Photo Credit: courtesy AC

In Part I of this essay, we asked how can Aliyah, which is so vital to Israel’s future and to the salvation of the world,  be injected with the spirit of idealism necessary to inspire our brethren to come home. In doing so we will use immigration from North America as an example.

In the decades before the State of Israel was established the great majority of Jews fleeing Russia and Europe set sail for the shores of North America.   While Jewish immigrants to the United States in the early 1900’s had to work hard, outright persecution was minimal and their standard of living steadily increased until many Jews joined the ranks of the rich and the famous. But without any true Torah Zionism to inspire the American Jew to participate in the beginnings of national Redemption as it was unfolding in Eretz Yisrael, the Jews of the United States and Canada opted to remain ensconced in the lands of freedom and opportunity which they had discovered. Thus, while immigration to the renewed Jewish settlement in Zion increased from other countries of our dispersion, only a few thousand Jews immigrated to Palestine from North America.


In those days, the Jewish Agency was the official vehicle of Aliyah. From the creation of Medinat Yisrael in 1948 to the Six Day War immigration to Israel remained minimal from North America. Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports that 659 Jews made Aliyah in 1948 from the United States and Canada; 888 in 1950; and 616 in 1951. Throughout the Fifties the annual amount hovered around 300 – 400 olim. During the Sixties, under the auspices of the Jewish Agency, and due the the exhilaration following the Six Day War, the number increased to a whopping 7,000 in 1970. However, throughout the Seventies a reverse trend dwindled the annual amount of olim back down to 2,550 in 1980. Before making Aliyah in 1984 I worked in the Public Relations Department of the Israel Aliyah Center in New York which was the Jewish Agency bureau dealing with immigration from North America. In the year 1982 we sent 2,934 Jews to Israel; 3,806 in 1983; and 2,827 in 1984. For the following 18 years the numbers once again decreased to an average ranging from 2,500 down to 1,300 new olim per year.

In 2002, partly because of this decrease, Nefesh B’Nefesh took over Aliyah operations from North America. The inspired benefactor from Florida, Mr. Tony Gilbart, who teamed up with the optimistic and industrious Rabbi Yehoshua Fass from Boca Raton, says they set up the new organization like “a business with a heart.” Working around the clock with great dedication, they assembled a devoted staff centered in Jerusalem. In their first twenty years of operation, they maintained the Aliyah numbers at an average of 2,500 olim per year. While annual numbers remained basically the same as in the past, Nefesh B’Nefesh had great success in keeping new olim in Israel, whereas in the past a large proportion of disgruntled olim returned to their former communities in North America. Spurred by the Coronavirus scare, an all-time high was reached in 2021 with 4,400 Jews coming to settle in Israel. Sadly, this number is still a mere drop in the bucket, an annual .06 percent of the Jews in North America!

With the goal of finding a way to bring more olim to Israel in the time of crisis which the Nation of Israel is facing today, let’s try to analyze these figures. In 1983, almost 20 years before Nefesh B’Nefesh was created, the Jewish Agency served as the conduit to facilitate the Aliyah of 3,806 olim. This was well before the high-tech explosion in Israel and country’s astonishing economic expansion and incredible growth in all fields. Nefesh b’Nefesh only reached this figure in 2021 due to the backlash from Corona.

This is not to blame Nefesh B’Nefesh. The sad truth is that ever since the founding of the Jewish State, the Jews of North America, and from the affluent lands of the West in general, have not wanted to give up “the good life” for the challenges and uncertainties of living in Israel. This summer, 2,500 new olim from North America are expected to touch down at Ben Gurion. They will be met with happy music, flower bouquets, and great fanfare by Nefesh B’Nefesh and its partner Aliyah agencies and government officials, but the fact is that these brave new pioneers are the same 2,500-3,000 who come every year, rain or shine, with or without the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh or the Jewish Agency. These new, soon-to-be-championed arrivals have simply been grouped into a summer media festival of Aliyah to make it seem as if more and more Jews are coming. And even if another thousand, or two thousand, or even five thousand were to arrive, the number pales when compared with the millions languishing in the now tarnished but still golden galuts in the eyes of the diehard Diasporians who still live in the United States and Canada.

Certainly, Nefesh b’Nefesh is deserving of praise for its work, but is NBN, and the Jewish Agency offices throughout Europe, doing enough to bring the Jewish People home? Are we merely to shrug at these dismaying statistics and carry on as usual? No! Israel is at war! The lives of Jews around the world are threatened! And as long as Israel is forced to continue its battle against the enemies who rise up against it, the situation of world Jewry will worsen – that, my friends, is for sure.

At the recent Emergency Aliyah Conference many longtime Aliyah activists expressed the opinion that Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency need help. These well-meaning agencies cannot do the necessary job alone! There is a pressing need to change the past conceptions which have failed to attract our brothers and sisters from the West. Hashem has set the earth boiling under the feet of Diaspora Jewry but they need an extra push (known as “hishtadlus”) from us. We have to build attractive “Aliyah Cities” throughout the country to convince Western olim that they are wanted. Simultaneously we have to send battalions of spirited “Aliyah Commandos” filled with vision and faith in the Historical Mission of Am Yisrael to Jewish communities all over the globe to tell them straight out that the exile is finished. To tell them that there is no future Jewish life in gentile lands! To wake up their Rabbis and Jewish organization leaders to the discernible fact that the time has come to pack up shop and come home. We have to stop waiting passively for Coronavirus and anti-Semitism to bring our people back to the Promised Land. A far more aggressive approach to Aliyah is needed.

In all fairness, the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B”Nefesh are handcuffed. They can’t call out to North America’s Jews to heed the call of the Torah when Reform Jews who don’t believe in the Torah make up the majority of electors on the Jewish Agency and WZO world membership committees. Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency can’t shout out that Hashem’s Chosen People need to be in Hashem’s Chosen Land in order to return a crumbling humanity to God when Aliyah projects are heavily funded by Christian organizations who believe that they are the Chosen People not us. Therefore, an independent group of “Aliyah Commandos” must be sent out immediately to all of the remaining diasporas. Hundreds of emergency “Aliyah Soldiers” must be airborne as soon as can be. If the coffers of the Government of Israel, depleted by the enormous cost of the war effort, can’t sponsor the rescue campaign, and if Nefesh B’Nefesh and the Jewish Agency can’t do so because their hands are tied by partners with outside interests, then let private benefactors underwrite the initiative, and if they can’t be found because mass Aliyah is a message that takes a Tony Gelbart to hear, let the IDF enlist the many talented and idealistic soldiers who have been exempted for duty in the reserves to fly out on Aliyah missions around the world with the call, “After me!” At this crucial moment when the reborn Nation of Israel has been thrust into a new stage of development, when the pioneering caterpillar and secular cocoon of the State must metamorphosize into the soaring butterfly of Redemption, and when the world has risen up against us to prevent the light of Hashem from banishing all evil via his eternally Chosen Nation, new and improved solutions must be found to bring our people home.  If not now, when?


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Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.