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January 18, 2017 / 20 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘aliyah’

Return To Zion Reflections On My Aliyah

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

Several months after making aliyah, I woke up one morning and found I could not walk. My back was infected and I needed to be hospitalized. That night I questioned why this was happening to me, especially so soon after my dream of aliyah had finally been realized. Fortunately, I was able to conclude that same night that “gam zu letovah” – that there was also some good embedded in my situation that would in time become revealed, as indeed it was.

The text for that conclusion was a passage from Psalm 118: “Odcha ki anisani vatehiy li liyeshuah.” The standard translation is “I will praise you as you answered me and were my salvation.” But Midrash Tehillim offers another version: “I will praise you for the anguish you caused me as that was my salvation.”

Confined to the hospital and my home, I had abundant time and motivation to review important decisions in my life, including making aliyah at a very advanced age. HaRav Kook wisely pointed out that negative and positive elements are always embedded together in the same ball of wax that constitutes our human experience.

In the course of my review I was able to reconstruct three components that led to my aliyah – components linked to my religious, professional, and family experiences –one of which can be defined, in the words of chazal, as “yerida shehi tzorech aliyah,” a negative factor that leads to positive results, while another came as an unexpected revelation to me.

The first component began taking shape more than sixty-eight years ago when, as was my custom, I joined my father at Shabbat morning services in his synagogue on New York’s Lower East Side. Shiya Elizer Fogel, an American-style haredi and a marvelous ba’al tefillah, was leading the service there as usual. But that Shabbat was very special. The state of Israel had been declared that week and Shiya’s rendition of the tefillot was beautiful, especially the Kedushah: “When will you reign again in Zion? Hopefully soon in our lifetime.”

Almost a lifetime later I can still vividly recollect that deeply stirring moment, periodically revived in different contexts and occasions in my life. I was thirteen years of age, and it remains my earliest recollection of a powerful connection to Eretz Yisrael.

The community from which I moved to Israel should be noted for its role in our aliyah. The Lower East Side was the major area of first settlement for Jewish immigrants who arrived in the United States from Eastern Europe and has retained one of its most unique attributes – the spirit of the Eastern European shtetl.

My aliyah from the Lower East Side was largely due to the presence there of what I would call “closet” classic Zionist individuals. They are were and are leaders and members of a wide variety of synagogues – Modern Orthodox, Agudah, haredi, chassidic, and landsmenshaftn. A good example is the aforementioned Shiya Fogel, the haredi chazzan in my father’s synagogue, many of whose grandchildren and great-grandchildren made aliyah. Their Zionism was rooted in their intense and extensive religious identification and commitments.

We all knew of each other and in diverse fashion supported each other. For example, Rabbi Stern, a young Talmudic scholar, said to me when we ran into each other on the street just prior to my aliyah, “It’s about time, Jerry. What took you so long?” And then there were all those who organized a catered communitywide melaveh malkah for our friends and neighbors in support of our decision to make aliyah.

The first component was strengthened immeasurably by the first visit my wife and I made to Israel, on our honeymoon. It was a marvelous experience for both of us, hearing Hebrew and absorbing the land’s beauty. But the real, long-term impact of our visit came from my first exposure to the teachings of HaRav Kook. I don’t think I’d ever heard his name raised or his teachings recognized during my many years of extensive Jewish schooling. After that visit to Israel, I began studying some of his major works, which are prophetic visions uniquely applicable to the revival and renaissance of Jewish life in the contemporary world, especially in Israel.

Particularly relevant to me was his addition of two categories of mitzvot – between man and his nation or homeland and between man and himself – to the traditional categories of man’s relationship to God and man’s relationship to his fellow man. They added significant depth to our understanding and efforts, individually and collectively, to the achievement of the liberation of Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish people. His writings were a vital component driving my determination to one day make aliyah.

* * * * *

My entire professional career was spent working in the Jewish community. The wide range of that experience was the second component of my decision to make aliyah because it offered me ample opportunity to formulate what I believe are sound judgments about the future of the Diaspora.

During the time I was teaching sociology at Yeshiva University, I was also engaged in both working on and closely following various sociological studies of the Jewish community at that time. They were hardly encouraging.

Those surveys clearly documented a growing and dangerous increase in the rate of intermarriage. Jewish communal leaders were shocked when one such study indicated that the intermarriage rate had climbed to 25 percent. That figure underrepresented the actual number at the time because it included the intermarriages of still-living couples from earlier generations, when Jews intermarried at a very low rate. By the early 1970s, the intermarriage rate among young Jews had begun a steady climb that, nearly half a century later, only continues to accelerate.

The pertinent question, of course, is whether any serious attempts at ameliorating the situation were planned or implemented in the half century since those studies were published.

My next position was as a consultant in the field of community relations at the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council (known today as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs), an organization comprised of Jewish community councils across the U.S. This career change provided me the opportunity to work directly with Jewish communal bodies and foundations. In the four years I spent there l was deeply impressed with the quality of the leadership, lay and professional, of that agency as well as the agencies and communities it served.

What was nonetheless disturbing was that many in key leadership positions in Jewish life at the time lacked serious Jewish learning, and therefore evinced no strong commitment to and passion for intensifying the levels of Jewish education and culture in their communities.

This was clear from the priorities and policies of some of the major Jewish communal bodies. The Orthodox community was virtually at war with the Federations, which saw no pressing reason to increase their allocations to Jewish education via day schools. All the research even then demonstrated the effectiveness of Jewish education, especially the day schools, not only in reducing intermarriage but also in creating healthy Jewish personalities.

I would apply the Vilna Gaon’s formulation to some of American Jewry’s major agencies in those years. The Vilna Gaon questions what the rabbis meant in alerting us in Pirkei Avos to the din and cheshbon we will be responsible to report at the end of our days. What, he asks, differentiates din from cheshbon? He explains that din refers to what we accomplished in this life while cheshbon refers to what we could have accomplished. American Jewish institutions and leadership may have been doing well at that time – but they could have done much more.

Rabbi Dr. Jerry Hochbaum

Support Group: Today’s Aliyah ‘Basket’ Must Include Subsidized Therapy

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

NGO Chaim Shel Tova (Heb: life of goodness), which has been working in recent years to help families of Olim in Israel, particularly in Judea and Samaria, believe an important aspect of the Aliyah experience – emotional and psychological support – has been missing from the services available to newcomers.

“The process of making Aliyah can be very complex and discouraging,” explains CST head Rav Natan Shelo, who also serves as Rabbi of Mevo’ot Yericho in the Jordan Valley. “A person is leaving their job, their society and their social status behind. Further, the culture shock, foreign instincts, difficulty in adjusting, and other issues are likely to increase stress. A couple that comes and struggles to find work in Israel might experience disappointment, anger and frustration. If in their native country the family members held well-respected jobs, the new need to receive financial assistance is not only an economic crisis, but also an emotional one. In such cases, assistance to the family consists of three components: providing for economic needs, assisting in finding work, and providing necessary therapeutic sessions to help the family members overcome emotional issues.”

Devorah (pseudonym), who came to Israel four years ago from Belgium, is one such Olah. She was raised in Israel, where she met her husband, an Oleh. They lived in Israel for a few years, during which she gave birth to their two daughters. The family later moved to Belgium to find work, lived there for 10 years and had several additional children.

Four years ago, they joined a group of Olim from Belgium and France that came to settle a town near the center of Israel. Despite the joy in coming back to Israel and their good command of Hebrew, the family experienced many difficulties. “While it is very exciting to make Aliyah, it is something that can lead to feelings of doubt and insecurity, says Devorah, adding, “This can be seen both between husband and wife and in relationships among all members of the family.”

“Before our Aliyah, we shared a sense of euphoria,” she relates. We didn’t anticipate the economic difficulties we were about to face. We arrived in Israel with a budget for one year, expecting that within our first year we’d be able to get a source of income.”

“We owned a successful business abroad, so our economic situation was stable and good,” she explains. “We could afford whatever we wanted and spoil the children with everything their hearts desired. We didn’t need to establish priorities and decide which things were more important and which we could do without.”

