A Manifesto of Aliyah
The question of aliyah is often considered a question of why to come. But whether it’s to live the “kingly dream,” as Herzl put it, to sacrifice and contribute, to find a lost sense of belonging, to dedicate a life to God, or to simply discover a new way of living, each of us knows why we come. The question of aliyah, rather, is not why we should come, but why we should stay.
The secret they will not tell you at the Jewish Agency’s aliya office or even at the Ministry of Absorption is that, over time, the challenges will mount. It will not get easier. War will occur and occur again. The accumulated slights, frustrations, financial roadblocks, shocks and outrage of the years will deepen and complicate this question. You will find yourself wondering if there is any answer at all.
You will also find yourself torn. You will face the pressure to adapt to conditions, in some cases by giving up on cherished values. You will see the survival mechanisms of modern Israel at first as cynical but in the end as painfully necessary. You will catch yourself in the midst of a personal evolution–and the moment you do, you will realize that you can continue to change and be changed, making life gradually easier. But in the process you will lose the self you brought with you. Or, if you adamantly insist on yourself, you will continue to struggle.
When the early Zionists came to the Land of Israel, they came to build a country. Now that the country is built and equipped with institutions, aliyah is not about the “up-building” of the country, or even its development. The paradigm shift of aliyah, which has not been mentioned or even alluded to by official agencies is that aliyah is no longer about the building of the country but the nation.
This is a question of identity. In the flurry that was the creation of Israel, a house was built before a foundation could be laid. The Jewish identity that had been carefully constructed in the ghettos over the course of millennia had been shattered in little more than a century. The Jewish State was built with a heroism the world had not seen before, or since. But the Jewish Nation that had existed for so long was left in tatters. First a nation without a state; then a state without a nation.
Aliyah is the fundamental act of Jewish nation building. Each oleh and olah who makes that step affirms not just the crucial importance of the State of Israel, but the unity of the Jewish Nation. An American, British, Argentine or Russian Jew transcends her former national label to assume a truer identity–one rooted in an historic memory. But in doing so she also transcends Israeli identity: her act is made with full awareness that she is not “Israeli.” For reasons of culture, education, taste, and upbringing she is not Israeli–and does not want to be.
Rather, she affirms and enacts two currently separate values: the first is that she is a member of the Jewish Nation; the second is that the Jewish Nation belongs in the Land of Israel.
Every Israeli finds his or her roots in aliyah. It’s an inescapable fact: Aliyah is the basis and the founding principle of this country. What Israelis do not understand–and do not even consider–is that they too are olim. The task of the oleh and the olah is to call to attention that aliyah is the basis of Israeli identity. Olim are not less but more Israeli; they are not further but closer to the source of Israeli identity than those who have not experienced the defining, transformational process of our people in the modern era.
As such, olim carry the torch of the Zionist spirit and endeavor. For us, the project is no longer a material one. Looking at Israeli culture and society, at business, leisure, architecture, art, music, religion and medicine we see the gap between the Israeli achievement and the potential for development. We see where things are lacking, and where they’ve gone wrong. And, with enough time and experience, we can reduce each case to an expression of the Israeli persona.
Our task is change. No matter why we came here, we each affirmed the fundamental legitimacy of Jewish self-determination. No matter what our politics, no matter if it was the weather, the lifestyle, or a righteous obedience, all who “made aliya” did so by first accepting the principle that Jews have the right to determine the political and cultural contours of our own lives.
But we have gone further than our predecessors, for whom the notion of this right to self-determination was a privilege. Coming from lands where they were persecuted and permitted only to eek out an existence, they celebrated the opportunity to exercise a natural-born right.
We have been given this right by them. Because of this, we have an obligation to give it to others. For all of us who have affirmed, even if only in thought, the rightness of aliyah, let alone undertaken the process, this obligation is incumbent. For Jewish self-determination to continue to exist, we must continue to exercise it.
Today, our task is to participate in the forming of the Jewish Nation. Those of us who have come here and struggled with the sense of being a foreigner, with financial difficulties, with cultural alienation, with war and political frustration must realize that we have struggled with those problems because those are the problems that are ours to solve–and that only together can we solve them.
The solution is not about making perfect all the imperfections. It’s a question of translating the dream of aliyah into a vision. For a dream to become a vision, it must take into account the dreams of others. It has to imagine not just what is best for them, but what they want. It has to understand how the prevailing reality falls short, but also what part of that reality should be preserved as building material for the future.
For the dream of aliyah to continue, both within each of our hearts and together as a whole, it must become the vision for a nation.
We stay in Israel because each of us who has come here has within us a seed for a personal dream that can become a part of a national vision. We stay here because once we have recognized this seed we would be ashamed to let it die. But we also stay because we know this seed is necessary to feed the next generations. Without a strong and healthy nation, our children, or their children–no matter where they are, whether it’s Britain, America, Argentina or Russia–will fall victim to the same harsh forces that have pursued the Jews throughout history.
The vision of aliyah is about making your own life into a microcosm of the Israel you would see for the future. The terms of this vision might be civic–to speak and act with a sense of Jewish “mensch-hood” that has been lost. It might be physical–raising a generation of Jewish athletes. It might be ethical–to cherish and respect the land.
But in each case, the key is commitment. Beginning with the idea that each oleh is Israeli and every Israeli belongs to the process of aliyah, we see that we have ownership of this country and this nation, we are responsible for it, and we have an obligation to voice our values and bring them into the light.
In this way, each of us must see ourselves as the individual anchor of a community, and the relationships we bear with others are the relationships of overlapping communities which, together, form a nation. We stay because this is the home that it ours to build.