There have been many cases of religious Jews becoming secularized in Israel, particularly under the “educational coercion in the early years of the State” which pressured Mizrachi Jews to become more modern and secular. Generally speaking, when religious Jews leave their insular communities and are exposed to a secular way of life, they become at risk of secularization, particularly in Israel where the pressures of secularization seep in unfiltered from their Jewish brethren.
The opposite is true for secular Jews. They are not at risk of secularization in Israel, because they are already secular. If anything, their efforts to reconnect to their people and to their roots in Israel should bring them closer to Judaism, as in many cases it does. This is a welcome phenomenon that many Jewish leaders overlook.
The majority of Jews in America remain reform or secular (see here, here and here). Religious Jewish outreach has failed to reach them in an effective manner. Many of them are at risk of assimilating. Many are unaffiliated. Bringing them to Israel could be compared to rescuing lost Jews.
Orthodox Jews who regard Aliyah recruiters like secular army drafters, seem oblivious to the greater war that is raging all around them, one in which many Jews are falling. If only they were willing to accept that orthodox Jewish outreach has its limitations, they could view Aliyah in a much more positive light.
The dream of making all Jews orthodox, wherever they may be, so that we may be redeemed as a nation and then return to Israel, is perhaps unrealistic. Convincing secular and reform Jews to come to Israel and reconnect with their people is perhaps a more realistic pursuit.
This is the noble mission of Birthright Israel, which offers a free trip to Israel for Jewish young adults. Funded by truly wise and altruistic donors, it strives to reconnect Jews to their people and nation.
It is the noble mission of Aliyah promoters, wherever they may be, particularly those who do so on an individual and voluntary basis, because they believe in it and because they want to help their people and nation. Accusing them of willingly, or unwittingly, drafting religious Jews into secular Israeli life, is a rather harsh assessment of their efforts.
Religious Jews are perhaps more receptive to Aliyah arguments, because they tend to have a stronger Jewish identity and to care more about Israel, but it is the secular Jews who have the most to gain from them. Ultra-orthodox Jews who try to silence the encouragement, hoping to shield their congregants from it, are in fact doing their secular brothers a great disservice.
We Jews are renown for how far we will go to save another Jew, historically paying outrageous ransoms to rescue kidnapped brothers, and more recently making outrageous concessions for the return of our abducted soldiers. Why, then, are we not doing more to rescue lost Jews and bring them to Israel?
Secular and reform Jews are rapidly assimilating in America and in other seemingly tranquil lands. They are being smothered with love by the righteous gentiles who have mostly good intentions. They are being won over by gentiles who welcome Jews into their lands, into their homes, and into their families, in marriage, and who attract them more powerfully than the strict rabbis or the insular Jewish communities.
These Jews need to be brought back into the nation with love, and with all forms of encouragement, even by any legal means possible. Like a daughter who has clung to a foreign man, who was moved by his kind words and lavish gifts, but who now finds herself entrapped in a distant village: We, as her immediate family, need to do everything possible to bring her back, to make sure she is not lost to us and our nation.
Jewish outreach is clearly not enough. We need to preach Aliyah with all our might.
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: email@example.com