Who in their right mind would want to live here?
Critics of WZO, Jewish Agency believe aliya is commodity to be marketed; we believe it is commitment to be nurtured.
New olim arrive in Israel. Photo: Elle Yahalom
Who in their right mind would want to live here? There are two answers to that
question that interest us: 1) those who wish to live the fullest Jewish life
possible and who see Israel as the best place to do that; and 2) those for whom
anti-Semitism, or its looming threat has created a level of discomfort that has
opened them to the possibility of binding their fate to that of the Jewish
collective in the Jewish state.
For better or for worse, both of those
populations are shrinking. Those of us who understand the need for increasing
the number of olim are facing an increasingly difficult challenge that requires
rethinking and restructuring. Holding the positions we do within the World
Zionist Organization (WZO) and The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), we can state
categorically that both of these bodies are committed to this process and this
objective – notwithstanding the criticism that has been leveled against us for
abandoning our historical mission.
The difference between our take and
that of our critics is a function of two things: their lack of familiarity with
all that we are doing to encourage aliya and a genuine divergence of opinion as
to how to best go about it.
LET’S TACKLE the disagreement first. Those
who argue that we have forsaken our sacred duty of promoting aliya seem to
believe that it is a product to be sold; we believe it is the culmination of a
process of cultivation. We are confident that what we are doing is the best way
to lay the foundation for increasing the number of olim in the
Far from deserting the aliya objective, we have developed a
long-term strategy for meeting it. After successfully bringing home untold
millions from persecuted communities, there is – fortunately – no longer a large
reservoir of Jews in need of rescue.
If significant numbers are going to
continue arriving here, they will be coming out of choice. They will only make
that choice if they acquire a commitment to Jewish community and continuity,
become enamored of this country and develop an appetite for both the challenges
and the opportunities it offers. Report after report, survey after survey
indicate that there is an ever-dwindling pool of Jews who feel that
Well aware of this, the Jewish Agency has indeed changed both its
focus and its modus operandi. We have not, however, decreased our financial
investment in the effort, continuing to spend more than $66,000,000 a year in an
ever-increasing number of initiatives, with a particular focus on young
We are spending more on developing a spiral of Israel experiences
that will encourage participants to make repeat visits of ever-increasing
length. We are devising innovative programs for those in between visits to
nurture the seeds of devotion that germinate in each.
We are creating
frameworks for social activism involving Jews from abroad and their idealistic
counterparts here so that together they might change the world and shape the
Jewish state in a manner that gives expression to their values and vision. And
we – both JAFI and the WZO – are also increasing the number of Israeli
emissaries working abroad, in both formal and informal educational
In short, we are teaching, not retailing, with the expectation
that the array of experiences we are offering will lead people to make Israel
their home on their own.
In addition, the World Zionist Organization is
about to launch a major new campaign called “Habayita – Coming Home.” Intended
to complement the efforts of the Jewish Agency, it will reach out primarily to
the younger generation, specifically to graduates of the 10-day Birthright
trips, the summer programs run by a broad range of youth movements, and the
long-term Israel experiences conducted within the framework of Masa – all of
which benefit from JAFI support.
We have already organized a number of
pilot trips to Israel for those who are seriously contemplating aliya and more
are in the planning stages. They will also include a number of seminars geared
to those in particular professions, enabling participants to meet with their
colleagues and potential employers here in Israel.
At the same time, we
will be sending successful olim back to their countries of origin for short
periods of time for the purpose of allowing those considering aliya to discuss –
in a language they can understand – the realities and the satisfactions of
In short, we believe that there are plenty of people in
their right mind for whom living here makes perfect sense. And the World Zionist
Organization and Jewish Agency are as determined as ever to make sure that they
are both aware of the possibilities and able to get the assistance they need to
turn their dreams into reality.
Dr. David Breakstone is deputy chairman
of the World Zionist Organization and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive.
Dr. Danny Lamm is deputy chairman of the JAFI Aliya Committee and president of
the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.