Top Orthodox New York personalities set to make aliya

Orthodox Jews continue to represent roughly 60 percent of North American olim.

new olim 88 224 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
new olim 88 224
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Rabbi Ari Berman had until June 1 to decide whether he would make Israel his permanent home. That's the deadline his synagogue, The Jewish Center, one of the largest modern Orthodox synagogues in the US, gave him when he took a sabbatical last year and advised them he might never come back. He did come back, but only to say good-bye. Berman is one of several prominent Orthodox leaders ranging from rabbis to Orthodox feminists in the New York area who will be making aliya this summer. The annual sendoff organized by the Jewish Agency, which took place Thursday in New York, honored 250 of the 900 New Yorkers expected to move to Israel. That number is about one third of the 3,000 North American olim this year. The sendoff follows recent calls by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert for a dramatic change in the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora. "Now, for the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple, Israel is the largest concentration of Jews in the world and the overwhelming majority of Jews live in security. The era of mass aliya from countries of distress may have come to a close," Olmert declared. To accommodate that change, the Jewish Agency has gradually shifted its approach towards aliya, moving from the all-or-nothing approach towards a more flexible one. Earlier this month, the JA and the government announced a co-sponsored program called "flexible aliya" under which Jews from around the world will be able to move to Israel for a period ranging from several months to several years, during which they will be able to work, study and volunteer in the country. Meanwhile, Orthodox Jews continue to represent roughly 60 percent of North American olim. Berman, who has been the rabbi at the Jewish Center since 2000, said he is moving to Israel because "the Jewish future is in the State of Israel." By that he does not mean the Diaspora has no place. Quite the opposite, Berman said Diaspora Jewry is critical for Israel. But he wants to raise his children in a "fully Jewish environment and culture." Berman and his family will move Other Orthodox rabbis who are making aliya this year include: Rabbi Shalom Rosner, Rabbi of Woodmere Congregation in Long Island, who heads the Beit Midrash program at Yeshiva University, who is moving to Nofe Hashemesh, a new part of Beit Shemesh where he will be a rabbi of a new synagogue; Rabbi Dovid Wadler, principal at Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School in Highland Park, NJ; and Rabbi David Silverstein, a teacher at SAR, a yeshiva school in Riverdale, NY and assistant rabbi at Riverdale Jewish Center, who will be joining Yeshivat Hesder in Petah Tikva. Jenny Rosenfeld, 27, who has worked to break the taboos on talking about sexuality in the Orthodox world, will also be among this year's olim, with her husband Pinchas Roth, who made aliya at 10, and their three-month-old daughter, Neshama. In 2005, Rosenfeld co-founded Tzelem, a special project of Yeshiva University's Center for the Jewish Future that provides educational resources about intimacy and sexuality to the Orthodox community. Tzelem has organized annual conferences for kallah and chatan teachers (premarital educators), and has implemented a pilot program entitled "Life Values and Intimacy Education" at two New York-based yeshiva day schools. "I always wanted to make aliya ever since I was child," said Rosenfeld. "Going there gives me the opportunity to live life on a more spiritual plane." At 12, she forced her father to take her to Israel, and later she spent time working on a kibbutz. "But her most powerful experiences have been in the realm of learning," said Roth. Part of her dream is to teach women gemara. Rosenfeld will be a research fellow at the Hartman Institute, and Roth will pursue a doctorate at Hebrew University. "Coming there together with my family is ideal," said Rosenfeld. "It's an opportunity to live a more meaningful life there."