In my opinion, the future of the Jewish People will be played out in Israel
Among the many outstanding qualities of the chareidi community of Eretz Yisrael, planning for the future does not rank near the top. The community has no professional organization comparable to Agudath Israel of America. The chareidi MKs come closest to constituting a professional group, but they have little in the way of resources at their disposal, and are too overwhelmed by the immediate demands on their time to devote much time to long-range planning. (Machon Haredi, founded by Mishpacha publisher Eli Paley, is the glaring exception to the failure to gather and analyze data about the community.)
Change, however, is inevitable, and it behooves us to study trend lines and attempt to anticipate the direction and magnitude of that change to the degree possible. One such trend is the large-scale aliyah to Eretz Yisrael of Jews from abroad that has already begun, and which, I believe, will continue to gain momentum.
The Jerusalem Post reported recently that aliyah had increased 31 percent over the preceding year, despite the obstacles created by COVID-19. A recent Shabbos guest mentioned that 32 families from one of the Bais Yaakovs in her “out of town” community made aliyah over the past summer.
And the United States will be only one source of that aliyah. Jews in Western Europe are under even more direct threat, in large part due to the large Muslim populations in their native countries. A 2018 report compiled by the European Fundamental Rights Agency found that just under 90 percent of the 16,000 Jews polled (a very large survey) felt that anti-Semitism had increased over the preceding year and 85 percent described it as a “very big or fairly big” problem. That EU study further revealed that of the most serious incidents of anti-Semitic harassment, 30 percent come from extremist Muslims, 21 percent from those on the left, and 13 percent from the right.
Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, a third generation Swedish Jew, writes in a poignant essay in the current issue of Sapir Journal that Europe’s Jews will soon be missed in Europe. “Not as citizens, but as enemies. Were Europe to become Judenrein, the continent would be without a scapegoat for its ever-growing problems.”
In America, the stereotypical anti-Semite is no longer David Duke or a member of the Aryan Nations doing paramilitary training in a forest in Idaho; he or she is an organizer of Israel Apartheid Week on campus, or a spokesperson for BLM. Proponents of intersectional theory, linking all “oppressed” groups together, have managed to omit the Jews, despite our rather impressive history as victims of murderous attacks, and to locate us firmly in the camp of the bearers of “white privilege.”
Of all the hatreds, anti-Semitism is the one that carries the least social and political cost today. The English lord who told British journalist Penelope Wyatt 20 years ago, “Thank G-d, we can once again say what we think of the Jews [due to Israel],” fully captured that attitude. In a recent survey of identified Jewish college students in America, 50 percent said that they had felt compelled at some point to hide their Jewishness on campus.
One of my children asked me recently why I write so frequently about America, given that I have lived in Israel for over 40 years. I replied that I want readers to appreciate the nature and scope of American decline — the bitter societal cleavage, and the madness that has overtaken corporate boardrooms, campus administrators, the media, and large swaths of the political class — and to realize that this cannot end well for Americans, in general, and Jews, in particular. In my opinion, the future of the Jewish People will be played out in Israel.
COVID ITSELF gave a push to aliyah. The difference between working from one’s home in suburbia and from Israel is not that great. The closing of Israel’s borders to visitors, writes Hernroth-Rothstein, gave Jews abroad “the first taste of what it’s like to live in a world where Israel is not an option.” And with that taste came an impetus to secure a place in Israel as soon as possible.
At least at the first stages, most of the aliyah will come from the Orthodox community — i.e., from those most closely identified with Israel and their fellow Jews. I would guess that the Modern Orthodox and those from outside the Tristate area will lead the way. Few chareidim aspired to Ivy League campuses for their children, and thus the degeneration of those redoubts will be of less immediate consequence for them. On the other hand, it is the most identifiable Jews who run the greatest risk of being mugged or worse on their way to shul.
But the full Orthodox spectrum will be represented (I think), and it is crucial that we do everything possible to make their aliyah a successful one. For one thing, we do not need any more disaffected unhappy teenagers roaming the streets. The larger their numbers grow, the greater the magnetic pull of the street to their peers. Secondly, failed aliyah exacts a heavy psychological cost on many of those who return to their countries of origin, and if those countries become more unstable, those returning to their native lands may be exposed to substantial physical danger.
Finally, the Israeli chareidi world and the American yeshivah world are sufficiently different from one another, based, in part, on their different historical development, that there is much room for fruitful cross-fertilization. Wealth and material goods confer far, far less status in Israel than they do abroad, and the amount of material competition and “keeping up with the Cohens” is accordingly much smaller. Torah knowledge remains the primary currency of status in the Israeli chareidi world.
At the same time, the norm of indefinite, full-time Torah learning never embedded itself to the same degree abroad as it did in Eretz Yisrael. As a consequence, the title “ben Torah” in North America is not reserved only for those involved in full-time learning. I’m always thrilled to enter a shul in the States for Maariv and find multiple pairs of chavrusas, still in their office suits, banging away at each other with all the energy of their beis medrash days. In Israel, it is all too common for those who go to work or pursue an education as a prelude to work to feel themselves no longer part of the yeshivah world, and to barely open a Gemara from one week to the next. That “either-or” mentality does much damage. (Of course, I’m speaking primarily in generalizations on all sides.)
THE SUCCESSFUL ABSORPTION of new immigrants into the Israeli Torah world has a great deal to do with the sensitivity to different cultural nuances on the part of the majority community. One of the most momentous decisions in the history of the Israeli chareidi community was that of the Chazon Ish to switch the language of instruction in Chinuch Atzmai from Yiddish to Hebrew. Failure to do so, the Chazon Ish realized, would have effectively excluded all the immigrant children from Arab lands from Chinuch Atzmai, and would have meant their almost certain loss to the Israeli Torah world.
On the other hand, I can still remember my first great Torah mentor, Rav Nachman Bulman ztz”l, who drew on every strand of mainstream Torah thought, from the Gerrer chassidus into which he was born to Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch to Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, lamenting that the German Jews did not succeed in planting Torah im derech eretz in Israel. They either joined the mainstream chareidi world, or, more frequently, the national-religious world, to the loss, in Rav Bulman’s mind, of an important strand in the panoply of Torah thought.
Similarly, chinuch issues will be at the forefront of the absorption of new immigrants. The model of the chareidi community in Eretz Yisrael of minimal non-kodesh studies for elementary school–aged boys, and none for those of high school age, never took hold for most of the Torah community in chutz l’Aretz. A few years ago, most of a group of Argentinian Jews who moved to Har Nof, with high hopes, returned to Argentina because they could not provide the education they wanted for their sons.
These issues are immensely complicated, but they are unavoidable. The sooner we begin addressing them, and the consequences of the decisions arrived at, the better. —
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 887)
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