“Once we arrived in Israel, our adjustment to the new realty was very hard. By year’s end the money was gone; we started borrowing and got deep in debt. Our quality of life sank significantly. Suddenly we didn’t have whatever we wanted around the house, everything required consideration and thinking – is this necessary? The kids had a hard time accepting it. Why had they been entitled to whatever they wanted abroad, and here, in Israel, they aren’t?”

“The atmosphere at home was becoming harsh and stressful,” she recalls. “My husband stayed a whole year at home, because he couldn’t find work. Being home under these circumstances created tension. Everything was falling apart. In a time of crisis, it overflows into all the difficulties in our lives, taking them out of proportion. My very relationship with my husband was in question suddenly. The children would yell, in times of conflict, ‘Why did you bring us here?’ My own emotional state was so fragile. Everything was falling apart, including our marriage.”

“In times like this, every small difficulty becomes a huge hardship,” she explains, recalling, “For example, I would contact the school concerning one of the children, and I remember stopping in the middle of the conversation, crying, and getting back to the call.”

“The tension around the house would collect and drain down to the Shabbat meals. Shabbat, which is supposed to be the day of rest, a time for replenishing, became a charged and harsh time. Whatever had been burdening the children’s hearts the entire week would come out around the Shabbat table. Often this ended with a shouting match, crying, a child storming away. Shabbat marked our deep sense of failure.”

Devorah realized she needed help. “Because I have a background in therapy, it seemed natural to me to ask for help. And since I had no problems with the language, I was able to seek out help rather quickly and within a year I found someone who was able to counsel me and also counsel our older children.”

It was at this point that Chaim Shel Tova entered the picture, offering to subsidize group and personal therapy for Devorah’s family. “Without them, I don’t know what we would have done,” she says. “Their support was crucial because each session is very expensive and each member of the family had to go to sessions for an extended period. Our Aliyah had already put us under considerable financial stress. And knowing there’s this organization whose purpose is to provide for mental health issues was also comforting,” she explains.

As a result of the therapy, the family persevered and stayed in Israel. Devorah, as someone who had experienced the process of making Aliyah, now offers her advice to new immigrants as well as for those considering Aliyah.

Devorah emphasizes that faith must accompany the decision to make Aliyah, to help them overcome the tests and crises that will occur along the way. “You need a lot of faith. You have to look at everything and realize that the tests are truly for the best in order to help you and your family grow,” she explains.

Devorah advises that Olim properly prepare to integrate into Israeli society including learning the language and meeting people. “There is something psychological that people are very loyal to their language,” she notes. “You have to realize that Hebrew is the holy language of the land of Israel. Insisting on relying on your native tongue will make it much harder to integrate.

“I am in contact with many Olim and see many who close themselves off, have difficulties educating their children, and fail to understand what their spouse is feeling,” she says. “A person who makes Aliyah has to come with an open mind and realize that the toolbox they used in their old country is not the same as the one that they’ll be using here. The education system is not the same education system. Life is not the same and people’s mentalities here are different. In the Diaspora, education is influenced by the gentile surroundings. A person has to be prepared to separate from things that they have become used to, but that are no longer applicable in the land of Israel.”

“Part of the difficulty of Olim is the result of trying to hang on to what they had there, primarily in terms of physical things,” Devorah states. “Life in the Diaspora involves more physical comforts and wealth, but it is important to realize that the future of our people and our children is here in the land of Israel. In the Diaspora there is no future for Jews.” She recommends making Aliyah with a group, yet at the same time points out the flaws in this approach:


Are You Completely Nuts? Three Answers to Aliyah Questions

Thursday, December 1st, 2016

While it had been a lifelong dream to make Aliyah and move to Israel with my family, most people who heard about my plans had a similar reaction—“are you completely nuts??!!?!!!!”

As a clinical psychiatrist, I felt comfortable answering them with expert testimony that I wasn’t exhibiting signs or symptoms of “being nuts.” Nor was I zany, bonkers, or even bananas. I was just doing what every Jew for the past 2000 years has wanted to do: I was going home to The Land of our Forefathers.

