Often, when I return home to Israel after a speaking tour in North America, I am asked by my Israeli friends: “Nu, did you get people to make Aliyah?”
I explain that I prefer not to talk much about Aliyah while I am abroad. I try to get Jews to reawaken their love for the homeland, connect with the life in Israel and I find that the issue of Aliyah often distances my audience. Though I am a firm believer in the in-gathering of the exiles, when I speak to Jews around the world, I am trying to bridge worlds, not drive them apart.
Indeed, the biggest schism in the Jewish world today is the great Atlantic Divide. Six million Jews live in North America, and six million live across the ocean in Israel. The Jewish nation exists in worlds apart: One attends Liberal Arts colleges, the other fights in the army; one speaks English, the other Hebrew; they read different books and watch different TV shows. The Jewish people’s geographic and cultural divide can easily become an unbridgeable gap.
North American Jews are concerned and have taken real steps to bridge the Atlantic Divide through one-year Yeshiva programs in Israel, gap year studies in Israeli universties, internship programs, and, of course, Birthright-Israel, the amazing project that has changed the lives of tens of thousands young Jews.
But still, it’s not enough. 80% of North American Jews have never been to Israel, and most Israelis have no connection to American Jewish life. That is why Israelis, people like outspoken author A.B. Yehoshua, are worried about their North American Jewish brothers and sisters. Israelis are afraid to lose their American family to assimilation, and they are afraid of growing apart.
While A.B. Yehoshua may be right about the problem, his recent harsh words (in which he calls American Jews “partial Jews” for not living in Israel) do not help much. There are no partial Jews, we are a family, a tribe, a nation, and we simply cannot allow our people to become disconnected. We should never talk down to Jews, we should talk up, inspire, and heal. To bring the family together, you need to talk in the language of love.
And you also need vision. Our people need a star to guide us toward one goal that will eventually bring us back together.
What is this vision?
The vision of a rebuilt Jerusalem is one which our people have shared ever since we were dispossessed of our land 2,000 years ago. From Addis Ababa to LA, from Kabul to Vienna, our people have always proclaimed “Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem!” No matter where we are on the globe, no matter our persecution or comfort, we have had only one homeland and one capital to which our heart has belonged.
To foster that vision, and to make it applicable in our lives, we need to get behind the idea of mass Aliyah.
“But wait?? Didn’t you just tell us not to preach Aliyah because it’s divisive?”
Let me explain: There is the grand ideal of making Aliyah, that is, moving to Israel, and that issue may be divisive. But the word “Aliyah” in Hebrew also refers to the process of going up and there are many steps in the staircase before you get to the landing. And that is exactly what we have to do – take steps towards our united goal with each step being a mini-Aliyah. Those steps can be big or small, but they are steps nonetheless. Deciding to drink only Israeli wine on Shabbat is a type of Aliyah. Putting up a poster of Jerusalem in your house, or a flag, is a type of Aliyah. Sending your kids on Birthright, or to studies in Israel is an Aliyah. Buying real-estate in Israel is definitely an Aliyah.
Aliyah means that we, as a nation, take whatever steps we can towards Jewish unity by recognizing the centrality of Israel in our national life.
And here is another example of mini-Aliyah which is very pertinent in this season:
If you have the budget to vacation this Passover, you certainly have many wonderful alternatives to choose from around the world –
“Celebrate Passover at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort, Naples. Rich in tradition and excellence.”
“The Best Passover Vacations Under the Sun are in Mexico, Arizona and Florida. Glatt Kosher.”
“5 Deluxe Passover Resorts – in Florida, New York, Arizona & Italy with Leisure Time Tours.”
“Magical Passover 2012 Vacation in Orlando, Florida at the Luxurious Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld.”
These are great places, no doubt, and I totally understand the need to take one’s few precious vacation days and get away from the stress. However, your Passover vacation is also an opportunity to make a mini-Aliyah with your family and to arrive at the international Passover hub – Jerusalem. The term Aliyah actually comes from the concept of going up to Jerusalem three times a year during the Festivals, so coming to Israel on Passover is definitely an Aliyah!
Nothing shows our values as a nation more then the way we celebrate the Holiday of Freedom. When we choose Jerusalem over Orlando we strengthen the bond of brotherhood within the Jewish Nation, our core values shine through, and our children imbibe it. The world, too, notices when we put Jerusalem ahead of other destinations and it strengthens our nation’s claim to the land.
So this year, let us start making Aliyah as a nation, lets bridge the great Atlantic Divide, and let us make good on what we said at last year’s Seder: “Next year in Jerusalem”.