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According to conventional wisdom, a room of 10 Jews is likely to have at least twice as many opinions. Apply that view to the Internet, and one can hardly fathom the number of differing Jewish opinions to be found. In recent years, the most popular way to express these opinions has been through web logs, commonly known as blogs. By recent estimates, the blogosphere is now home to 150 million writers of every stripe - and counting.
With the ability to reach anyone with an Internet connection, one blog site, Kumah.org has launched a campaign to promote aliyah. Kumah takes its name from the Hebrew word for "arise," and its mission is the complete return of Diaspora Jews to the land of Israel. Yishai Fleisher, one of the founders of Kumah, explains the advantages of using the Internet to promote aliyah. "You can report what people are really living like in Israel," Fleisher says, "[because] more and more people here are young and blog-oriented. You don't just have to read [about Israel] from the mainstream media anymore, you can hear it from people you trust."
To achieve its mission, Kumah launched a flash film over a month ago from a site called aliyahrevolution.com. The animated short spoofs the 1999 film The Matrix, set in a dystopian future in which computers control mankind. In the "Kumatrix," Keanu Reeves' heroic protagonist isn't attempting to break free from the false reality created by the Matrix; he's fighting to escape exile. With the help of Dr. Moseus (a Hasidic version of The Matrix's Morpheus) Neo realizes his place is in Israel. What follows is a surreal dream sequence that includes Neo being led up a ladder by an angel, olim arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport on the backs of giant eagles, and finally a scene of the rebuilt Temple on the Temple Mount, with Neo presiding as Kohen HaGadol (High Priest).
The next day Neo tells his mother and co-workers he's decided to leave for Israel. He must battle skepticism and guilt, but eventually he leaves, bringing his mother along. Fleisher describes the film's climax not as the point when Neo and his mother depart for Israel, but the montage of photos of real olim that appears at the film's end. The idea, Fleisher explains, was to juxtapose the fantasy of The Matrix with actual olim. "These are real people, they're really there, this is the real Israel," he says.
Fleisher and Kumah are determined to change the American relationship with Israel. "American Jewry is taught to support Israel, [but] we're saying 'Don't support Israel. Be a part of Israel,'" Fleischer says.
"Neo-Zionism," Fleisher goes on, "is a direct assault on post-Zionism," the idea that the original Zionist platform has become obsolete. But some of the images of neo-Zionism in the Kumatrix assail the sensibilities of many who would hardly classify themselves as "post-Zionist."
The Kumatrix has already been viewed more than 50,000 people, and the six-minute film has generated a great deal of hype and debate since it hit the web.
Michael Felknor of the blog Jewlicious responded to the Aliyah Revolution video in an irreverent blog posting typical of the site. His reaction on the phone was ambivalent at best. "I appreciate the spirit," the 20-year-old new Israeli immigrant said. But he added, "As far as actually encouraging North American Jews to make aliyah, it appeals to a narrow type of person."
Felknor expressed further skepticism about the film's usefulness in promoting aliyah, "If they really want to get all Americans to make aliyah, they're not going to do it with Matrix references and the Third Temple."
A more heated debate took place between Kumah and the "Orthodox Anarchist" site run by Dan Sieradski. After viewing the Kumatrix, Sieradski posted an open letter to Kumah on Jewschool, one of several sites he contributes to, leading to a bitter online argument about Kumah, aliyah, and Zionism occasionally involving words like cynicism, overzealous, materialistic and dogmatic.
Despite the right-wing, messianic message of Aliyah Revolution, or perhaps because of it, Kumah's video continues to spread, generating controversy particularly on Jewish blogs and sites.
While opinions differ about how to encourage aliyah, the transfer of the debate to a new domain - the Internet - suggests the continued importance of the topic among young Jews in the cyber age.
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