, I daresay in a positive way.

Sometimes, it's better to look at the glass as half full.


Commenter Abbi said...

What I find truly astonishing is how incredulous pple are when you suggest aliyah as an actual solution to their problems. When a commenter on the tuition post at Orthonomics brought up aliyah, everyone whined that aliya is not for everyone, stop bringing it up, etc. When he continued on his aliyah spiel, pple asked if he was for real.

Can the gap between galut and Israel really be that wide?


I also dont see aliyah as the ultimate panacea. I have been living here since 1988 and in august returned from 3 years overseas. I have been and am still looking for work. people see my resume and say wow he has done what i want to why would i hire him he is a threat to me. I even got a rejection this week that said we really enjoyed your enthusiasm but we have changed the job description so you are no longer qualified, ie you are perfect for the job but in the end you are too smart for us...

Israel is great up to a point there are no real laws here and no real enforcement and I becoming more and more disenchanted.

it is clear to me that israel may only be a solution to the tuition crisis in the us and is really not good for much more.

Baila said...



I would NEVER describe Israel as the "ultimate Panacea". EVER. There is ALOT of crap here. I was just talking about the author of the article basically saying "why bother?" for just a handful of people to come. If we believe it's important for Jews to live here, then we need to bother, even if the masses may have good reasons for not coming.


5 years ago I was with you and an article like this one would have made me very angry. today I am not so sure that this article is so far off.

how many tuition refugees are there in RBS?

how many commuters are there in modiin rbs and chashmonayim

Baila said...

So you're saying NBN or the Jewish Agency shouldn't bother promoting Aliyah?


the jewish agency for sure not this is an alternate system of governance that was developed during the british mandate that should have been killed and buried 60 years ago.

NBN? or promoting aliyah in general?

it may be that you cant ask me cause i am not working and being turned down left and right by the best and brightest of the "start-up" nation.

I am not so sure anymore, maybe if I was working I would think differently.

Shmuel Katz said...


I also read that article with dismay. It is incredibly negative and at first glance seems to condemn all Americans as uncaring about Israel. I disagree with his split of Americans into religious and non-religious as well, but that is beyond the point I want to make here.

This article was a response to 2 prior articles about American Aliyah. The premise that Mr. Klein is making is that we will not see Americans making Aliyah en masse(I sure hope I used that right). The Israeli government is spending vast resources to encourage Aliyah and he thinks that the results are too meager to justify the resources and focus being put to this market.

There is no question that without NBN's help, we would not have made Aliyah. They found my first employer, they made the paperwork easy - they organized everything into an easy to follow (at least for us) "Aliyah Kit". But, has there been vast numbers of Olim? In contrast to the amounts that came in the 80's and 90's - FOR SURE there are more. Yet, not nearly vast amounts. And there was certainly no mass migration such as was seen from the former Soviet Union (the merits of bringing those Olim is another discussion - the results, a million olim, is what I am focusing upon).

In specific cases, like yours and ours and our many friends and neighbors, Michael Klein is dead wrong. For us, there would be no Aliyah without the "well-meaning" people of NBN. Unfortunately, not enough of our former neighbors are making the same choice and THAT is the point he is making.

He could have made the same point by speaking glowingly of NBN Olim for their dedication to being here while decrying that not enough other people are coming. He didn't.

So, I get his basic point but agree with you that he didn't have to be such a jerk in the way he made it.

Shmuel Katz

Batya said...

We predate almost everything being here since 1970.
NBN facilitates aliyah. It provides a needed service. It suits today's oleh who needs more prep than before. Previously, AACI dealt with the landing, getting used to the country. PNAI helped our parents in the states.
When we made aliyah the only other people my parents knew who had a kid in Israel were my in-laws, no joke.
American Jews don't want their kids here; that's why it's rare for a Jewish school to teach Hebrew as a spoken language. Art Scroll is part of the problem. but that's another story

We came here without considering it a "trial."

OneTiredEma said...

Really, I have nothing but the utmost respect for people who came BEFORE NBN, who had to do all the running and dealing and offices themselves. They just made everything less daunting.

As far as offering aliyah as an answer to the tuition crisis, I'm not sure that I'm buying. Yes, the tuition is next to nothing compared to what we were paying in NYC, but the classes are usually 2x the size, schools have fewer hours, and are subject to strikes (!). I am definitely having to get used to the idea of public education vs private. And of course the far lower salaries would make American prices impossible for everyone instead of just for some.

Mrs. S. said...

Very well said!

As someone who made aliyah pre-NBN, I'm constantly amazed at the way NBN "put the idea of Aliya on the radar".

Baila said...


As you say, it's not that I disagree with the author...American Jews make it pretty clear that they have no interest in making Aliya. But the idea that we shouldn't bother???

(BTW, you exactly make my point. Your particular Aliya--with teens and the trials of that first year--which you say would not have happened without NBN, was very inspiring to us as we read about it in the 5 Town Jewish Times.)


Agreed. Jewish leaders in America do not as a rule promote Aliyah. Our society in general is alot more spoiled than you guys were back when you made Aliyah in the 70's. Which is why an agency like NBN is so necessary.


The key to a successful Aliya is coming because of a core belief that we belong here. Anyone coming only because of the tuition crisis in America or other such reason, will I think, have a harder time adjusting.

Mrs S.,

But there is much more buzz now about Aliya then there was previouly. When we started telling people about our impending Aliya, an acquaintance told me that she's scared she'll be the only one left in the Five Towns as she did not want to move here. To which I said, "Halevai!"

Mrs. S. said...

Yes, that was exactly my point, and I think NBN deserves a tremendous amount of credit for generating that buzz...

Leah said...

Arthur, try looking for work in the US or UK these days. There isn't any to be had.

The ultimate reason to make aliyah is that the future of the Jewish people is here in Israel, not in NJ or Australia. It might take 5 years or 50 years for people to realize it, but when they do, they'll be standing in line.

NBN's efforts are praiseworthy even if they only bring several thousand olim each year.

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