Increasing Aliya Among The One-Year Students In Israel:
A Textual And Experiential Curriculum On Yishuv Eretz Yisrael

Moshe D. Lichtman

According to official Jewish Agency reports, “Aliya from the United States is at its lowest point since 1968. Only 1,323 Americans made the jump in 1999, a 15% decline from 1998, and some 7,000 less than its peak in 1971.” The author of this study tries to develop one possible way of combating this problem.

A great potential source of olim enters the Land of Israel at the beginning of every scholastic year in the form of thousands of English-speaking, Modern Orthodox post-high-school students. They spend a year or two studying Torah in over thirty institutions of higher learning throughout the country (although the majority are in Jerusalem). The problem is that the vast majority of these students go back to the Diaspora after their stint in Israel and fail to return to the Land to make it their permanent dwelling place. Many of the institutions stress the importance of living in Israel, sincerely hoping to influence their students to eventually make aliya, but the statistics reveal that they are failing.

Relying on information culled from student responses to a detailed questionnaire and considerable personal experience in this field, the author tries to uncover the reasons for this failure and develop a systematic, comprehensive curriculum to help increase the rate of aliya among the future graduates of these institutions.

He posits that a major part of the problem is that very few, if any, of the institutions have a clearly defined, well-thought-out program of study on this topic. The occasional shmooze or inspiring field trip are not sufficient to combat the many obstacles - whether they be in the pragmatic, emotional, or ideological spheres - that present themselves over the course of time. The students must understand on a very deep level - both intellectually and emotionally - the importance of living in Eretz Yisrael, especially in our times. Then, and only then, we can hope to see an increase in aliya from the West.

But how does one transmit these ideals to the students? The author claims that it can happen only through a course of study which combines both textual and experiential learning. On the one hand, we must show them black on white what the Torah and our Sages, of blessed memory, have to say about Eretz Yisrael and the future redemption. To accomplish this goal, the author has prepared a source-book of close to 400 sources extolling the virtues of Eretz Yisrael and proving that we are in the midst of the process of redemption. In addition, he has translated into English one of the most comprehensive volumes on the topic, Eim HaBanim Semeichah.

This is not enough, however. The students must also be given the chance to develop strong emotional bonds to the Land. And this can only be done through experiential learning. Therefore, the author suggests that an organized and meaningful program of field trips, shabbatonim, and special events be introduced (or modified) in the one-year yeshiva programs here in Israel. The students should be exposed to special personalities who can serve as role models in the area of self-sacrifice for G-d’s Chosen Land. They should spend time in special and inspiring areas of the country and see first hand how the Torah comes to life here in the Land of the Torah. They should be encouraged to take part in the many special events, national holidays, memorial ceremonies, and unique experiences that only the Jewish Homeland has to offer. In the long run these are the things that are going to remain implanted in the hearts and souls of the students.

In addition, the students should be made to feel that they can make it here in Eretz Yisrael. To accomplish this, they should be set up with families who themselves have made aliya, and with people who work in the same profession which the students plan to enter. There should also be career seminars which discuss the pros and cons of the different professions here in Israel. These kinds of programs can be run during vacation and “free” time so as not to interfere with learning time.

If these and similar types of learning experiences are coupled together with text- book learning, forming a comprehensive curriculum on the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, there is good reason to believe that we will eventually witness a significant increase in voluntary aliya from the West.

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