Hundreds of olim from across the religious spectrum who will move to Israel this year, joined together at the American-Israel Friendship House in New York, for a crowded send-off party that included comedy, song and a lot of Zionist sentiment. Immigration from North America is expected to increase between five and 10 percent over last year, according to the Jewish Agency who sponsored the event, marking the largest aliya from the region in 25 years. Though most of the annual olim are Orthodox, the Reform and Conservative Jewish communities have become more active in promoting aliya over the last several years.
Is Israel in need of more secular olim?
The Jewish Agency is now working to introduce these olim to the option of moving to communities of the same religious affiliation in Israel.
Adam Weissmann, 24, who grew up in the Conservative Movement, knew from the age of 13, when he visited Israel on a class trip, that he belonged there.
"As much as I appreciate what I was given in America, I look forward to having a more intimate connection with Israel than I've had with any other state," said Weissmann.
The Conservative Movement has been a major factor in Weissmann's "connection to Israel, as a land, a people and a state," he said. But, in spite of this, Weissmann is hesitant to attach too many labels. He continues to practice Judaism, as he always has, but wishes that the Jewish world could be freer of religious demarcations. "There has been a lot of talk here about dreaming, and something to dream about is unity," said Weissmann.
One week before he boards the plane, tensions among Jews in Israel is something that concerns him. "Like every other nation, Israel is not a homogeneous society, and there is a lot of division, especially religious division," Weissmann said.
"The Conservative Movement has always focused on teaching the need to bring together tradition and modernity and has a lot to offer in its experience with bridging the gap between traditional religion and secular society." He hopes the Conservative movement will thrive in Israel in the same way he hopes every movement will thrive "to a point that pluralism becomes more enmeshed within Israeli culture."
"I long for a time when every Israeli Jew can belong to a religious community of his or her choice and not feel stigmatized and be able to share his experience with friends and neighbors in a way that is mutually enriching," said Weissmann.
Increasing aliya, he said, may be a part of the solution."The more people who make aliya and bring more pluralism, will help make Israel a more vibrant democracy, and will help make Israel a better place all around." Weissmann, who studied political science at the University of Chicago, and got his Masters in the discipline at Columbia University, is currently working on a book about his 88-year-old grandfather's upbringing in pre-war Europe and his experiences in the Soviet army during World War II.
One of the things he is most looking forward to in Israel is voting. Because of his plans to eventually make aliya, Weissmann made a conscious decision not to vote in the US, so voting in Israel will be a first. "If you know you will be part of a society, you should bear the consequences of your actions," he explained. "Knowing I would not be living here, I felt I should wait to vote in Israel." Though he has long planned to make aliya, Weissmann agreed to his parents' request that he wait until after college. "Now is the time for me," he said, "I can't wait any longer."