On a recent trip to South Florida I was shocked by how much Hebrew I heard. At every kosher restaurant I enjoyed, my server spoke to me in Hebrew (that rarely happens in Israel!). Walking the aisles of Target and Costco, I heard Hebrew spoken at every turn. Even my students were children of Israelis, fluent in Hebrew and many with modern Israeli names. While hearing the “Moma lashon” was comforting, it also worried me. Just how many Israelis have moved to America?
In order for Israelis to visit the U.S. today they must apply for an interview at the American Embassy or its branch in Tel Aviv. The next available interview might only be a year from now. After receiving your interview appointment, you generally wait on line for hours, sometimes for an entire day, to be interviewed. If the applicant is approved, the U.S. takes the Israeli’s passport for a few weeks. The Israeli can then visit America for a few weeks.
Applying for a visa to the U.S. is an onerous process that drives many vacationing Israelis to more accessible places like South Asia or Europe. Why does the U.S. make it so hard for Israelis to get a visa to visit? America’s chief concern is that Israelis applying for a visa to visit will overstay their visa in order to relocate to America.
The fear that Israelis will overstay their visa is not unfounded. Shop at most major malls in the United States and you’ll find Israelis who have overstayed their visas, selling Dead Sea salt products. The draw of America, the land of dreams, with its cheaper housing, more space and the “easy” ability to earn riches is too good for many Israelis to forgo. I fear the only thing stopping hundreds of thousands, if not millions of Israelis from leaving Israel to America is the difficulty in attaining a visa. If Israel joins the U.S. visa waiver program, I fear a brain drain as Israelis exit our homeland to America.
It worries me that Israeli government officials like Ayalet Shaked and Gilad Erdan don’t share my fears. They’re the officials working with American government leaders to allow Israel to become the 40th country America grants a visa waiver to – and they want it to be granted this year.
What worries me even more, especially after my recent visit to South Florida, is that so many Israelis don’t want to stay in Israel. I understand the draw of America, it is a wonderful place that offers so much to everyone – but it isn’t home. If our education system isn’t teaching and inspiring Israelis to love Israel, stay in Israel and be a part of its growth, we are failing in our duty to teach patriotic Zionism. As parents, how much time are we spending talking to our children about the uniqueness of Eretz Yisrael and the privilege of being the first Israeli citizens in 2,000 years?
Inspiring Israelis to love Israel so much that they’re willing to stay even at personal sacrifice must become a priority of the Ministry of Education and of parents. This isn’t a joking matter; entire nations have failed when their best and brightest have left for greener pastures. We can’t let that happen in Israel.
President Abraham Lincoln worried about internal corrosion more than external enemies: “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” This quote is often misquoted in shorthand: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we lose our freedoms it will be because we have destroyed ourselves from within.”
President Lincoln was referring to America, but he saw the country as a nation of values, and it was the erosion of pride in those values that put America at risk. Israel is also a nation of values, and it too must be concerned that a lack of pride in Zionist values poses an existential threat to Israel.
How do we inspire our youth to love Israel? Our enemies and opponents have turned Zionism into a dirty word. First, they claimed it was racist, then oppressive, and today they claim Zionism is colonialist. Survey social media posts about Israel by pro-Israel activists and you’ll rarely find the word Zionism or discussions about Zionism. We’ve allowed our enemies to take the word and all it stands for from us. It’s time we reclaimed Zionism for its rightful owners – the Jewish people.
The answer to inspiring love of Israel among our youth lies in education (not indoctrination). At home and in school a core message must be to teach our children, in Israel and outside of Israel, about the importance of the land of Israel, the nation of Israel, and the movement of Israel – Zionism. Most importantly, we must instill a sense of pride in who we are as Israelis. The combination of love and pride will keep our people in the land.