Aliyah as a Response to Poway?
The horrific shooting attack on the Chabad synagogue in Poway, California has generated a variety of responses and recommendations, from tolerance education and firearms instruction to increasing synagogue attendance as a show of defiance.
Remarkably, however, one of the most obvious possible responses to antisemitic violence has been almost completely absent from the post-shooting dialogue: aliyah.
Immigration by American Jews to Israel has never been more than a trickle — typically 2,000 to 3,000 annually, less than one-fourth of one percent of the American Jewish community. In 2018, aliyah from the US was actually down five percent from 2017.
But that’s not surprising, because there has never been an instance throughout history when there was a substantial aliyah from a Jewish community that was comfortable and prosperous, and believed that it was physically safe. It goes against human nature. People vote with their feet. When they like a place, they stay there.
Perhaps that’s part of the reason that there is so little discussion in America about aliyah. It seems so utterly unrealistic to expect many American Jews to ever take the idea seriously.
Another reason it’s not widely discussed is that the very question makes many people uncomfortable. Zionists tell themselves that they are needed here in order to promote Israel’s cause. Orthodox Jews tell themselves that while living in Israel is Jewishly desirable, it is justified to remain in the US in order to earn a living. And while those reasons may be valid on some level, they are nonetheless unsettling.
And yet there is now another dimension to this issue that simply cannot be avoided.
For the past three years, pundits, community leaders, and organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League have been reporting that antisemitism has been increasing very significantly. They all vehemently agree that it is reaching crisis proportions. The more dramatic among these commentators have begun warning that “it” could happen in America after all.
Well, if that is the case — and if the shooting attacks on the Pittsburgh and California synagogues illustrate that imminent danger — then shouldn’t we at least be talking about the option that Jews in imminent danger have always considered and often undertaken: emigration to Israel?
During the 1930s, as the dark storm clouds gathered on the Jewish horizon, the legendary Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky crisscrossed Eastern Europe, pleading with the Jewish masses, “Liquidate the Exile before it liquidates you.”
The Jews of Germany and Poland tried to get to Eretz Yisrael on the eve of the Holocaust, but the British government — first under Neville Chamberlain’s leadership and later under Winston Churchill — enforced the infamous White Paper of 1939 that kept them out.
America in 2019 is not comparable to Germany in 1939. A lone antisemitic terrorist attacking a synagogue is not the same as an entire government — in fact, virtually an entire nation — waging a deadly war against Jews. I am not proposing that the Jews should be selling their houses and buying plane tickets.
What I am saying is that we should at least be talking about aliyah. We should be discussing both the positive and negative reasons for moving to Israel. We should be frank about the reasons we give our children for why we love Israel but live here. We should have a serious discussion about what traditional Jewish sources have to say about the subject. We should consider the implications of Pittsburgh and Poway. It’s time for aliyah to be part of the conversation.
Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s US division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education, and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War II Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Herut’s website is https://herutna.org/.