The Physics of Aliyah

In Aliyah as in physics, the greater the mass, the greater the force required to move - and the greater the force required to stop. Op-ed.

Yshai Amichai ,

Yshai Amichai
Yshai Amichai

There are certain laws of physics which, in my opinion, serve as fitting analogies for the purpose of Aliyah. One such law has to do with inertia and objects at rest. The greater the mass, the greater the force required to move them but also the greater the force required to stop them.

Newton’s First Law of Motion

Objects, at least on earth, prefer to remain at rest. Their natural tendency, particularly with gravity acting upon them, is to resist change. But once they are in motion, they should be expected to remain in motion, unless another force is applied to them. This is called inertia.

The Jews of America, particularly in their major population centers, can be compared to objects of significant mass. It will take a lot of force or effort to move them, as they prefer to remain at rest. However, once enough pressure is applied to them, such that there is a significant movement of Jews to Israel, unless the brakes are applied or another force diverts their course, you can expect that the bulk of American Jews will make Aliyah.

Newton’s Third Law of Motion

Another law of physics to consider is Newton’s third law: Whenever an object exerts a force on a second object, the second object exerts an equal and opposite force on the first. This is known as action/reaction: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

For example, a rock is flung through the air and hits a window. Depending on the amount of force applied, either the glass will shatter allowing the rock to continue in its path through it, or the rock will hit the glass and bounce back (possibly shattering the glass as well).

Say that a Jew is moved by God or any earthly force to make Aliyah, once he lands in Israel, despite any cushions set up to absorb his fall (or better yet, rise), you can expect that he will experience some form of backlash upon arrival. Depending on the initial force applied in his trajectory to Israel, he will either absorb the backlash and continue forward to settle permanently in Israel, or he will experience whiplash and bounce back into exile.

This “whiplash” is obviously a matter of grave concern. Enough force or inspiration needs to be applied initially, or enough cushioning needs to be setup to absorb the impact upon arrival in Israel, to make certain that our dear oleh will be strong enough in his course to overcome the opposite reaction that should inevitably confront him in Israel.

The Object of Greater Mass

In classical mechanics, as described by Newton’s law of universal gravitation, all particles (or objects) attract each other, by a force proportional to their mass. On earth, for example, the mass of humans is so small in comparison to the mass of our planet, that we experience an overwhelming net force of gravity pulling us down to the ground (or towards the earth’s highly dense core).

Planet earth is of a much greater mass than its moon and therefore it attracts the moon towards it, trapping it in orbit around our planet. The moon’s gravitational pull, though relatively weak, is also made evident by the rising and falling tides of the seas. It takes a great force to lift huge bodies of water up sufficiently for the tide to rise, and that is the attractive of power of objects of great mass.

The Jewish population centers of America and Israel can be compared to objects of great mass in the Jewish world. Both have about seven million Jews each, such that they possess a relatively equal pull from a classical mechanics perspective.

You can say that the Jews of America and the Jews of Israel orbit each other, and that there is a relatively equal pull between them, attracting Jews in either direction. Israeli emigration to America and Israeli return to Israel is coupled with American Aliyah to Israel and American yeridah (emigration), such that there is a circular migration between these two major Jewish population centers, comparable to a binary system, where two stars orbit each other.

In the past, the net pull of Jews to America was high. Jews fleeing persecution from other locations around the world would naturally come to Israel, because it opened its borders to them, but the greater pull of America later attracted them to its borders, even if that meant staying in America illegally.

This trend has shifted in recent years due to multiple factors, most notably the success and the size of the Jewish population in Israel, which has reached a relative parity with that of America. The higher birth rate of Jews in Israel and the high rate of Jewish assimilation in America, magnified by the greater potential of Israel to attract more Old-World Jews, all point to a growing Jewish population in Israel and a shrinking, or at best static, Jewish population in America.

The Hope

Size does matter in our current analogy, very likely as well in reality. A greater Jewish population in Israel could shift the balance in our current binary system, causing the American Jewish diaspora to orbit around Israel. Such an existential shift from the center of gravity to an orbiting satellite, could be demoralizing for the Jews of America, but that is the direction in which we are headed.

There are however pitfalls for Israel to overcome along the way before it can become the center of gravity in the Jewish world. One such pitfall is the ability to continue to grow at the current rate. If the government of Israel does not find an adequate solution to its current housing crisis, offering affordable housing for an ever-growing Jewish population, its growth could be stunted by a lack of space.

Given that proper solutions are found, when Israel does become the object of greater mass in the Jewish world, it will inevitably attract more Jews to it, including from America. Seeing as the space between these two large objects is relatively small, made even smaller by the availability of air travel and modern communications, Israel’s growing pull should rightly attract the bulk of American Jews to it.

That is the hope at least but also the objective. The Jewish diaspora, including in America, is a temporary solution at best. Our goal as Jews has never been to remain in exile. Our return to Israel has been prophesied long before our exile and it has preoccupied our minds ever since.

Let us hope that the attraction of Israel should reach you and find you well. May God give you the strength to carry you to Israel, past any obstacles along the way, and with the force to resist the counter current that would threaten to carry you away.

May the Jews of Israel be gracious and welcoming to you, cushioning your landing most lovingly, and helping you rejoin the family. May you make Israel your home permanently, planting deep roots here, blossoming fruit and multiplying. That is the hope for Israel, leading towards the redemption of our people and our return to God as a nation.

Yshai Amichai made Aliyah from Los Angeles in 2001, settling in Israel, where he met his wife and where they raise their six children. He may be contacted at: