Tuesday, October 18, 2011

American Jews beware!

During the months leading up to our family aliyah in 2010, my wife and I spoke with friends about our decision to leave America.

During these discussions, we discovered perhaps three types of people in our community: those who agreed with us—and who were in fact already planning their own aliyah with Nefeshbnefesh (the organization in Israel that handles virtually all of American emigration); those who said little or nothing about themselves, but who expressed admiration for our ‘courage’; and those who had no interest in leaving America.

All of these people are Orthodox Jews; all are still in America.

For our friends in that first group— planning their own aliyah—the process of leaving America had already begun. They were focusing on details, just as we had done. They believed that their biggest hurdle, their decision to leave, was behind them.

I hope they succeed, because leaving America is not easy. America is an extraordinarily powerful trap. Like a mind-altering drug, America affects how one thinks and feels. I know:  I was there. My wife had first suggested aliyah forty years ago. I thought she was nuts.  America was the Golden Medina. It meant comfort, even luxury. Leave? That’s insane.

My message to these American friends is, beware: until you are on your aliyah flight to Israel, buckled into your seat, you are not free of America’s pull. Remember that.

The second group was interesting  because they kept telling us how courageous we were to make aliyah. My wife and I couldn’t figure that out. Courage? Of all the words we were using to pursue our  plans, we had never once used that word.  What we ultimately figured out was, these friends were not speaking about us when using that word; they were speaking about themselves: they were revealing to us that, as much as they admired our decision, they believed that did not have the courage to follow.

This seemed surprising, because we never saw aliyah as a ‘courage’ issue. We saw it as a ‘requirement’ issue. When people asked me why we were making aliyah, I had never responded, ‘we finally have gotten up the courage to do this.’ Instead, my answer was, ‘because we believe what we read.’ No one understood that statement, so I would explain that, praying three times a day, saying the grace after meals (and snacks) daily, I had realized that I was specifically mentioning ‘Israel’ ,  ‘Jerusalem’  and ‘our land’ (by one count) up to 30 times a day. That’s over two hundred  times a week, every week, every month, every year.

My feeling was, how could one repeat these words so many times without getting the message that our land was not America, but Israel?

From this point of view, aliyah seemed so logical, didn’t it?

After ailyah, I still do not see ‘courage’. I see ‘doing what I am supposed to do’. My friends in America, on the other hand, seem to believe that what they are supposed to do is create money and comfort for their family. That appears to be their basic value—perhaps their only value. Their decisions reflect that; Israel doesn’t even merit an ‘honorable mention’ in their daily lives. Certainly, I cannot judge them because I understand how much things cost and how hard one must work to earn what one needs. Nevertheless, Israel and/or aliyah never gets mentioned at the dinner table?

For the third group—those who appeared disinterested in aliyah altogether—the drive for money and comfort seems to have overwhelmed them.  Some of these individuals are my friends. I love them. But they cannot see that the word ‘America’ never once appears in our Tanach, our Talmud or our prayers. In my opinion, they appear to have been so sucked into ‘America’ that they seem to me to suffer from a kind of Stockholm syndrome, whereby the captive falls in love with and adopts the values of the captor. Their emotional attachment to America so affects their identity that they feel they could not survive if they broke away from America.

Their only interest is America. Israel?  Why?

But now there is danger. America may no longer be Golden. There are Jews in the New York City area who are ready today to make aliyah—but cannot do so because they cannot sell their homes. Worse, the list of homes for sale near them has been growing.

They feel trapped. America’s apparently continuing economic woes keep them feeling chained, even imprisoned.
In early  June, 2011, political operative James Carville told Imus in the Morning (a radio talk show) that he could  see civil unrest coming to America because of the economy; days later, we heard that gas prices are 100% higher than when Obama was elected—and are  headed higher--while food prices are also supposed to jump.

Then, two weeks later, US unemployment was reported to be 25% higher than when Obama was elected, the national debt was 35% higher, the value of the dollar vs the shekel was down almost 12% --and nothing on the horizon suggested that these numbers were going to get any better.

That all took place in June, 2011—before the S&P downgraded US Treasuries, before Vice President Biden was forced to announce publicly that the US would not default on its debt obligations, before  NBC News ran a story (in August) that dramatically increasing food prices were now playing out at your local US supermarket—and before the stock markets took a plunge.

Now, October, 2011, we read about the possibility of another recession in the US—and we see persistent protests on Wall Street, in Washington, DC-- and in other cities around America.

But the negatives facing potential American Olim are not limited to America. Beginning in July, 2011, an Israel renter tent-protest highlighted a growing phenomenon in Israel: not enough places to live. By late August, a representative of the community of Efrat sounded a warning note: even though the West Bank building freeze had officially ended in September, 2010, the Israeli government had issued no new building permits for West Bank Efrat. That has created a problem because sixty English-speaking families that had already signed up to begin their Israel life in Efrat could not now do so—with no new building, there was currently housing for only eight of those sixty families. Moreover, any existing Efrat homes for sale (for these olim) were in such demand that prices had gone up significantly.  Here is a nasty shock for potential olim: at the very moment that home prices in America go down, thereby reducing the amount of money a family can gather for a home purchase in Israel, Israel home prices in communities that attract English-speakers were getting pushed higher and higher. It’s become a double whammy: losing money in America; needing more money for Israel.

For years, Americans have based much of their aliyah thinking on the value they can draw from their American homes. How do those Americans make aliyah now?

Mind-altering drugs give one an intense high. Such drugs can make one feel strong, confident, successful.  But mind-altering drugs can also be dangerous. When the high wears off, reality can be devastating. Will the same now become true for the Golden Medina?

Will American Jews be trapped?


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