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Is Aliyah Zionism?

By David Lev
5/11/2014, 11:05 AM

Aliyah defined as a raised awareness

One of the deepest questions I’ve ever had to face relates to the connection between Aliyah and Zionism.

Aliyah Magazine has recently decided to broaden its appeal in the task of reaching out to more Jews, particularly those who might feel intimidated about Aliyah meaning an almost immediate mission of leaving behind a life they have got used to. Accordingly, a more gentler approach is required in order to awaken an audience trapped by an historic injustice into thinking the Diaspora is their true home. After years of careful introspection, I have begun to feel comfortable with defining the ‘term’ of Aliyah as a ‘raised awareness’. Step by step, raising one's awareness can guide one's footsteps to a more purposeful destination.

In the Hebrew language Aliyah can be both a verb and a noun, it is a verb in the sense of meaning an act of ‘going up’ and a noun in terms of defining that movement as an accomplished act. Hence a Jew that moves to Israel is defined as someone who has made Aliyah. But does that adequately limit the meaning of Aliyah to that singular act, moving to Israel? 

Zionism on the other hand relates specifically to a Jew orienting oneself to their holy land, the Jewish Homeland in Israel. While Zionism or specifically a Zionist would suggest someone who makes the actual move towards living in Israel, reality proves only too well that this is far from the case. Consider how many Zionist leaders remain comfortably living in the Diaspora, and one can easily gain an impression that this term can be used almost as an excuse to allow oneself the better of two worlds. While one advocates the return of Jews from the exile to move to Israel, in reality little is being done to make that move by oneself.  This is not meant to be a criticism of that individual, who often represents the interests of others who are involved in moving to Israel.

However, the key issue here is that Zionism is limited to the act, or the ideal (as demonstrated) of Jews moving to Israel. While on the other hand, Aliyah represents a far broader series of actions. Indeed any action that involves an individual going from a lower plane to a higher one, can adequately describe this action, which broadly means going up.

Yet, it is this almost mysterious connection with a Jew moving to Israel that has truly gained an almost exclusive domain for suggesting that Aliyah is only about that one act alone. Most religious Jews define Aliyah as a calling to the Torah during a prayer service. Within this latter context it is easier to understand my definition of Aliyah in terms of a ‘raised awareness’ in the sense of connecting with a higher entity, and being infused with holiness in the process. Conversely, it still remains a verb that can also describe a more basic act of going up, as in an elevator, perhaps on the way to an upper floor in a shopping mall to see a questionable movie. Therefore, what is the significance in attributing this word to such a meaningful act as changing one’s whole orientation by leaving the Diaspora to move to Israel, or being called to the holiest part of a Jewish prayer during the reading of the Bible? I answer this riddle by suggesting it is a matter of common perception, and that perhaps it is time to make a paradigm shift, by equating every act of going upwards as essentially having a special purpose in life. In other words, we can arrive at a different interpretation. One could strive to become more aware of our actions as we travel through life, in order to make our journey a constant Aliyah in the more holy sense of this term. Accordingly, one can then fully reconcile the act of a Jew moving to Israel in the same scope as being called closer to the Bible, which demands such an undertaking from each Jew, to settle the Holy Land.

In summary, while Zionism is about moving to Israel, there is nothing to suggest that a Jew needs to continue an upward path following arrival there. Accordingly. many can argue righteously that Zionism in itself does not equate to a higher spiritual purpose. Yet herein lies a paradox, according to many Torah scholars, the air in Israel makes one wise. So therefore a Jew being in Israel would conform with the act of a raised awareness, albeit through Zionism or through Aliyah. However, Aliyah as a verb is specifically associated with an act of going up. It only requires a conscious effort on behalf of the oleh (one doing that act) to truly be aware of raising one's awareness in the process.             

On a broader plain, Aliyah thereby represents a continuous journey through life in a series of elevating motions, which includes the act of a Jew moving to Israel. As a verb, Aliyah is not an exclusive act for Jews alone. In defining Aliyah as a ‘raised awareness’ one hopes to instill a greater sense of purpose behind everyone’s movement towards making our world a  better place to live in. This should include everyone finding their proper place, and for a Jew that destination should be beyond any question.            .