‘Next Year In Jerusalem’ Doesn’t Have To Be A Meaningless Cliché (JEWISH PRESS OP-ED) By: Yishai Fleisher 03/28/12)
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Often, upon returning home to Israel after a speaking tour in North
America, I am asked by Israeli friends, “Nu, did you get people to
I explain that I prefer not to talk too much about aliyah while
abroad. I try to get Jews to renew their love for the homeland,
connect with life in Israel. I find the issue of aliyah often
distances my audience. Though I am a firm believer in the ingathering
of the exiles, when I speak to Jews around the world I am trying to
bridge worlds, not drive them apart.
Indeed, the biggest schism among Jews today is the great Atlantic
Divide. Six million Jews live in North America and six million live
in Israel. Israeli Jews and North American Jews live worlds apart and
grow up with a completely different set of circumstances and
experiences. One group goes to liberal arts colleges, the other the
army; one speaks English, the other Hebrew; they read different books
and watch different programs on TV.
It was not always like that. Early on in Israel’s history, American
Jews saw Israelis as brothers and establishing, defending and
building the Jewish state as a common project. By 2012, however,
American Jews have grown to see Israelis as slightly annoying distant
relatives with bad manners and strange political choices.
This is why my Israeli friends ask whether I made any aliyah
converts: deep down, Israelis are worried about their North American
Jewish brothers and sisters. They are afraid to lose them to
assimilation, and they are also afraid of growing apart. No doubt,
North American Jews are also concerned about it and have taken real
steps to bridge the divide with one-year Israeli yeshivas, gap year
studies, internship programs, and, of course, the Birthright-Taglit
program, an amazing project that has bridged the Atlantic Divide for
tens of thousands of young Jews.
Still, it’s not enough. Eighty percent of North American Jews have
never been to Israel, and most Israelis have no connection to
American Jewish life. To feel again as one family, our people need
one vision to rally around, a star to guide us, so that we can
navigate our lives toward one goal that will eventually bring us
together. What is this vision?
The vision of a rebuilt Jerusalem is one our people have shared ever
since we were dispossessed of our land 2,000 years ago. From Addis
Ababa to Los Angeles, from Kabul to Vienna, our people have always
proclaimed “Next Year in a Rebuilt Jerusalem!” No matter where we are
on the globe, we have one homeland and one capital to which our heart
To foster that vision, and to make it current and applicable in our
lives, we need to get behind the idea of mass aliyah.
But wait – didn’t I you just tell you I don’t preach aliyah because
Let me explain: There is the grand ideal of “making aliyah,” moving
to Israel. But the word “aliyah” in modern Hebrew also means “the
process of going up.” If we define aliyah as a process of going up,
there are many steps in the staircase before you get to the landing.
And that is exactly what we have to do – take steps toward our united
goal, with each step being a mini-aliyah.
Those steps can be big or small, but they are steps nonetheless.
Deciding to drink only Israeli wine on Shabbat is a type of aliyah.
Putting up a poster of Jerusalem in your house is a type of aliyah.
Sending your kids to Israel on Birthright or to a yeshiva or for gap
year is certainly a step in the right direction. Buying real estate
in Israel is definitely an aliyah. Under this rubric, “mass aliyah”
means that we, as a nation, take steps toward Jewish unity by
recognizing the centrality of Israel in our national life any way we
And here’s a very important aliyah: If you have the budget to go away
for Passover, you certainly have many wonderful alternatives to
choose from around the world, from Italy to Mexico to Arizona to
Florida – great places, no doubt. However, Passover is also an
opportunity make a mini-aliyah and come to the international Passover
hub – Jerusalem.
The term aliyah is also applied to the act of going up to Jerusalem
three times a year during the Festivals, so coming to Israel on
Passover is definitely an aliyah. Isn’t Passover supposed to be about
educating our children? What could be more enriching for a young Jew
than coming to Jerusalem for Passover?
Nothing shows our values as a nation more than the way we celebrate
the Holiday of Freedom. When we choose Jerusalem over other
destinations, we strengthen the bond of brotherhood among the Jewish
nation, our core values shine through, and our children imbibe it.
The world, too, notices when we put Jerusalem ahead of other
destinations and it strengthens our nation’s claim to the land.
So while it may be too late for this year, think of making good on
what you’ll soon be declaring at your Seders: “Next year in
Jerusalem.” (© 2012 JewishPress. 03/28/12)
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