“Why is it that fewer and fewer American Jews are making aliya?” asked a tall, white haired English reporter from the BBC. I took a few moments to contemplate the question before I began to suspect that the premise could not possibly be true. I told the reporter that I have always sensed that a growing number of people around me have been making aliya. A close friend of mine even made the move the past summer. “My community,” I said, “hasn’t experienced this phenomenon.”
My response needed clarification. I didn’t have the studies to prove my point, while the reporter claimed that he did. Without numbers at my disposal, I began to describe my experience growing up in a Zionist, Modern Orthodox community in an attempt to paint a picture of my pro-Israel childhood. The reporter eagerly listened as I spoke about aliya-encouraging organizations like Bnei Akiva and other efforts within the Orthodox movement that filled me with an appreciation for Israel.
After hearing my pitch, he said that he had never heard about Modern Orthodoxy or anything similar to the upbringing I described. He also told me that the other day he had interviewed a member of the Neturei Karta and received a negative and pessimistic view on American Zionism. How is it, I thought, that although the Anti-Defamation League estimates that the anti-Zionist wing of the Neturei Karta represents fewer than 100 Hasidim, their voices are constantly used to represent the larger world and American Jewry?
From my experiences growing up Modern Orthodox, I can’t help but feel that my community’s Zionism is often overlooked in favor of more extreme positions. I remember spending a weekend in the town of Havat Gilad, and watching as dozens of reporters clamored about, eagerly trying to uncover a scandal involving what the New York Times refers to as "Jewish terror."
But Judaism’s position towards aliya and the modern state of Israel spans much more than the positions of Havat Gilad and the Neturei Karta. My community, like many others across the country, is a strong supporter of Zionism and recognizes the importance of Israel advocacy.
A few years back, I walked with my friend to the Mt. Herzl graveside of an American who had given his life defending Israel. The two of us paused to reminisce over a video we had watched in high school that detailed the soldier’s life. As we glanced at the words on the stone grave, we read that he from the Midwest and grew up in a Modern Orthodox community. We stood silent for a few moments before continuing on. But what passed between the two of us, at that moment, was the very realness of modern day Zionism. That someone from our community had given his life for Israel made an indelible impression on us. And a short while later, when my friend decided to make aliya, he reminded me of that short but powerful experience.
Modern Orthodox Zionism continues to remain a dominant force in our educational system, and its effects can be felt by the number of people making aliya. The high school that my friend and I attended remains an ardent supporter of religious Zionism, and even incorporates Israel advocacy into its core curriculum.
At the end of my interview, with my friend’s aliya in mind, I told a BBC producer that she should run a program on the Modern Orthodox Jewish community. She sounded interested.