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.