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February 8, 2018 9:52 am

2018: The Year to Make Aliyah?

avatar by Isi Leibler

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New North American immigrants to Israel who arrived on the Nefesh B’Nefesh aliyah agency’s final group flight of 2017. Photo: Ben Kelmer.

The founders of modern Israel came from contrasting ideological movements.

Since their dispersion into exile, Jews who for centuries endured Christian and Muslim persecution, maintained spiritual (and in a few cases physical) links with their barren Jewish homeland — praying for their return to Zion and the coming of the Messiah.

In the late 19th century, the East European secular utopians who sought to escape persecution and murderous pogroms came to Palestine with the objective of engaging in agriculture and transforming the Jewish homeland into a socialist haven.

The British conquest of Jerusalem and the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire ushered in a series of mass migratory movements, and, for the first time, large numbers of Jews in distress turned to Israel as a haven.

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The Russian Civil War and the bloody pogroms associated with it were followed by the rise of Nazism, which led to a growing immigration of Eastern European and subsequently German refugees — which, apart from a trickle of illegal immigration, was frozen in 1939 until the end of the British Mandate.

The mass immigration of Holocaust survivors was augmented after the Israeli War of Independence by the airlift of Jews fleeing persecution in Muslim countries. They were subsequently joined by other smaller communities such as the Ethiopians, climaxing with an influx of over a million Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, kibbutz galuyot — the ingathering of the exiles — as predicted in the Bible, has been realized at a dramatic pace. From a fledgling community of 600,000 in 1948 when the state was proclaimed, Israel’s population has increased more than tenfold. It is now unquestionably the most successful and powerful state in the region, despite being an oasis in a turbulent Middle East engulfed in a brutal civil war, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians have been butchered like animals.

However more than half of the world’s Jewish population remains in the Diaspora — the bulk in the United States, but with smaller communities in Canada, Europe, Australia, South Africa and Latin America.

While there has always been a trickle of highly motivated, largely idealistic and religious Western immigrants, kibbutz galuyot was hardly a feature of the more affluent and less discriminated communities.

But today the time has come for Jews in these communities to objectively re-evaluate their position.

It is clear that the majority will not pack up and come to Israel, even if there is a significant deterioration of their condition and dramatic escalation of antisemitism.

But committed Jews must ask themselves one basic question: Is Jewish continuity important to me and my children? Sadly, unless the response is positive, there is little further contemplation.

But those remaining in the Diaspora must recognize that even with the best of intentions, the chances of their grandchildren remaining Jewish are slim. In today’s open society, suffused with postmodernism, it is almost impossible to build solid barriers against acculturation. Any objection to intermarriage that is not based on religious grounds is condemned as racist. Many young people identify Judaism exclusively with liberalism and universalism, and are totally ignorant of core Jewish values.

In addition, the cost of Jewish education has skyrocketed in recent years, and only the most committed are willing to sacrifice their standard of living to provide their children with a decent Jewish education. Not surprisingly, the level of Jewish education in the United States and most Diaspora Jewish communities has never been so abysmally deficient.

With the passage of time, the Holocaust no longer impacts on the identity of youngsters as it did with their parents. It has been reduced to unemotional historical statistics devoid of contemporary relevance. Likewise, support for Israel, which served as the greatest unifying element, has declined steeply among those with little or no traditional Jewish upbringing. Some even consider it socially advantageous to regurgitate the anti-Israeli agenda promoted by the liberal media.

In this environment, it is not surprising that intermarriage figures have escalated dramatically. Today, over 70% of unions among non-Orthodox Jews involve a gentile partner, with the overwhelming majority of children from such mixed marriages remaining, at best, Jews in name only. Clearly, the likelihood of Jewish continuity among nonobservant Jews is minimal. Today, even the Orthodox minority is becoming affected.

The statistics indicate that, other than the strictly Orthodox, Diaspora Jewish communities will significantly shrink. But there now is an additional factor that should make committed Jews consider aliyah, if not for themselves then for their children. The current global explosion of feral antisemitism and anti-Israelism displays no signs of abating. On the contrary, it continues to expand with increasing intensity and violence. The governments may seem moderate, but it is the antisemitic masses who ultimately influence lawmakers.

In this context, the United States and Australia are the least affected but even there, the growth of antisemitism, principally from the extreme Left but also from the extreme Right, has risen dramatically, despite the cushioning impact of the passionate love of Israel displayed by evangelical Christians.

The hatred displayed against Israel and Jews on campus, in both Europe and the United States, and the viciously biased anti-Israeli liberal media has a particularly traumatic impact on those Jews who, until recently, believed that antisemites were an extinct species.

In America, there are also grounds for concern with the radicalization of the left wing of the Democratic Party, much of which has become hostile to Israel. Most liberal American Jews abhor President Donald Trump, but the more sophisticated ones realize that a change of administration could have very negative consequences for Israel.

But the impending crisis emanates from Western Europe, where Jews in many countries feel like pariahs. The massive Muslim immigration, which includes many people with antisemitic inclinations, exacerbates the situation, as does Islamic terrorism, which frequently selects Jewish targets. In many areas, particularly in France, armed guards protect Jews in synagogues and schools. Lately, French Jews have been obliged to provide their own security.

Many Jews, fearful of being assaulted, are reluctant to wear kippot or display Jewish symbols like the Star of David, and in some cases, even conceal their real names.

Substantial numbers of French Jews have decided to come to Israel. But what of the British and other West European Jews?

In the United Kingdom, Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn proudly boasts of his friendship with Hezbollah and other antisemites. There is a real possibility that the next British prime minister could be an antisemite. As a foretaste of what is to come, Amnesty International UK canceled an event at its premises, initiated by the Jewish Leadership Council, to critique the UN Human Rights Council. The reason given was that Amnesty considered it inappropriate to include Jewish organizations that oppose boycotting the Israeli settlements.

One must consider the impact of living under such adverse conditions on young people. It is surely impossible to lead a normal Jewish life when continuously bombarded by the anti-Israel and antisemitic rhetoric that pervades the media and the street. Those who care about their Jewish future should now carefully consider their options.

Granted, many who do not have the accumulated capital or means, or having reached middle age would have difficulty in launching a new career, would face serious challenges in making aliyah. But Israel is one of the most successful economies in the world, and those who consider Jewish continuity important should seriously contemplate aliyah now — or at least encourage their children to do so.

Aliyah is the only long-term solution to acculturation and antisemitism. An additional incentive is the availability in Israel of a Jewish education, which the state provides in a wide range to include secular, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox streams.

We cannot expect hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Western world to make aliyah but those concerned that their grandchildren retain their Jewish identity should be contemplating whether to remain in the Diaspora — with all that entails — or become a vibrant and active component of the Jewish nation.

The storm clouds are gathering, and the time for decision-making is now.

A version of this article was originally published by Israel Hayom and The Jerusalem Post.

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