MK Rabbi Dov Lipman: The dream lives on

US-born Yesh Atid MK reflects on his immigration to Israel.

October 9, 2014 19:54
4 minute read.
Reuven Rivlin

Dov Lipman and President Reuven Rivlin present a ID card to a new immigrant to Israel in July. (photo credit: SASSON TIRAM)

I will never forget the moment.

We were getting our children settled on our aliya flight – full of a few hundred people all moving to Israel at the same time. The pilot gave the usual pre-flight speech from the cockpit, including the estimated flight time to Tel Aviv and our final cruising altitude, and then he concluded by saying: “Everyone sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight. I am here to take you home.”

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“I am here to take you home.”

After 2,000 years of our people wandering from country to country and continent to continent, experiencing persecution in nearly every one of those stops, my wife and I were the representatives from our families to come back home. And, as Rabbi Joshua Fass, the executive director of Nefesh B’Nefesh, declared at our send-off ceremony at JFK Airport, we were not returning to our homeland as a broken people, rather we were fulfilling the prayer that we recite every single morning that we return “upright to our land.”

We were not running AWAY from something by force, but rather running TO something by choice.

For thousands of years, Jews have dreamed of returning to our ancient and biblical homeland and hundreds of thousands of immigrants from English-speaking countries have had the honor and privilege of living that dream.

As of late, it has become somewhat fashionable to pontificate about the demise of aliya, particularly from the West. However, we cannot allow the banner of aliya to falter for a single moment. Aliya is the firm bedrock on which our nation was rebuilt. And aliya, regardless of the numbers, must remain at the top of the government’s agenda.

As a member of the Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Affairs committee, in which we hear frequent testimony about this issue and under whose auspices I regularly visit communities throughout the world, I am happy to report that the conversation in the Diaspora about aliya has changed – for the better. A mere generation ago, few even considered aliya from English-speaking countries, where the majority of Jews in the Diaspora now live. Today, aliya is the topic of serious discussions taking place in homes, schools and social gatherings across the spectrum of religious observance, backgrounds and ideologies.

There is no doubt that a large contributing factor to this has been the facilitation of Nefesh B’Nefesh. The organization has increased its financial investment in this founding principle of Zionism and made aliya more accessible and readily attainable.

This has had a profound effect on the Diaspora conversation about aliya. I know that I personally could never have made aliya without the financial and logistical assistance that Nefesh B’Nefesh provided. The organization also provided me with the confidence to feel fully integrated in Israel, which proved to be an important factor for me before entering the world of Israeli politics.

Jewish Agency programs such as MASA have opened the doors of aliya to those who never would have even considered such a move, with 20% of MASA alumni choosing to move to Israel. The serious consideration given to aliya can also be demonstrated by the fact that there has been a massive increase in those inquiring into its possibility. Having recently returned from a trip to the United States to speak at aliya events, I can enthusiastically report that this interest is very high.

Every mass movement in history, including modern political Zionism, has taken time before its actualization. There is a period in the process for simply spreading the message and creating momentum until we reach an acceptance of new realities. Aside from the potential increase in aliya because of growing anti-Semitism, I believe that we are reaching this potential shift with en masse aliya by choice from Western countries.

Government proposals – including suggesting bringing a million Jews to Israel in the next decade – may seem unrealistic. However, such talk is an important part of the momentum, because if we aim for the impossible, we may just achieve the improbable. The dream of mass aliya from English-speaking countries still remains an impossibility to many, if not most, Jews. However, the necessary ingredients to make this happen are becoming readily available before our very eyes.

Israel, according to all measures, equals – or in many cases, is superior to – many Western nations in terms of prosperity, education, social benefits and life satisfaction quotients. As technology rapidly improves, professional lives and personal ties become global, and what was impossible even a few years ago is now fast becoming the norm. We are witnessing massive migratory trends across the globe from and to all types of societies.

As I referenced above, thanks to organizations like Birthright and MASA, a growing number of students and young professionals have firsthand knowledge that Israel is about far more than camels and conflict. This has led to growing trends of greater identification with Israel. Last year’s results from the Pew Research Center’s study on the American Jewish community lay to rest any suggestions that there was a waning connection with Israel. Approximately 70% of American Jews surveyed say they feel either “very attached” or “somewhat attached” to Israel. These are exciting numbers to those, like me, who were worried about what some have described as a seemingly insurmountable growing cultural divide between the Jewish community in Israel and North America. These figures reject this assertion outright.

The long-term strategic vision of increasing aliya from the West is a necessary one and a worthwhile investment for the State of Israel. Thanks to the Israeli government and the many aliya-related agencies and programs, there is a growing movement of active interest in aliya. That growing interest means that the death of aliya has been greatly exaggerated.

In fact, I would argue that the opposite is true. Aliya is experiencing the pangs of rebirth.

The writer is an MK with Yesh Atid.

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