Who in their right mind would want to live here?

Critics of WZO, Jewish Agency believe aliya is commodity to be marketed; we believe it is commitment to be nurtured.

New Olim Israeli flags celebration zionist 390 (photo credit: Elle Yahalom)
New Olim Israeli flags celebration zionist 390
(photo credit: Elle Yahalom)
Who in their right mind would want to live here? There are two answers to that question that interest us: 1) those who wish to live the fullest Jewish life possible and who see Israel as the best place to do that; and 2) those for whom anti-Semitism, or its looming threat has created a level of discomfort that has opened them to the possibility of binding their fate to that of the Jewish collective in the Jewish state.
For better or for worse, both of those populations are shrinking. Those of us who understand the need for increasing the number of olim are facing an increasingly difficult challenge that requires rethinking and restructuring. Holding the positions we do within the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), we can state categorically that both of these bodies are committed to this process and this objective – notwithstanding the criticism that has been leveled against us for abandoning our historical mission.
The difference between our take and that of our critics is a function of two things: their lack of familiarity with all that we are doing to encourage aliya and a genuine divergence of opinion as to how to best go about it.
LET’S TACKLE the disagreement first. Those who argue that we have forsaken our sacred duty of promoting aliya seem to believe that it is a product to be sold; we believe it is the culmination of a process of cultivation. We are confident that what we are doing is the best way to lay the foundation for increasing the number of olim in the future.
Far from deserting the aliya objective, we have developed a long-term strategy for meeting it. After successfully bringing home untold millions from persecuted communities, there is – fortunately – no longer a large reservoir of Jews in need of rescue.
If significant numbers are going to continue arriving here, they will be coming out of choice. They will only make that choice if they acquire a commitment to Jewish community and continuity, become enamored of this country and develop an appetite for both the challenges and the opportunities it offers. Report after report, survey after survey indicate that there is an ever-dwindling pool of Jews who feel that way.
Well aware of this, the Jewish Agency has indeed changed both its focus and its modus operandi. We have not, however, decreased our financial investment in the effort, continuing to spend more than $66,000,000 a year in an ever-increasing number of initiatives, with a particular focus on young people.
We are spending more on developing a spiral of Israel experiences that will encourage participants to make repeat visits of ever-increasing length. We are devising innovative programs for those in between visits to nurture the seeds of devotion that germinate in each.
We are creating frameworks for social activism involving Jews from abroad and their idealistic counterparts here so that together they might change the world and shape the Jewish state in a manner that gives expression to their values and vision. And we – both JAFI and the WZO – are also increasing the number of Israeli emissaries working abroad, in both formal and informal educational venues.
In short, we are teaching, not retailing, with the expectation that the array of experiences we are offering will lead people to make Israel their home on their own.
In addition, the World Zionist Organization is about to launch a major new campaign called “Habayita – Coming Home.” Intended to complement the efforts of the Jewish Agency, it will reach out primarily to the younger generation, specifically to graduates of the 10-day Birthright trips, the summer programs run by a broad range of youth movements, and the long-term Israel experiences conducted within the framework of Masa – all of which benefit from JAFI support.
We have already organized a number of pilot trips to Israel for those who are seriously contemplating aliya and more are in the planning stages. They will also include a number of seminars geared to those in particular professions, enabling participants to meet with their colleagues and potential employers here in Israel.
At the same time, we will be sending successful olim back to their countries of origin for short periods of time for the purpose of allowing those considering aliya to discuss – in a language they can understand – the realities and the satisfactions of living here.
In short, we believe that there are plenty of people in their right mind for whom living here makes perfect sense. And the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency are as determined as ever to make sure that they are both aware of the possibilities and able to get the assistance they need to turn their dreams into reality.
Dr. David Breakstone is deputy chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive. Dr. Danny Lamm is deputy chairman of the JAFI Aliya Committee and president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.