July 14, 2024
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American Jewish Leadership Failure or Antisemitism and Aliyah?

My friends and family who have made aliyah over the years, did so, because of their love for Medinat Yisrael, Eretz Yisrael and Toras Yisrael. Never in my life did I ever envision that American Jews would think of leaving the United States to make aliyah, because of the spread of antisemitism. Unfortunately, recent data seems to indicate that there should be a concern. Sixty- three percent of all religious based violence is against Jews. In a recent poll of hiring managers, almost a third of the hiring managers respondents said it was permissible to discriminate against Jews. There are many organizations — both private and governmental — fighting antisemitism and, yet, antisemitism only seems to be getting worse.

Jews are being discriminated against in hiring for jobs. Jewish college students are afraid to expose their Jewishness in universities around the country. Jews are being attacked on the streets because they are Jewish. Schools, shuls and Jewish community centers are being defaced. In New York City alone, there was a 125% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes. Shuls and schools need to hire armed guards to prevent terrorist entry. Social media sites are filled with anti-Jewish tropes being read by 100’s of millions of readers. Jew free zones have been proposed at universities. A small — but vocal — percentage of our governmental representatives, on both sides of the isle, are openly anti-Semitic. Is this Germany in the 1930s, or is this America in 2022? This scenario is not only happening in the USA, but we also see and experience it in Europe as well.

While I don’t expect to see a Holocaust — as happened in the late 1930s and 40s — Jews are rapidly assimilating and melting into Western culture, trying to hide their Jewishness. So what are the American Jewish leaders doing about this situation? In my opinion, very little… Just like the Jewish leaders of prewar-Europe, who thought the problems will go away by itself, and discouraged their Jewish population from leaving Eastern Europe and Germany for Palestine and America in the early 20th century; the American Jewish leadership of today think they can ride out or solve the antisemitism problem. When the European rabbinic leadership eventually recognized the reality of the problem, it was too late. Their lack of early action by these Jewish leaders ended in unnecessary deaths of many Jews.

The current American Jewish leadership is taking the same approach. They believe antisemitism will go away, or that we will educate the anti-Semites not to hate us. That has never worked in the past… The only answer to this problem is aliyah to Israel. But it seems the American Jewish leadership does not want their communities to make aliyah. While they may make a kiddush for the trickle of American Jews who are making the hard decision to come to Israel, the American Jewish leadership is not encouraging, with all their strength, the necessity to further extend the center of Judaism to Israel.

In this week’s parsha of Vayeishev, we learn about the sale of Yosef. The Torah says the pit was empty and there was no water in it. Rashi explains the pit did not contain water, but it did contain snakes and scorpions.

It was Reuven who threw Yosef in the pit, and it was Yehuda who pulled him from the pit and sold him to merchants who brought him to Egypt. But the Torah praises Reuven, but says that Yehuda deserves no praise at all.

Rav Chaim Volozhiner explains this paradox: A man is safer in a pit filled with snakes and scorpions in Eretz Yisrael, than in opulent palaces in foreign lands. We can clearly see that being true today in America, with all the antisemitism.

Reform and Conservative Judaism are on a rapid death march to assimilation and secularization as shown in the latest Pew study. Unfortunately, Reform and Conservation Jewish leadership do not see any accommodation to their beliefs in Israel and so do not encourage aliyah — but instead, at times, seem to be taking a position against Israel.

On the other hand, the Orthodox leadership seem to think that Lakewood, Monsey, the Five Towns and Teaneck are the new Jerusalem. They appear to believe that they are not affected by assimilation or secularization. While the recent Pew study has indicated that two percent of the Orthodox are intermarrying, a much larger percentage are becoming secular. While their numbers are nowhere near the assimilation and secularization seen with Reform and Conservative branches, I expect that number will increase dramatically over the next decade.

Yes, there is a trickle of families making aliyah, but this is not because of the encouragement of their shul rabbis or yeshivas. Most of those families have made aliyah because of the Zionism they have seen in their families, or during their summer experiences at camp. There are only a few rabbis who make it their business to encourage their congregants to make aliyah.

We are living in the “me” generation. It seems to me that the shuls and yeshivas are not promoting aliyah, because they are worried what will happen to their shul or school if a significant percentage left for Israel. They are taking a very short-sighted view.

While organizations like the OU, Young Israel, RCA and Agudah are extremely supportive of Toras Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael and once olim do come to Israel, they have set up a support infrastructure, but they don’t provide their rabbinic leadership with the direction and tools—on a weekly basis—that will help them motivate their communities to make aliyah. It is even sadder that our children in many yeshivas are not taught to love the State of Israel. They are making the same mistake that the Jewish leadership in Eastern Europe made, in the 1930s.

If this is their track, let’s hope and pray that the results will not be the same. But—to prevent those results—I urge the Jewish leadership to encourage the movement of Torah, Talmud and talent to a new destination, Israel, the start-up nation.


Paul and his wife, Ettie, live in Jerusalem. Paul is a retired IBM executive. He is on the Board of Directors of the New York /Israel Chamber of Commerce amd is the CEO of PDB Futurecom, helping Israeli companies connect with American investors and enterprises.

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