Aliyah push and pushback: Different views on moving to Israel

Taking different views on the life choice to immigrate to Israel – and those prevented from coming

New olim are seen having arrived in Israel (photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
New olim are seen having arrived in Israel
(photo credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
 With the state of global politics, the pandemic and airport closures, the topic of making aliyah is more timely than ever. 
Three books on the subject are newly available and each book approaches the act of immigrating from a decidedly different angle. Simultaneously, some are experiencing significant delays getting their aliyah applications approved for various policy or operational reasons. 
Aliyah push 
As evidenced by the title, Just Get On That Plane: Aliyah. And Why You Need to Make It. Right Now! by Yaakov ‘Yanky’ Greenspan is a quasi-belligerent approach to aliyah. 
Greenspan is actually a pseudonym for the author who calls the book a “literary sledgehammer.” Its controversial, aggressive tone was intentional. Greenspan hopes it captures the reader’s interest in a way other books about aliyah fail to. 
In an interview with Shmuli Rubinstein of, he said, “Greenspan is sort of a lighthearted caricature of a right to far right American immigrant to Israel. He’s kind of a synthesis of a few real people.” Even Greenspan’s face on social media “was generated by an artificial intelligence (AI) algorithm.”
Describing his motivation, Greenspan said, “I felt that the Jewish world needed as blunt and undiplomatic a text as possible that would encourage Jews living in the Diaspora to make aliyah. The central message I tried to get across is that I think it’s crazy – when we finally have a state of our own – that there are Jews in the world who have never even thought about living here. 
“The book frames Zionism in the very simple terms that I think about it. After 2,000 years, our state is re-established. Not at least thinking about living here or coming on a pilot trip is crazy. 
“Of course, I realize that there are anti-Zionist Jews. Not everybody is amenable to pro-aliyah messaging. But I know that there are those who are and who needed something more direct. We tend to skirt around the issue of why moving to Israel makes sense. The book cuts straight to the chase – it’s the only place the Jewish people can call home.”
Greenspan, who wrote in the book’s introduction, “The only vitamin that counts in Israel is spirituality,” feels that there are two specific audiences for his volume: 
1) The first is parents and grandparents whose children still live in the Diaspora. “Just Get On That Plane is like this annoying book that they buy for them at Hanukkah to try to pressure them into coming. Basically [it’s] a way to nag them.”
2) “The second target market is the Jews of Diaspora themselves. I also include in this market Israelis living abroad. Even though the book is written in English, I think they could benefit from reading it.”
Greenspan is disinclined to use anything other than the Zionist argument to encourage people to consider aliyah.
“I’m very much against framing aliyah in anything but positive terms. We shouldn’t make aliyah because of antisemitism, nor because of COVID, even though, practically speaking, those things might provide the immediate impetus. The only reason for the Jewish people to move to Israel is because it’s their homeland. The significance of COVID, to my eyes, is that it showed that the gates to the State of Israel can be closed. The book tries to emphasize that this should serve as a warning to the Jewish Diaspora.” 
He acknowledges that the book’s tone is “totally offensive to the target audience – but, perhaps oddly effective in the process.”
THE POLAR opposite approach was taken by Arthur Miller in his book Because It’s Israel: An Aliyah Odyssey. 
Because It’s Israel was actually published in 2019, but due to what Miller called, “a series of accidents and other medical issues, and, of course the pandemic,” the book is only now being marketed.
“I wrote the book to try and capture my almost lifelong desire to make aliyah and my thoughts about my aliyah decision after 15 years of life as an Israeli.”
For the first 60 years of his life, Miller lived in America and visited Israel over 40 times. 
“My objective was to try and capture the utter enjoyment of living as an observant Jew in a Jewish country. I wanted to capture the beauty of the country and its people, notwithstanding the fact that life can be difficult and can involve personal tragedies.
“Despite these pitfalls, I wanted non-Israelis to recognize that, whatever their concerns about uprooting themselves and their families from their life in the Diaspora, life in Israel is to be enjoyed and cherished as a gift from God to the Jewish people.
“I hope readers will feel my love for the country and be moved to experience its natural and religious beauty and want to, if not jump on the next Nefesh B’Nefesh plane, at least come for an extended visit.”
