DVAR TORAH: HOW TO CREATE AN ALIYAH-SUPPORTIVE ENVIRONMENT
by Naomi Freedman, Aliyah Shlicha for the Conservative Movement in North America
(Ed: This Dvar Torah was originally delivered at the biennial MERCAZ USA General Council which took place on Sunday, May 3, 2009)
The first and most famous call to make Aliyah was made, long before the passage of the Law of Return in 1950, before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and even before the birth of the Jewish People, with the move of Jacob and his family to Egypt. The first call for Aliyah came from God to Abram in the very first words spoken to the first of the Patriarchs: "Go forth (Lech Lecha) from your country (me-artzecha), and from your kindred (mi-moladetcha) and from your father's house (mi-beit avicha) to the land that I will show you". (Genesis 12:1)
This first Aliyah that Abram and his wife Sarai made was one inspired by "pull" reasons, by the desire to go to a new land to start a new better life. Subsequently, and particularly during the first 100 years of the Zionist Movement, Aliyah was initiated as much by "push" reasons, the desire and need to leave an old land and the physical and financial problems of the old life.
Rabbi Mark & Amy Robbins &
family awaiting aliyah flight
Today, unlike during the past century, we can say that most Aliyah is once again based on "pull" reasons. It is Aliyah by choice. The new immigrants are not running from something bad; they are running towards something good, something perhaps even better, if not actually then at least potentially, than what they enjoy currently. And Israel now in its 62nd year of existence, is something good. It is a modern, beautiful, dynamic and successful state, and the new olim want to be part of it and want Israel to be part of them.
But even in this era of "pull", there are the same three challenges facing the olim as faced Abram. The newcomers must leave "artzecha" – the houses, jobs and income that they have enjoyed in the Diaspora and start all over again physically and financially; they must leave "moladetcha" – the culture, humor, traditions and ways of doing things in the 'old country' and learn new manners, new foods, a new language, etc; and they must leave "beit avicha" – their families and friends who, despite the presence of SKYPE, IM and Facebook, are still thousands of miles away, and create new supportive frameworks.
We who remain here in the Diaspora, whether temporarily or permanently, but who believe in the importance and value of Aliyah – we have to find ways to help the new olim overcome these challenges.
First of all, we must find ways to support the new olim physically and financially "be'artzam", in order to cushion their hard landing and provide help as they make the transition in a new land. The Yellow Pages at www.projectreconnect.org/yellow_pages/ of the United Synagogue's Project Reconnect is an excellent way to create business and employment opportunities for new olim.
Secondly, we need to create a culture here "be'moladetam" in the Diaspora in which Aliyah is not a secret but a norm, a positive value which, even if acted on only by a minority, is celebrated publicly by all. The new USCJ-Nefesh B'Nefesh 'Maalot' Initiative and the Conservative Movement's special website www.linktoisrael.org are important positive steps in this direction.
Finally, we need to help the newcomers create new family frameworks "be'veit avichem" with "adopted" relatives and "instant" friends by linking the olim with fellow Conservative/Masorti Jews in the 50+ Masorti communities in Israel, so that the olim become a strong bridge between Israel and the Diaepora. To this end, we should salute the Jewish Agency's Aliyah Department for creating and funding a half-time position for an we should salute the Jewish Agency's Aliyah Department for creating and funding a half-time position for an Aliyah coordinator for Conservative/Masorti olim.
Three thousand years ago, Abram and Sarai, later known to us as the "first Jewish couple" Abraham and Sarah, answered the call. Let us, in our own day, do all we can to help and support all of our fellow American Jews who hear and respond to the same Lech Lecha!
[For more information about aliyah in the Conservative Movement, contact Naomi Freedman at 212-533- 2061 or email@example.com. To hear what motivates Conservative Jews to make Aliyah, go to www.linktoisrael.org/link/you-tube-aliyah-videos.html.]