Michael Freund ripped into the North American Jewish community in Friday’s Jerusalem Post, in response to the release of the latest aliya figures:
According to the CBS, in 2012, just 16,557 people from around the world made aliya, which is slightly more than one-tenth of one percent of world Jewry.
At that rate, it would take nearly 1,000 years for the entire Jewish people to return to the Land of Israel. This lack of enthusiasm hardly bodes well for our nation’s ageold hope “to be a free people in our own land,” as the national anthem puts it.
And so Freund casts about for somebody to blame. Is it the Israelis? Nope:
It would be easy to try and pin the blame for this sorry state of affairs on groups such as Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Jewish Agency or even the Israeli government.
But such censure would largely be misplaced.
So is it the Americans? Bingo:
Those who bear direct responsibility for the lack of Western aliya are first and foremost Western Jews themselves, and especially their leadership and organizations, which make little to no effort to encourage emigration to the Jewish state.
Take, for example, the Orthodox Union.
Surely, a venerable organization such as this, I told myself, one that is committed to Torah values and Judaism, would highlight the mitzva of settling the Land of Israel and give it pride of place on its website.
But when I went to its homepage, I could find no mention of aliya. Instead, I was greeted by a “Kashrus Alert: Tootsie Roll Large Pops” (in case you are wondering, some bags were printed without indicating that the product is dairy).
OK, first of all, this sounds like the kind of investigatory journalism I did back in high school… and the DP… and on this blog. It’s a good formula for churning out content and churning up outrage. It’s not really journalism. And it is what I’m about to do for the rest of this post.
Second of all, how dare Freund accuse the OU of not doing enough to promote aliya? The OU certainly does not disseminate mixed messages on this important issue. Take, for example, this article from Jewish Action (“The Magazine of the Orthodox Union”) I’ve been sitting on — waiting for an occasion such as this – more or less since it was published in May 2011 [butchered for length; check out the actual article if you want to read more]:
The Out-of-Town Advantage
by Rabbi Steven Weil | May 26, 2011 in From The Desk of Rabbi Steven Weil, Executive Vice President
At the recent Orthodox Union dinner, we hosted a phenomenally successful Emerging Jewish Communities Fair, where representatives of thirty-nine communities from across North America showcased the places they call home. These communities, boasting of shuls, day schools, kosher eateries, as well as job opportunities and numerous other amenities that facilitate an Orthodox lifestyle, are wonderful alternatives for families looking for a comfortable place to settle. The majority of cities represented were from outside the Tri-State area, aka “out-of-town” communities.
There are two primary advantages to living in an out-of-town community. The first is economic… The second advantage to living in an out-of-town community is religious. While it is true that in terms of population and availability of services, the religious advantage is in New York, I believe there is a different kind of religious benefit one gets from living out-of-town.
To me, the unsung heroes are the thousands of Orthodox families living out-of-town, working tirelessly to build Jewish infrastructure with limited resources and serving on the frontlines, sacrificing the safety in numbers for a Judaism that they personally uphold, defend and most importantly, share with others. May they continue to lead and inspire us all.
Wait a minute? Didn’t I introduce this article as an example of the OU’s commitment to promoting aliya to Israel — and not to other parts of the United States?
Have no fear! Appearing at the bottom of the page, its asterisk linked to nothing in particular, appeared the following message:
*This article is intended for couples and families for whom aliyah is not currently an option.
(I will especially note: singles are not welcome.)
[Update, 3/11 for additional edification: I just learned the author of the Jewish Action piece will be speaking at Penn Hillel tomorrow. I mention this because that piece of information was accompanied by a brief bio, which I thought relevant enough to update this post: “Rabbi Steven Weil is Executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union. He has served internationally as scholar in residence on land and on sea, and is a passionate advocate for Israel and for Jewish education. Rabbi Weil resides in New Jersey with his wife and seven children.”]