Seeking a different type of aliya

"We need more Progressive Jews to live in Israel, and if we can attract the youth, then the whole community will be more aware."

Most foreigners don't spend enough time in Tel Aviv to experience Jewish modernity and pluralism," says Rabbi Meir Azari, Senior Rabbi and Executive Director of the recently opened Mishkenot Ruth Daniel in Jaffa. The guesthouse, education-culture center and synagogue intend to introduce the values of both Progressive Judaism and Tel Aviv. Founders and supporters, including the Tel Aviv Foundation, aim to provide an alternative to Jews, especially potential olim, who find that the only choices of Judaism in Israel are haredi or complete secularism. In the past year Israel received 5,756 immigrants, a 12 percent decrease from the previous year, according to the Jewish Agency. The complex will include 66 rooms, for about NIS 360 a night, as well as a dining room and lecture halls, and is expecting groups from birthright, Young Judea and NFTY. "Westerners" have tended to come for ideological and religious reasons rather than economic, and families tend to be more observant than singles, says Beulah Goodman of the aliyah organization United Jewish Israel Appeal. However, the imbalanced ratio of Reform to Orthodox olim has been a source of concern for the Reform movement. "Most of the foreigners making aliya to Israel are right wing," says Bruria Barish, President of the Beit Daniel Center for Progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv. "We need more Progressive Jews to live in Israel, and if we can attract the youth, then the whole community will be more aware. Tel Aviv is the perfect place for this." Hebrew University professor and active member of the Reform Judaism movement David Chinitz agrees. He says that Israeli Judaism excludes the Conservative and Reform movements, and this is at the crux of the region's political problems. "The legitimacy of the State of Israel is at stake because those who can come by choice have chosen not to come," says Chinitz. "Zionism has become a profane word. It's lost its meaning." He has petitioned tour groups such as birthright to avoid vaguely presenting Israel as a state for the Jews, but rather to provide insight into the real lives of Israelis and the real problems the country currently faces. Chinitz and Meir Azari agree that control of religious life by both the Muslim and Jewish extremes is a major problem that thwarts compromise and ultimately costs lives. Tel Aviv, says Azari, is where a modern Judaism, without judgments, can serve and expand its diverse communities. "A new voice is needed to endorse religious tolerance, and to make understood the notion of the other," he says."If we don't have religious tolerance, it will all explode."