The next six million - voluntary disappearance?

The time has come for lateral thinking to gear whole systems to accommodating western aliyah.  Unless the crucial issues in this article are addressed large numbers of Western Jews will not come in the foreseeable future and we will lose them.

Leonie Ben-Simon, | updated: 07:03

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Lehavdil.  I refer to the living six million Jews today who live outside the Land of Israel who are at risk of disappearing - voluntarily.  

What is the future for this part of the Jewish nation?  Will we allow ourselves to be picked off one by one? Will assimilation make most of this six million disappear?  Will Western Jewry make Aliyah?

The question is the responsibility of each and every Jew, not only for himself and his family, but we must remember that kol Yisrael areivim ze leze - it is also the responsibility of Israel and the Israelis who must stand aside despite having worked hard all their lives to move from tent cities, desert outposts and the periphery to the apartments that they now live in.  

It is a choice – abandon Western Jewry to their own choices or help by giving them a leg up to make aliya without expecting them to suffer as past generations did.

I was at a conference in Israel before Russia opened its gates.  The representatives of the Jewish Agency told us to wipe Russian Jewry off the map – that it was only a generation away from disappearing entirely.  Not long after that over a million Jews made aliyah. Unexpected? Not really. Miracles are quite the norm for our people.

We are at the same point now with the Jews of the West.  The test case has been French Jewry. Tiny numbers are making aliyah. Theoretically Israel welcomes every Jew.  In practice French Jews have found it very difficult to decide to make the transition because they simply want to be able to access affordable housing and support their families. Despite terror in France, despite their origins being in traditional Judaism one generation ago in North Africa as their parents and grandparents were refugees, despite the influx of Moslem refugees into Europe, the Jews of France are hardly turning towards Jerusalem.   Canada is their preferred destination for many: a place where language is not a barrier, where wages are high and where they can easily work in their own professions.

Western aliyah is in a different situation to other waves of olim.  There is nobody forcing Jews to leave even with after the Pittsburgh murders. American Jews know that terror happens in Israel too.  In the past when Jews were forced to leave their countries of birth with nothing but the clothes on their backs they usually went to Israel.  This was the story in 1948, in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Israel provided tents for those refugees, then huts, then apartments. With each wave of Aliyah conditions improved with the Russian olim getting better housing than those before them. The hospitals were no longer completely overwhelmed, services became normal and there was order and opportunity. The roads were upgraded and tertiary education became a given for a large percentage of today’s generation.

The truth is being given to prospective olim from the West. They are told that the wages in Israel are lower than what they are used to, both husband and wife must work to make ends meet and that their professional qualifications are not automatically accepted. Those who are not fluent in Hebrew will have a long learning curve, as well as having to spend time upgrading their qualifications to be able to work in their occupations. They are also advised that coming to Israel with small children is fine, but teenage children find it very hard to acclimatise.  

Once a family decides to make aliyah their intentions are not to fail but many do return to their birth country or move back to their countries of origin discouraging other prospective olim. Is there any way that Israel can offer millions of prospective olim who are middle-class, educated but do not want to start at the bottom of the heap?

The Jews from Arab countries were sent to development towns in the periphery and not accorded respect when placed in menial jobs despite many being educated. The Jews from the Soviet Union took any jobs, menial or not even if they had university degrees.  Today’s Jews from the West are living comfortably and prefer to live their lives that way. They are divided into two sectors – those who are wealthy, usually well educated, own their own homes and earn high wages. They have a high standard of living where large houses and cars are a given.  The only way that they will move willingly is if they are able to work at reasonable wages and live a life that is satisfying. As opposed to previous aliyot they will not sweep streets, agree to go to some desert town, work stacking shelves in a supermarket or line up at a bus stop to get to work.  They are used to their four-bedroom villas with two cars and healthy pay-checks.

The standard joke is that the best way to make a small fortune in Israel is to come with a large one (and lose most of it.) Many of their children have attended Jewish schools, would fit in well in Israel having lived a Jewish lifestyle, read, write and speak Hebrew. But when they leave school for college or work this is the time that they assimilate.

There are many poor Westerners.   It is a fallacy that all Jews in the diaspora are wealthy as so often represented by their leaders.   This group has plenty of single parents, battlers and those who fell between the cracks whilst their neighbours made money over the years.  It is this sector which does not have the ability to send their children to Jewish schools, and it is this sector that has their greatest rate of assimilation amongst the next generation.   These people cannot afford to come to Israel – even with rent assistance they do not have the funds to purchase housing and are too ashamed to be dependent upon the public purse or social agencies.  