With this first question addressed, some brave friends (thank you Rabbi Chananel) and family (you’re the best Gramma ever!) suggested that I follow my dreams of moving to the Jewish Homeland. But most others remained skeptical and followed up their first question with one of the following three subsequent ones:

1) Don’t you know it’s dangerous in Israel?

2) Don’t you know that Israeli culture is different from American culture?

3) Don’t you know it’s very hard to make the transition to Israel?

And while each of these deserves an entire thesis on it’s own, perhaps it’s easier if I provide shorter answers.

The response to the first question—Don’t you know it’s dangerous in Israel?—is easy. Don’t you know that the World is a very dangerous place these days? Whether it’s the terror attacks in France, Germany, America, Turkey, or any of the other nations plagued by Islamic extremism, things are very different than they were thirty years ago when Israel was the lone nation constantly under threat from terrorism. I will never forget my experience working in the emergency room in Boston at a major city hospital on April 15th 2013. It was a peaceful Monday afternoon until dozens of victims from the Boston Marathon Bombing came in covered in blood and the entire city was immediately shut down in the face of terrorism. So when people ask me if Israel is dangerous, I ask them if they know that Boston is also dangerous. And then I ask them to consider whether they truly believe that any country on Earth is better equipped and more dedicated to defending its citizens from terrorism than the state of Israel?

The answer to the second question—Don’t you know that Israeli culture is different from American culture?—is also easy. Are most people really happy with the direction that the Western World is heading? With levels of personal satisfaction declining in Europe and North America, heading to a place where things are a bit more old-fashioned and family-oriented is a breath of fresh air. On my morning commute last week, I watched as a young mother brought her three young children onto the bus. Beyond the people who made room for the children to sit together, the driver himself held her infant daughter and sang nursery rhymes while the mother folded up her stroller and secured it for travel. Could something like this possibly happen in Chicago where more than 200 homicides have rocked the city over this past year? The feeling of community and the sense of being one big family is absolutely priceless and 100% palpable in Israel.

The answer to the third question—Don’t you know it’s very hard to make the transition to Israel?—is a bit more complicated. Transitions are interesting for everyone and mastering a new language is never easy. I often describe the immigrant experience as a mix between going camping (e.g. you don’t have any of your stuff or the creature comforts that you’re used to) and waiting at the DMV (e.g. there is no sense of time, structure, or efficiency). On a personal level, I was forced to stop asking why the Ministry of Health isn’t involved in obtaining health insurance, the Ministry of Transportation isn’t the first place to get your driver’s license, and what the Interior Ministry does in general because that might have made me completely nuts. Thank G-d on most days my biggest problem is struggling to find out where to buy high quality trash bags that don’t rip on your way to the dumpster…or other similar struggles.

So perhaps the most important rhetorical questions for anyone who asked me if I was crazy for moving to Israel are: Why are you more worried about the new President of America than who is living in G-d’s land? What is the price of never getting up the guts to follow one’s lifelong dream of living in The Holy Land? What is the risk of being honest with one’s self that for many, the creature comforts of America are more important than the merits of living in The Land of Israel? What is the cost of another generation living in Exile?

And for everyone who doubted whether or not it was worth it, know that there is nothing to inspire personal growth like waking up each morning as a Jew in the Land of The Jewish People. And furthermore if this photo of the sunrise from my backyard isn’t enough to prove it, have someone take your pulse…


Jacob L. Freedman, MD

Ethiopian Israelis Joyously Celebrate Sigd Day in Jerusalem

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

Thousands of Ethiopian Israelis streamed to the capital on Wednesday to celebrate Sigd Day, the day when those of Jewish ancestry went to the mountain tops in the Horn of Africa to pray to one day live in Jerusalem.

The rain didn’t put the slightest damper on the celebrations at all.

Thousands of Ethiopian Jews take part in a prayer of the Sigd holiday on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade overlooking Jerusalem.

Thousands of Ethiopian Jews take part in a prayer of the Sigd holiday on the Armon Hanatziv Promenade overlooking Jerusalem.

