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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
It's time for a family reunion. So says the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, which is trying to woo back to Israel some of the 650,000 yordim, or expatriates, who have set off in search of a better life abroad.
The move marks a change in the ministry's usual low-key stance toward yordim. After all, why argue with dissatisfied Israelis when you can spend your time with less jaded Diaspora Jews, seducing them with the charms and adventures of the Zionist enterprise?
For many reasons, the decision to reengage the expatriate community is a welcome one.
Practically speaking, yordim make up an attractive target audience for the Immigration and Absorption Ministry. They are already familiar with the country and its ways, and they have family and friends here too. So they don't require the kind of investment that other olim need to help them acclimate to Israeli society. Many of the yordim living in North America and Europe - where about 85 percent of them live, according to the ministry - have also developed highly sought-after job skills and career experience which, if they were brought here, could contribute greatly to Israel's economy.
Ideologically speaking as well, the idea of encouraging such individuals to come back to Israel is tantalizing. It would be quite a feather in the government's cap to win over the hearts of those who may have soured on the Israel of their youth. To even contemplate such a step, considering the amount of resistance it could face from yordim who have become comfortably settled abroad, shows a refreshing confidence on the part of the government in the product called the State of Israel.
Indeed, there is much to tout. First, the Zionist dream is as relevant today for those who have left Israel for other locales as it is for any other Jew in the Diaspora. Hopes of building a vibrant Jewish society in the ancient Jewish homeland are alive and well - and bolstered by the fact that the Jewish community in Israel is about to become the world's largest. In just half a century, Israel has cemented its place at the center of the Jewish world.
Even for those who have chosen to chase the American dream instead of the Zionist one, the challenge of building the Jewish state has, in many ways, become more rewarding than ever before. In the sphere of hi-tech, for instance, the young and cheeky David that these yordim left has grown into a veritable Goliath. And the Israel that was once barren and dependent on foreign aid has blossomed into a verdant power that now supports other, less capable countries by sharing its knowledge in the fields of agriculture and development. Month after month, and in just about every walk of life, Israel offers up another world-class achievement.
"I still believe the center of the Jewish people is in Israel," expatriate Haim Keren, now considering a return, told The Jerusalem Post's New York correspondent earlier this week. It certainly is - for yordim as for the whole Jewish nation. And today is as good a time as ever for them to come home.
At the same time, however, the government must realize that some of the problems that drove so many Israelis away in the first place remain unsolved. Corruption in Israel's highest echelons is so rampant that the country risks a banana republic reputation. Tax policy encourages Israelis to invest their money in friendly climes overseas, and can discourage even the most enterprising Jews in the Diaspora from making aliya. Failure to develop responsible long-term plans threatens natural resources as diverse as the education system and the water supply.
Today, prospective olim in the West don't need to see Israel as a place in which they can take refuge. But they do need to see it as a place in which they can take pride. The fact that Israel offers more stability and more prosperity now than it ever did before makes it possible for aliya agents to open a dialogue with Jews who are considering moving to Israel. If the government acts to address some of the other legitimate concerns of 650,000 yordim, and the millions of other Jews in the West, it could make real progress toward an incredible family reunion.