Teaching aliya

“I feel the need to be very blunt with you: I don’t understand how aliya is not part of the standard education in our day schools."

A new immigrant at Ben-Gurion airport kisses the tarmac as he makes aliya (photo credit: REUTERS)
A new immigrant at Ben-Gurion airport kisses the tarmac as he makes aliya
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I’ve just returned from America, where I was privileged to speak to a number of Jewish groups in New York and Los Angles about my experiences in the Knesset. But when I spoke to a group of undergraduate students at Yeshiva University, I focused my message on their experiences and not mine. Here is what I said:
“I feel the need to be very blunt with you: I don’t understand how aliya is not part of the standard education in our day schools. We are taught the Torah in which throughout the book of Deuteronomy, Moses repeats over and over: ‘In the land that God has given to you,’ and, ‘When you enter the land that God has given to you as an inheritance.’ And here we are, living in a generation where God has made that gift available to us. Our inheritance from God. How are we rejecting that Divine gift by not even talking about aliya? It’s not even on the radar screen. Isn’t this a rejection of the gift from God?
“Can you imagine if an Orthodox school did not teach about the biblical commandment of tzitzit? They would be outside the fold and considered not religious. Yet somehow we do not teach the biblical commandment of living in the Land of Israel – which some commentaries like Nachmanides view as an obligation – and that is considered acceptable.
“Israel takes no sides in US elections, and I have no comment about any of the candidates or campaigns. But I am saddened when I hear North American Jews asking which candidate will be better or worse for the Jews. That is the mentality of an exile, a legacy of centuries being subject to the whims of foreign governments.
“Today we have our own country. We have our own parliament. We can debate out loud in the Knesset – and boy, do we ever – to determine our own future. Our ancestors would have given anything for the opportunity to live in a Jewish state and be a part of a Jewish democracy. How can the incredible times in which we live, this miraculous opportunity, be ignored?
“You are young. You have your entire lives ahead of you. Every one of you should be exploring whether aliya is an option for you. Nefesh B’Nefesh is available to answer all of your questions, and help you through every step of the way. For some, the end result of that process may be a decision to not make aliya, but at least you will have explored it, and not outright reject this Divine gift by totally ignoring it. And if you can’t make aliya, then at the very least raise your children to make aliya, and then join them in Israel after you retire. There is no greater retirement than retirement in Israel and joining your family there.”
IT IS time for the American Jewish community to confront the questions that I raised with those students.
I asked educators at Jewish day schools in different cities to explain why they don’t teach the mitzva of moving to Israel. How can schools claim to be religious if they completely ignore a fundamental mitzva in the Torah? The answers I received ranged from “it’s complicated,” to “we haven’t really thought about it,” to the very honest “our parent body wouldn’t allow it.”
Educators in various Jewish schools brought up how students in very high numbers walk away from any form of active Judaism, and that they are trying to figure out how to stem that tide. I believe that Israel education – including teaching about aliya and encouraging IDF or national service – should be considered as a partial solution to ensure that Jewish students remain active, interested and passionate Jews.
During the time of the construction of the Second Temple, the overwhelming majority of Jews living in Babylon did not seize the opportunity to return to Israel. We cannot afford to repeat that tragedy. For both religious and practical reasons, I strongly urge schools and synagogues throughout North America – and other English-speaking countries as well – to begin putting aliya education at the center of their educational mandate, with the explicit goal of inspiring tens of thousands of Jews to proudly choose to make Israel their home.