Coming Home: Aliya as 'active retirement'

While much of the Agency's recent aliyah efforts have been aimed at the non-Orthodox movements, it's equally committed to encouraging Jews later in life to make aliya.

the bermans 298.88 (photo credit: courtesy photo)
the bermans 298.88
(photo credit: courtesy photo)
While aliya is gaining momentum within the Reform and Conservative Movements in America, the large majority of olim still come from the Orthodox Movement - people like Tobias and Rosalie Berman, who will be boarding a plane for Israel next month. The Bermans have been life-long committed members of their Orthodox community in Forest Hills, Queens. Tobias served as the chairman of the local yeshiva, Tifereth Moshe in Kew Gardens. But at 66, the Bermans, now retired, fall into an often overlooked category of aliya, one the Jewish Agency is hoping will grow. While much of the Agency's recent attempts to increase aliya have been through reaching out to the non-Orthodox movements, it is equally committed to encouraging Jews later in life to make aliya - or, as some have begun to call it, "active retirement." According to Jewish Agency statistics, 70 percent of immigrants from North America are under 35, and nearly 40% are under 18. But as the approach to aliya has broadened its scope, the Jewish Agency is hoping to appeal not only to young Jews, but to Jews who have lived most their lives in the Diaspora and who may consider retiring in Israel. Though he is retired from law, Tobias continues to act as an entrepreneur, investing in Israeli companies. He is a benefactor of Yad Vashem and is the chairman of Management Communities of Yeshiva University Israel. According to Tobias, another significant factor in the potential increase in aliya from North America is the way in which the bureaucratic process has been eased. "There was a time when aliya was an endurance contest in terms of bureaucracy," he said. Today, it is a painless process. That in itself has motivated people who have started the process to end the process, whereas in the past many people used to give up." For the Bermans, the decision to make aliya has indeed been a process. For the last 20 years, they have visited Israel once a year. But since two of their children made aliya in the last decade, the couple started spending almost half the year in Israel. "It came time that we decided to stay permanently," said Tobias. Orthodox ideology has played a part in encouraging the couple and their children to move to Israel, said Rosalie. "All our prayers are directed toward Israel and returning there," she said. "The yearning to return has always been part of our lives, so that it became a natural evolution to move." Like many American Orthodox Jews, Rosalie does not believe in surrendering land to the Palestinians. "We should hold on to what we have," she said, "because we aren't getting anything back. Giving other parts of what we now control, which is God-given to us, is wrong." The Bermans' children grew up with a strong connection to Israel. All of them spent time studying in the country, which Rosalie said was a major factor in their decision to eventually move. "They feel they made the perfect decision. They wanted their kids to grow up in a Jewish culture, and not be bombarded with all kinds of outside influences." In just a few years, the Bermans' grandchildren, who live in Beit Shemesh and Ra'anana, have already become Israeli, mannerisms and all, said Rosalie. Like many kids who have grown up in a bilingual household, they move freely between English and Hebrew, often switching mid-sentence. And their latest excitement is the Israeli Baseball League, from whom they have already collected signed baseballs. Aliya, said Tobias, is important both for the State of Israel and for the individual. "Living in your own homeland is an inspiring part of life," he said. "I think it's beautiful to walk in Central Park, but that's nothing compared to walking in the streets of Jerusalem, sensing that it's your home, and the spirituality which you feel just walking in the streets."