With the High Holidays just passed, it seems as if the time has arrived to do an honest cheshbon nefesh concerning the inevitable “A” word: Aliyah.
In a recent report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released earlier this year before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, about two-thirds of American Jews say they feel less safe than at any other time in the past decade. The ADL survey also found that more than half of American Jews (54%) have either experienced or witnessed an incident they believe was motivated by antisemitism. Wherever you look, broadcasters, sports celebrities, local politicians associated with the Democratic Party, social media activists, Black Lives Matter leaders and street anarchists are all expressing, with zero remorse, a common and seemingly coordinated message of hatred towards Jews — that Jews are somehow responsible for the corona pandemic and that Jews are financially behind much of the anti-government violence sweeping the streets of America.
The time-tested and natural response by most Jews, albeit unconsciously, has been to modify one’s daily routine and avoid public displays of Judaism so as to minimize the risk of being targeted. This pretty much sums up the reaction of most American Jews, even if they continue to deny and refuse to admit it. The natural inclination to move on as if nothing has changed seems to no longer be relevant or effective in dealing with the widespread anti-Semitism that has mushroomed everywhere.
An even more worrisome and related development has to do with the uptick of historical and factual ignorance of the Holocaust and Holocaust denial in general. In a survey of 1,000 American respondents across all of America taken by the Claims Conference, which coordinates restitution and reparations payments for Holocaust survivors and sponsors Holocaust education programs, more than one in ten American adults under 40 believe that Jews caused the Holocaust. Out of 1,000 Americans participating in the survey, 11% of the respondents believed the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust, 15% said they thought the Holocaust was a myth or has been exaggerated, and 20% said people talk about it too much. Nearly half said they had seen Holocaust denial online, with 10% reporting that they had seen it often. Holocaust knowledge was particularly low in New York, despite the state having the largest population of Jews in the country. A total of 56% reported seeing Nazi symbols on social media, in their communities, or both. Most respondents in New York could not name a single Nazi camp or ghetto, and 28% said they believed the Holocaust was a myth or has been exaggerated. Nearly 60% said they believed something like the Holocaust could happen today.
If we keep in mind that for years schools have been teaching a curriculum that includes World War II and specifics about the Holocaust, and that the Holocaust is part of popular culture — movies, plays, YouTube, etc. — then the only possible conclusion is that the ignorance is deliberate and premeditated. This is a frightening and irrefutable conclusion.
For over a century, American Jews have felt secure and content in the United States, enjoying a renaissance of Jewish renewal and personal fulfillment unseen in the modern era. However, very few of those American Jews actually envisaged a scenario where they would need to leave the United States and seek safety in Israel in their lifetime. For good reason, they felt very safe and comfortable as Jews living in America. This longstanding sense of America being a safe haven for Jews has not only come under attack, but is creating an unsustainable denial that is surfacing on a daily level. The coronavirus pandemic has only escalated the ambivalence and diminishing confidence of Jewish communal life in America. The majority of American Jews live in metropolitan areas that have been badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing street violence that seems to be getting closer and closer to home as the weeks and months progress.
Historically, American Jews have held ghost apartments in Israel for years, just in case. Many have Israeli bank accounts to back up their finances in Israel and maybe keep an active nest egg for a rainy day, just in case. However, even those American Jews who have a foothold in Israel, or even a “toehold,” never really envisioned a reality where they would actually need to seriously contemplate the move, leave the United States, and make Israel their permanent and full-time home as opposed to a home away from home. Wealth risk management strategy of the past has been superseded by today’s strategy of better safe than sorry.
In recent months, the head of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, has been predicting a massive wave of aliyah in the coming years. According to the Jewish Agency predications, Israel can expect upwards of 100,000 Jews moving to Israel in the next two years and an additional quarter-of-a-million Jews within three to five years. According to Herzog, the catastrophic effect that the coronavirus pandemic has had on Jewish communal services and Jewish organizations has led to severe cutbacks and reduction in assistance to American Jews in all spheres of Jewish communal life — education, security, and assistance programs to all age groups. At the same time, many American Jews see Israel today as a stable country with a superior health system totally accessible to all sectors of the population, a highly developed school system that is relatively inexpensive for all Israelis, and a political leadership that is advancing Israel’s strategic standing among Sunni Arab nations in the Middle East.
According to Herzog, we are experiencing a period of changing perceptions among Jews throughout the world that reflects the reality that Israel is emerging as the true center of Jewish life in the world. As demand increases to make aliyah, the supply side will become more and more crowded, creating a bottleneck that can make the process of aliyah for many a non-starter. For those of you who sense that it’s now or never, now is the time to make the first move and seriously consider the “A” word. Come while you can.
Ron Jager grew up in the South Bronx of New York, making aliyah in 1980. Ron is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma and psychological education programs to communities in the North and South of Israel. Ron served as a strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.