June 24, 2024
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Steven Starr’s article “Now Is Not the Time to Say, ‘Now Is the Time to Move to Israel’” (May 23, 2024) offers some noteworthy concerns about Jewish advocacy within the U.S. While I have what to say regarding several of his arguments, I have specifically chosen not to engage in a point-by-point debate. Instead, I would prefer to focus on a different, seemingly neglected, question: If not now, then when?

Starr argues that now is not the time for the American Jewish community to focus on the promotion of aliyah. Rather, American Jews should focus their efforts on advocacy within the U.S. to ensure continued support for Israel and to combat rising antisemitism. While this is indeed a valid suggestion, it begs the question of whether there ever was, or will be, a “right” time to encourage American Jews to make aliyah. Historically, there have been various waves of immigration to Israel prompted by different circumstances, such as the aftermath of the Holocaust and the collapse of the Soviet Union. These were times when the urgency and need were undeniably clear. Are we to believe that such dire conditions are the only catalysts for making aliyah?

Looking forward, do we foresee a future scenario that would make aliyah more favorable or necessary? If so, what would that look like? Would it be based on geopolitical shifts, economic factors or an (even greater) rise in antisemitic incidents? If so, what thresholds would need to be met to deem it the “right” time? In other words, what specific conditions would need to be present for one to say, unequivocally, that now is indeed the time for American Jews to move to Israel?

If the answer is that there has never been a right time in the past nor will there be one in the foreseeable future, then it seems we are left with the conclusion that aliyah is never appropriate. This stance raises further questions. Is the ideal of aliyah, then, a concept perpetually deferred, relevant only in theory but not in practice?

Additionally, Starr’s argument appears to rely on the assumption that American Jews can continue to effectively combat antisemitism and advocate for Israel indefinitely. This assumption is optimistic but may not align with the lived realities of many Jews experiencing increasing hostility and feeling marginalized in their own country. For some, the desire to move to Israel is not merely an escape but a proactive choice to live in a society where Jewish identity is the norm rather than the exception.

Moreover, while advocacy within the U.S. is crucial, it does not preclude the possibility of making aliyah. Many individuals and families balance both commitments, contributing to their communities in the Diaspora while also establishing roots in Israel. This dual commitment strengthens the global Jewish community and provides a more nuanced approach than the binary choice he suggests between staying and fighting antisemitism or moving to Israel.

Finally, while I respect Starr’s call for continued advocacy and engagement within the U.S., I find it disappointing that his argument does not address the theological perspective on aliyah nor consider the relevance of the words of the Prophets. I respect that this was not the intended focus of his article, as he aimed to lead a very pragmatic conversation about the current realities facing American Jews. However, I believe that this omission is, in and of itself, a matter worth noting. As we know, God’s stated plan is for the ultimate return of the Jewish People to the land of Israel, a theme that reverberates throughout Tanach. As stated in Yirmiyahu 30:10: “‘But as for you, do not be afraid, my servant Jacob; do not be dismayed, Israel,’ declares Hashem. ‘I will surely save you from a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security, and no one will make him afraid.’”

This theological viewpoint is crucial because it frames aliyah not merely as a reaction to external pressures but as a fulfillment of divine will and historical destiny. Ignoring this dimension of the discussion seems particularly shortsighted at a time when Jewish history and identity are under significant stress. While we cannot predict exactly how and when theological prophecies will unfold, dismissing aliyah as a viable option without considering its religious and historical significance is a missed opportunity. It suggests a permanent deferral of aliyah, which contradicts the intrinsic part of Jewish identity and survival tied to the land of Israel. Engaging in this conversation without incorporating the theological perspective risks doubling down on the position of remaining in the Diaspora indefinitely.

In this context, it may be helpful to consider the thoughts of Rav Yissachar Shlomo Teichtal, HY”D. In his monumental work, “Eim Habanim Semeicha,” written from within the fires of the Holocaust, he reflects a profound understanding of the necessity for Jews to return to their ancestral land, not just in times of crisis but as a proactive fulfillment of their destiny. He repeatedly emphasizes that the “right” time for aliyah is not merely a matter of external pressures but an intrinsic part of Jewish identity and survival. Indeed, for many Jews today, their connection to Israel is deeply personal and transcends political or economic considerations. It reflects a historical perspective and religious aspiration, a sense of belonging to a place that is intrinsically tied to their identity. To dismiss this as simply a reaction to external pressures is to overlook a fundamental aspect of Jewish life and thought.

In conclusion, while I respect Starr’s call for continued advocacy and engagement within the U.S., I question the premise that there is a definitive wrong time to encourage aliyah. Without clear criteria for when the time might be right, the argument against aliyah risks becoming a permanent dismissal rather than a temporary caution. For thousands of years, the Jewish people have survived and, at times, thrived by balancing resilience in the Diaspora with a deep connection to Israel. So, rather than declaring that “now is not the time to say, ‘Now is the time to move to Israel,’” perhaps we should ask the question: If not now, then when?


Rabbi Larry Rothwachs serves as senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Aaron in Teaneck, and is the founding rabbi of Meromei Shemesh (www.meromeishemesh.org), a new community, currently under construction, in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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