Miller’s initial motivation was “to write the book as a legacy for my children [grandchildren] and great-grandchildren in America who I left behind. I wanted the younger ones to know their grandparents and to hopefully understand how, despite our tremendous love for them, we picked ourselves up and moved 6,000 miles away.”
After rereading his completed manuscript, it occurred to him that the book had a wider potential audience. 
“I have so many friends in America who talk about aliyah, but like us, have difficulty making the decision to take the big step. I hope after reading this book, they, and others like them, will move – before the aging process makes it too late.”
Miller addressed himself to the question of the impact his and his wife’s aliyah has on their relationships with family members still in America.
“Obviously, leaving loved ones behind can be a gut-wrenching decision. My kids always knew that aliyah was our dream and I think they have adjusted well. Fortunately, we have one daughter and her family near us and it helps ease the pain. More importantly, Zoom, Facetime and Skype are wonderful tools to ease the separation.”
THAT SEPARATION is exactly what Ariella Bernstein and Avi Losice address in their book Aliya: Home. Hope. Reality. Bernstein and Losice are a married couple who were moved to write their book after they “resolved a relatively complicated issue for one of the young olim (immigrants) we know well. We were certain that there already was a book about the emotional impact of aliyah and how it can affect family relationships. It turns out that there wasn’t,” Bernstein shared. 
Losice added, “The totality of this book is collective advice and counsel we have given to Anglo olim as they consider aliyah, or after their aliyah.”
Bernstein shared that the book was written “primarily for parents and grandparents of olim… primarily for those left behind,” in order to help them understand the cultural gaps that develop as their children and grandchildren acculturate to Israeli society.
“There are many inspiring stories about aliyah and a significant number of resources that focus on the good – and the more challenging – parts of aliyah. That isn’t the point of our book. Instead, we highlight the emotional stresses and strains that many might not have considered, emotional tensions that often arise from cultural gaps between olim and the families they left behind.”
“We attempt to shine some light on those gaps and try to bridge them,” Losice said.
The couple expects the book to be interesting to a variety of prospective olim and even to those who made aliyah a long time ago. 
“I especially hope that people who are considering becoming lone soldiers read what we have written. Becoming a lone soldier is such an intense experience, and equally important is the post-service entry into civilian life. 
“We have heard troubling anecdotes about how many have left Israel after IDF service, never mind those who become disillusioned during their service. Having more balanced information can assist with the decision and assist with family discussions back home,” Losice emphasized. 
He further addressed himself to the special challenges of making aliyah during a pandemic. 
“COVID-19 has made aliyah logistics – like pilot trips, renting a home, or finding a job – exponentially harder. 
“In Israel, rental and/or apartment purchases are often required to be done in person. It’s not easy to scout out a community, or get a feel for whether it suits you, when you can’t easily come to visit for a longer period. Registering your children in school is particularly difficult – and here I am talking about the social aspect of school. As an oleh, starting school is hard enough. It’s even harder when your child might be on Zoom for many months without language skills.”
Acknowledging the special challenge of making aliyah right now, Bernstein added, “I think that the uncertainty COVID has created – in Israel and worldwide – is a microcosm of what happens quite often in Israel. Rules change all the time. Forms change all the time. Laws change all the time. It is part of the reality of living in Israel – situations change all the time, often when you aren’t prepared, and a test of your resilience as an oleh is how you handle it.”
The couple is planning “a similar book for those who retire in Israel. And here too, we would focus more on the emotional aspect of aliyah (like leaving grandchildren behind), and not just the financial or logistical elements,” Bernstein explained. 
Aliyah pushback
At the same time that calls to Jews in the Diaspora to make aliyah are increasing, delays in aliyah processing are causing individuals and families in the aliyah pipeline to be literally living out of suitcases, waiting for approval. One prospective olah, who has been living with a series of friends until her aliyah is finalized, spoke on condition of anonymity. 
“It’s like a black box. You don’t know what you’re dealing with and no one is telling you where you are on the timeline.”
Three examples follow:
The case of the homeless great-grandmother
Sharon Rosenbluth of Ginot Shomron has been trying to help her mother make aliyah since October 2020. 
“Every time she thought she had the correct documentation, it either wasn’t or she needed something additional,” Rosenbluth shared. 
The current delay seems to be connected getting her fingerprints approved. 
“She has very bad arthritis in her hands and twice she was unsuccessful in completing the fingerprints.” 
