On the varieties of Americans in Israel

In Israel today, there as many American Jews making aliyah each year as there are African migrant entering the country each month. By some pretty rough calculations you can figure that there will be more Africans than Americans living in Israel within, what, five years?


We know why the Africans are coming, which is Africa. Whether it''s war and oppression, as the African migrant/refugees say, or transnational job-seeking, as the government says, it boils down to the continent.


But Americans (or really North Americans), are the diametrically opposed phenomenon. Unlike Africa, the standard of living in the US is high. And unlike Europe, where the standard of living is quite high (for now) but where there''s enough anti-Jewish sentiment to motivate part-time aliyah, American Jews enjoy tolerance and acceptance, for the most part.


Israelis themselves know this. The question that any American Jewish immigrant to Israel has heard at least once after telling an Israeli that he or she came here from New York or California or Toronto by choice is, "Why? Are you crazy?"


It''s a good question. For  some immigrants it''s the experience of having growing up in Israel or an Israeli home. For others it''s the whisps of an inspiring dream infused a the sense of the exotic. And for others it''s about reconnecting to a deep and long-running tradition by living in the tradition''s original setting. 

The variety of reasons are connected to each other, which makes it difficult to answer the question of "Why did you come?" with a full and accurate accounting. But this is why there is a single, all-encompassing word for the phenomenon -- Zionism. It''s like a reverse prism, containing the varieties of reason, faith, passion, necessity, and personal experience that motivated the Zionist of the 19th and 20th century, as well as the simple love of "the Land" that extends through the ages.


For American Jews living life as Israelis, the question is no longer why did you come, but why are you here -- why do you stay? Here, the various reasons that bring American Jews to Israel converge on the dream not of one day being just like a native-born Israeli, which is unlikely, but of building Israel -- improving it, changing it, actually creating it. It''s this that''s at the heart of "voluntary aliyah," which exists in distinction to the aliyah of need, though both are equally essential to the Zionist endeavor.


Small as the numbers are, the aliyah of American Jews is proof that Zionism is a living, contemporary movement. Defined by the ability to see a better society and the desire to bring it about, we know why we''re here. Our future might still be unseen -- i.e. how will the plot of life in Israel unfold? -- and though we may not have all the answers, we know with relative certainty that there is nothing "post-" about us.