Like many, for more than 2,500 years they believed in “Jerusalem of Gold” — that legendary Biblical city of gold, filled with the light of God and filled with the power of His Eternal Presence, the Shechinah.

Multiple generations of men, women and children who immigrated on aliyah to Israel from Ethiopia gathered in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of Jerusalem, proud of having achieved their goal, having arrived at last.

Hana Levi Julian

700 Brazilian Jews to Make Aliyah in 2016, Triple the Annual Average

Monday, November 21st, 2016

According to data compiled by The Jewish Agency for Israel, some 700 olim from Brazil will have arrived in Israel by the end of 2016, more than three times the annual average of approximately 200. This marks a 45-year record in Brazilian Aliyah, which last reached similar levels in the 1970’s.

“The Brazilian Jewish community is a warm, Zionist community with strong ties to Israel,” said Chairman of the Executive of The Jewish Agency for Israel, Natan Sharansky, who is currently visiting Brazil to survey Jewish Agency there and meet with the local Jewish community.

“Since Israel’s establishment, more than 15,000 Brazilian Jews have immigrated to Israel, contributing to the Jewish state’s national character and strength,” Sharansky said, noting that recent years have seen an increase in the number of Jewish young people from Brazil who have arrived in Israel to participate in the Jewish Agency experience programs through Masa Israel Journey.

Sharansky participated in a festive event organized by Confederação Israelita do Brasil (CONIB, the umbrella organization of Brazilian Jewry) Saturday night in São Paulo. During the course of his visit, he will also meet with Brazilian Jews who are about to immigrate to Israel, as well as with member of Jewish youth movements.

The head of the Jewish Agency delegation in Brazil, Revital Poleg, noted that Aliyah from this country has been steadily increasing over the past three years, along with interest in life in Israel. The increase in Aliyah is taking place in the midst of an economic crisis, but is also rooted in the Brazilian Jewish community’s strong ties to Israel. “Many of the immigrants note that they view Israel as a place where they can lead Jewish lives in an environment that feels like home,” said Poleg.

According to Poleg, “some seventy percent of the immigrants are young families who want to provide their children with high-quality education, or young people looking to start university studies in Israel and build their careers there.”

According to CONIB, the Jewish community of Brazil numbers approximately 120,000 and is the second largest in Latin America, after Argentina. The largest communities are located in São Paulo (55,000), Rio de Janeiro (30,000), and Porto Alegre (10,000). Approximately 100 smaller communities are scattered throughout Brazil, which is the fifth-largest country in the world.

David Israel

Why Aren’t You Exploring Aliyah?

Thursday, November 10th, 2016

Life is filled with challenging decisions and we often say to ourselves, “If only God, Himself, would tell us what to do.”

If we open our ears when listening to this week’s Torah portion we will hear God settling one of life’s challenges – deciding where we should live.

In His very first words to a Jew, God instructs Abraham to leave the comforts of his homeland and go to the land of Israel (Genesis 12:1), clearly establishing that Israel is the land where a Jew should live.

But this first command to Abraham teaches us much more than just the importance of Israel to the Jewish people. Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin1 wrote the following on God’s promise to Abraham that he would transform Abraham’s family into a “great nation” in the land of Israel (12:2):

“This is a sign for his descendants. One who is unsure whether he should immigrate to the land of Israel must first think about the good of his nation. It is impossible for the Jewish people to be a great nation outside its land. This is true both quantitatively – for the lands of our enemies consume us – and qualitatively, for the Divine Presence does not dwell in the Diaspora.”

In fact, God could not even appear to Abraham while he was dwelling outside of the land of Israel. The Torah relates: “The Lord appeared to Abraham and said, ‘To your descendants I will give this land.’” (12:7) The Kli Yakar2 comments:

“The reason God did not appear to him immediately when He said, ‘Go forth from your land,’ is because Abraham was still in the Diaspora at the time…and the Divine Presence does not reveal itself outside the Land…Rather Abraham just heard a voice speaking. This is why he did not build an altar there…As long as God did not appear to him, however, he did not want to build an altar in a place where the Divine Presence does not rest.”