Delays have meant that Rosenbluth’s mother had to be out of her home on March 4, but her aliyah has not yet been finalized. Repeated attempts to get responses from the Interior Ministry and the Jewish Agency have been unsuccessful and the public figures the family consulted have been unable to move the case of the 77-year-old great-grandmother forward. 
The case of the non-citizen convert
Emma Marty completed her conversion in Israel more than two years ago, but she is still not able to make aliyah. She’s been living here on a B1 working visa for two years.
In December 2020, she was assured that her file is complete, but three months later, despite sending weekly emails, she still doesn’t know when she will be allowed to finalize her aliyah. Marty shared that living on a B1 visa makes it hard to find a good job and without citizenship, she can’t afford tuition. She currently works at a job that pays little more than minimum wage while she waits for her file to be approved. 
The case of a mother born in the Former Soviet Union
Lew and Ilona Dennen of Baltimore have been trying to get approved to make aliyah since September 2019. 
“Most of this because my wife had the misfortune of being born in the FSU,” Lew said. Nearly a year ago, he made a video describing all the twists and turns in their family’s quest for aliyah approval.
In April 2020, the core issue for the Dennens was proving that Ilona is Jewish. 
“They are going to want a lot of obscure documents. Don’t kid yourself. Give yourself plenty, plenty, plenty of time,” Lew warned on the video that has been viewed more than 2,800 times. 
“Once I made the video, our story got even crazier.” 
The family is hoping now to be approved in time to make aliyah in July 2021, nearly two years after they began the process. 
THE ISSUES for prospective olim stuck in the process seem to center around four main points: 
1) Increased (some say excessive) demands for documentation
2) Seemingly overburdened Jewish Agency staff who cannot keep up with the number of applications for aliyah
3) Significant delays in worldwide mail delivery and 
4) COVID-related office and airport closures.
In addition to uncovering many other similar stories of Jews already in the pipeline who cannot get final approval to make aliyah, The Jerusalem Post received a document written by a group of Jews from France, Canada, the US and South Africa whose aliyah has been delayed.
The document, titled “On Behalf of Our Aliyah,” opens with appreciation “for both the individuals and agencies working very hard to bring us Home. We are hopeful that we have much to contribute to the State of Israel with our skills and resources.”
It continues by noting that “outside factors and reasons that are beyond anyone’s control, namely COVID and consequent airport restrictions, have virtually put our carefully made plans on hold.”
The document identifies some of the knotty challenges faced by the individuals and families whose aliyah plans are still pending. 
“Many of us have sold our homes or relinquished leases in an effort to be ready at a moment’s notice. We have given notice to employers and canceled various associations, including our children’s schools. We have restructured our financial affairs to be able to live in Israel.
“Many of us have made plans and have expenditures that we can not necessarily afford, based on the expectation of a reasonable time for processing our aliyah. For instance, many of us had arranged to buy homes or rent apartments in Israel a full year or six months prior to our target aliyah date, but cannot take possession as we are still waiting, with no clear end in sight.
“Some of us have employment placements that we cannot fulfill, nor can we give a reasonable estimate of our arrival date, thereby putting our future jobs and livelihood in jeopardy... Our aliyah has been postponed for an indefinite amount of time. As a result, many of us are currently living out of suitcases and have no future date yet circled on the calendar.”
The group respectfully presents four suggestions “that could ameliorate the situation for us all.”
• They call for the hiring of “additional staff to help process aliyah applications due to the increasing number of Jews who want to return home.”
• Their second suggestion is to relax the documentation requirements by decreasing the amount of documentation necessary prior to aliyah and allowing more difficult-to-acquire documents to be processed once the olim are already in Israel. They point out, “Marriage and divorce authentication is often very delayed due to COVID restrictions and mail service. This is further complicated by needing authentication from countries other than where we currently reside.”
• The group’s third suggestion is for the Jewish Agency to develop an app or a website that would allow prospective olim to check their status without having to contact an aliyah adviser directly. 
• Finally, they request that the airport be open to aliyah flights, even if other flights are still restricted. 
The authors of the document argue that increasing demand for aliyah will likely put even more stress on the system in the future, denying Israel the economic participation of olim who desperately want to enter, but who are being prevented from doing so. 
The document is signed, “Olim Who Want to come HOME.”