Since the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the small country has provided a refuge for Jews around the world to escape oppression. Immigrants flooded its borders fleeing Russian communism, Ethiopian violence, Iraqi dictatorships and worldwide anti-Semitism. Jews from every corner of the world have struggled to escape the threat of violence, tyranny and death to arrive safely within the borders of their ancient homeland.
Today, however, the trend in aliyah (immigration to Israel, literally, “moving up”) has shifted. Jews living in comfort and peace, with material wealth and personal security, are moving in droves to the holy land. Nefesh b’Nefesh, an organization that financially and logistically assists North America immigrants in making aliyah, has single-handedly brought over 20,000 immigrants since 2002, from the USA and Canada alone.
Even a cursory glance at the current political and societal state of affairs in Israel and the Middle East, begs the question, why? Why would Americans living in relative safety and comfort leave those luxuries for a country threatened endlessly by its neighbors, a country which regularly suffers rampant terrorism and hostility from within its own borders? Why would a citizen of one of the greatest superpowers in the world even consider making aliyah to Israel, a country the size of Rhode Island surrounded by enemies- a country with little support from the rest of the world?
For many American Jews the answer is simple. Israel is the Jewish homeland. It is the land promised to the descendants of Abraham in his covenant with G-d, the land that housed the holy temples, the land to which the Jews have been longing to return for 2,000 years. With the number of Jews in Israel growing at a rapid pace, the majority of the Jewish people will soon be living in the Jewish State. It is clear that Jews in Israel are not only establishing an integral connection to their past, but also defining their future as the Jewish people. Many American Jews are making aliyah to help lay the foundation for the current and future “history” of their nation.
There is no question that a large number of American Jews moving to Israel in recent years are religiously observant. With the world economy in turmoil and the political sphere on the brink of calamity, many are finding solace in spirituality and religion. For Orthodox Jews in particular, life in Israel provides a society structured around the Jewish faith. Both economically and civilly, the country runs according to the Jewish calendar, with businesses closed on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays. Jews in Israel experience freedom to practice their religious customs without discrimination. There is an abundance of kosher food and educational options that are a fraction of the price of Jewish private schools in America. Moreover, observant Jews are able to begin to observe the many laws of Jewish code that are only applicable in Israel, such as laws pertaining to agriculture and the land.
And yet, the viability of Jewish aliyah is important not only for Jews, but for the world as a whole. On a political level, support of the state of Israel is critical for maintaining democracy in the dictatorial Middle East. On a religious level, the Jewish return to Zion represents the fulfillment of the biblical prophecy.
Throughout history, Jews in exile have succeeding in making their homes in every hemisphere. They have been exiled, deported, murdered, and forced to start anew over and over again. They have adapted and sometimes thrived amongst foreign ideas and cultures, but they have always stood apart. To the Jewish people, the establishment of the State of Israel is about far more than politics. The Jewish people are once again able to function as a Jewish nation, the implications of which extend into their very survival and existence. Jews across the globe have witnessed this miraculous turn of events amidst their history of helplessness and oppression and they are compelled to join their brethren in creating a solid future for their children. This promise, this fulfillment of thousands of years of longing to return, is what inspires thousands of American Jews each year to make aliyah- to leave their homes, their jobs, their communities and often their families, and start living their dreams and the dreams of their people in Israel.