Aside from learning from God’s command, we can also learn from how Abraham responded to that command: “And Abraham went as God had spoken to him.” (12:4) The Netziv3 teaches:

“It means that he left immediately, while God was still speaking. He did not wait to take care of all the necessary preparations. He left immediately so that the selling of his estate and the like would not prevent him (from going)…After he began his journey and knew that nothing would prevent him from actually going, he saw fit to worry about his money…In the beginning, however, he estimated that staying back to protect his money could undermine the whole trip. He therefore decided to leave immediately. No matter what.”

Abraham heard that God told him it would be best for his nation and for himself to go to the land of Israel, so he did so without hesitation.

Earlier we referenced the first mention of this gift: “To your descendants I will give this land.” But a later reference has even greater implications. God says: “I will give to you and to your descendants after you the Land in which you sojourn, the entire Land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession, and I will be for them a God. (17:8)” Says Rashi, “There I will be for them a God, but a Jew who dwells in the Diaspora is like one who has no God.”

This Shabbat we will be inspired by Abraham’s relationship with God. We will experience Abraham’s excitement and anxiety in fulfilling God’s command to move to Israel. We will read God’s declaration that the Jewish People cannot fulfill their greatness as a nation outside of the Land of Israel. We will read how Abraham embarked on his journey to the Land of Israel immediately, ensuring that nothing hinder his fulfillment of God’s mission for him. We will read that only in the land of Israel can the apex of a harmonious relationship with God come to fruition.

Abraham did not have the luxury of a free flight in a jumbo jet to get to Israel – his travel was by foot, through the desert. Abraham did not have the convenience of contacting Nefesh B’Nefesh and learning about all of his employment options, housing options, and education options for his children in Israel. He did not have the opportunity to apply for a grant from NBN to help cover his moving costs, and there was no State of Israel to provide him with an absorption basket to help get himself on his feet in his new country. And to be sure, Abraham did not have Skype and Facetime to stay in visual touch with family members who remained behind.

So what’s holding you back from taking a serious look into making aliyah?

I hope that Jews around the world act on their inspiration from this week’s Torah reading. Following in the footsteps of Abraham is part of our DNA.4 I welcome you to simply contact Nefesh B’Nefesh and meet with them to explore all your options, and to make a smart decision. No cost, no obligation. They will tell you all you need to know.

For those who ultimately determine that they cannot move to Israel right now, either due to family or employment concerns, at the very least share the message with your children, and raise them to move to Israel. The message of the parsha and the gift which God has given us is crystal clear.

Now it’s left in your hands to accept and reap the benefits from God’s gift.

1. 1881-1966, vice chairman of the Council of Torah Sages in Israel and author of Oznaim LaTorah
2. Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim Luntschitz, 1550-1619
3. Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, 1816-1893, dean of the famed Volozhin Yeshiva and author of Ha’amek Davar
4. Rabbi Chayim of Volozhin (1749-1821) explains that Abraham accomplished certain things through very hard work, and this paved the way for these actions to be “like second-nature to his children who can achieve them with little effort.” He then notes that the awakening which people feel today to go to the Holy Land comes from the act of Abraham leaving his homeland to go to the land of Israel. It is ingrained in our DNA to give up the comforts of home to move to Israel. (Ruach Chaim Avot 5:3)
Rabbi Dov Lipman

Happy Aliyah (Election) Day

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016

What a strange coincidence.

As Americans go to the polls today to choose between bad and worse, Israel is celebrating Aliyah Day – if you don’t get the connection, don’t worry.

Enacted in June, today is the first Aliyah Day, which coincides with the day – the 7th of Cheshvan – when we actually begin praying for the rain to fall (the delay from when we should say the prayer is to give the pilgrims (olim l’regel) from Babylon time to return to Babylon – which seems somewhat contradictory for Aliyah Day).

But as it happens, in most years Aliyah day falls out in the week of Parshat Lech Lecha – when God tells Abraham to go to the Land of Israel.

That probably also happened on an Election Day in Ur Kasdim – “Vote for Nimrod or get the fiery furnace” – not much a great choice back then either.


Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/muqata/happy-aliyah-election-day/2016/11/08/

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