There are many ex-Israelis in this group who lived with their parents during the very difficult times in Israel and who prefer to stay where they are rather than make Aliyah. Then there are many elderly who barely manage, often assisted by social welfare in their own countries.      

Israel has chosen to be responsible for the younger Jews in the diaspora with supporters funding Birthright, with universities drawing in the best of the youth from the West, with yeshivot channelling young people to learn in Israel and love the country.  The bulk of their families remain in the Diaspora committed to their lifestyles, their mortgages and their parents, whilst assimilation continues to take its toll and the big picture is not being addressed.

There is huge issue that the Israeli government has not come to terms with if it wishes to draw in mass aliyah today. Jews from the west have special needs and are staying put until these needs are recognised.   Diaspora Jews will no longer be Jewish in another generation or two as their children assimilate so the opportunity to change the demographic balance in Israel with these potential olim will disappear. The rate of assimilation in these countries has already crept to over fifty percent, often as high as seventy per cent.  

The first drawcard that Israel needs to publicize is that education in Israel does not cost a family with children a whole wage or more but is almost free.

The second issue is housing, and that is tied to the whole economy.  It is unreasonable to hand out housing to new immigrants whilst young couples in Israel cannot afford to purchase housing. What is needed is a revamp of the economy so that the gas and hi-tech sectors are shared to enable a higher standard of living and sufficient housing for all.  In the past century housing was constructed all over the country as olim were arriving, with nobody sleeping on the street.

The days of living in refugee tents or huts are over. Today the only westerners who will come are a few of the wealthy ones, yeshiva students and a small number of young enthusiastic idealists. All the publicity about a small number of olim from the United States is meaningless when there are only hundreds coming every year.

 All people want is to live decently. To move to a different country to end up homeless and unable to work is not on their agenda. At present housing supply is not even meeting demand. Once there is sufficient housing prices will drop making it easier for financed western olim to be self-sufficient which itself will generate additional Aliyah. A social housing component should be part of that package to give olim a leg up as they settle in Israel. The argument that previous olim have suffered does not mean that new olim should suffer – they simply will not come and will be lost.

Thirdly the qualification track must be changed.  Professionals must to be allowed to work in their occupations – the days of being sent to Dimona to work in the phosphate industry as happened last century is not an option any more for almost every potential oleh.  Qualified engineers will not change countries to work in a supermarket as the Russian olim did – they will prefer to move to where their qualifications are recognised immediately.

There must be a pathway for English-speaking professionals to work in their profession with English-speakers and for the French to work within their communities to support their families. Funding should be made available for olim to transfer their qualifications into Israeli ones within two or three years.  Asking professionals to work in menial jobs simply means excluding future olim.

Israel has done world-class wonders using the ulpan system, the educational track and integration of olim through army service. The time has come for lateral thinking to gear whole systems to accommodating western aliyah.  

Unless these issues are addressed the rest of the Jews will not come in the foreseeable future.

Granted, building for another million or two costs money.   But the question of funding has never stopped Israel from accepting olim.  Western aliyah will not happen as quickly as the other waves of olim. To cater for this the government of Israel must be put on notice that unless the issues of housing and qualifications are handled now there will either be fewer and fewer Jews in the world due to assimilation or there will be a flood of olim when disasters happen who are forced to come without the facilities to absorb them. At present Canada and the United states are the beneficiaries of their talent, not Israel.

Over the past few years we have seen miracles. The gas discoveries will improve the standard of living.  Hi-tech advances with exports to some of the biggest countries in the world are replacing trade to Europe.  Trade agreements with Arab countries are now a reality with the prospect of Israel being a Middle-Eastern economic hub. Religious Jews with their high birth-rate are changing the demographic situation.  Russian olim have brought expertise to hi-tech and industry, leapfrogging barriers to assimilate with their significant contributions.

Every single wave of olim strengthens Israel’s numbers, but not only numbers..

We are staring at a numbers game in the face. Israel needs people and must plan.  The great aliyot of the past can be eclipsed by western aliyah.

Does Israel have the willpower to make this possible – or will another six million of us disappear?


 




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