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GOODBYE COLUMBUS

By Tzvi Fishman
4/10/2007, 12:00 AM

Friends in the Land of Israel,
Aliyah is not easy. It is the most difficult and challenging mitzvah – the true test of a Jew’s faith in G-d.

On this Isru Chag, we have an intimate day together to praise G-d for His great kindness, "Malchut sh’b’Chesed," in bringing us to the Land of our Forefathers to live as free Jews, Children of Israel, while our brothers and sisters in the dungeon of galut are still crunching their teeth on matzot and dreaming of the minute when they can get their hands on a bagel. Who can explain the miracle why the Almighty lit up the light bulbs in our heads, and made us realize that Eretz Yisrael is the one and only true place for a Jew, while He has not yet switched on the light for all of the others who are still enslaved in the darkness of exile? Perhaps it is our fault. Perhaps we are not doing enough to show them the light. Let us take some time this day, each and every one of us, to think of ways that we can reach out and find new ways of attracting our poor and unfortunate brothers to the truth and beauty of living a Jewish life in the Land of Israel.

Over twenty years ago, before coming on Aliyah, I worked in the public relations department of the Aliyah Center of the Jewish Agency in Manhattan. In those days, an average of 13,000 Jews were coming on Aliyah from North America each year. The last few years, the figure has been around 2000. The Nefesh B’Nefesh organization does wonderful work encouraging (and paying) Jews to come to live in Israel, and the media does a good job of covering the arrivals of jumbo charters filled with new olim descending with happy smiles from the airplanes. But let’s face it – 2000 out of the five million Jews in North America isn’t even a percentage point. It is a shameful disaster. Something is very wrong.

To judge the Diaspora Jews in a fair light, the centrality and exalted importance of Eretz Yisrael to the Jewish People is simply not taught in institutions of Jewish education in the Diaspora. Books on Judaism and Jewish thought are published that don’t even mention Eertz Yisrael. Jewish curriculums sometimes include a course in modern Zionism, but they give scarce mention to the fact that Eretz Yisrael is the foundation of all of the Torah, the only place that the Torah can be practiced in its complete and intended national format. So they simply don’t learn these deep, essential matters, and thus don’t understand what they are missing. Also, news reports coming out of Israel are often frightening, painting a discouraging picture of constant war and political corruption. On top of these factors is the difficulty in packing up one’s life and starting anew in a far away country, separating from family ties, job security, cultural familiarity, an established self-image, and the like. So we can understand that Aliyah is not easy. It is the most difficult and challenging mitzvah – the true test of a Jew’s faith in G-d.
So how can we help our brothers and sisters make the great leap into the unknown and join us in the Holy Land? During the holiday, I facetiously thought that if the leading rabbis in Israel make a binding rabbinical decree that the Jews in the Diaspora would have to celebrate three days of Yom Tov rather than two, this would drive everyone to come on Aliyah. How many days can a person be without television and the movies? If the three days of Yom Tov fall near Shabbat that would make four straight days of Yom Tov, enough to drive anyone crazy.

Or what if Moetzet Yesha would do something constructive, for a change, and instead of giving up pieces of the Land of Israel without a fight, start a dynamic program to bring Diaspora Jews to Yesha to see the beauty and holiness of the settlements? The Jewish Agency doesn’t do it because of American pressure. And if Moetzet Yesha is incapable of even doing that, then perhaps we need to start a grassroots movement of our own to bring Jews to Judea and Samaria, with the help of some millionaires sympathetic to the cause.

I would be happy to hear your comments and ideas. In the meantime, happy Isru Chag, and may we merit soon the complete ingathering of our exiles and a Geula Shlema!