Our Aliyah Chronicle
By Shmuel Katz
Those who are regular readers of this column are probably aware that for years, I have written an annual Top Ten list for the week that we read Parashat Shelach and the story of the 12 spies. It began with a request by Nefesh B’Nefesh to send a “Top 12 reasons to make aliyah” e‑mail to 12 friends overseas, as a gesture of positivity to symbolically counter the report of the 12 meraglim. Having no problem with the two spies who did recommend aliyah, I decided to make it a Top Ten list and presented it to you. Here’s this year’s list (in no significant order).
10. Politics. I never thought that your politicians would be crazier than ours. But if you live in the USA or even the UK, your recent elections have really brought out the crazy. And I even voted for one of them.
Yes, I hated the prior U.S. administration’s policies toward Israel and general attitude of appeasement to the Arab world and also to terrorists and terror-supporting nations. But the world seems to have gone so crazy in recent elections that Israeli politics, normally a circus sideshow, looks mature and respectable of late.
9. Tuition. (A repeat appearance.) Last Shabbat we were sitting in the park together with a bunch of neighbors of various ages and schmoozing about a variety of topics. At one point, we got to talking about the cost of tuitions in different regions of the U.S. and how incredibly expensive it has become to educate children overseas. The numbers I referred to were 10+ years out of date, and when some of the more recent olim pointed out the current fees, we were all taken aback.
While incomes are a fraction of what they would be for similar jobs in the USA, our kids are all enrolled in “public school,” and even when we pay tuition, the costs are vastly lower. Our college tuition (including dorm) is just above $6,000. (It used to be closer to $5,700 but the shekel is very strong right now.) High school—including room and board in the dorm—is also in that range. And while we are talking about state-supported education, let’s discuss . . .
8. Government Funding for Torah Study. I’ve said it before, in other contexts, but it bears repeating: after G‑d Himself, the Israeli federal and municipal governments are the largest financial supporters of Torah study in the history of the world. No other person or entity comes close. Yeshiva buildings, kollel stipends, hesder programs, michlalot and mechinot—the list goes on and on.
That money, of course, comes from taxes and fees collected by the government. Want to be a part of the largest fundraising effort for Torah study ever? Come live in Israel, become a citizen, and generate more funds in taxes, etc., to help fund Torah study in all segments of the population.
7. Impulse Visits to Holy Sites. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Goldie mentioning a desire one morning to daven at Kever Rochel—and we just dropped everything and went. Each summer, I write about the incredibly grounding experience of leining a perek of Eichah at the Kotel on Tishah B’Av, and the singing that we do afterward. Birkat Kohanim on chol ha’moed. These are just a few of the unique opportunities we can access that are within an hour or so of home. Amazing.
6. Our Deep Connection to the Land. I was recently schmoozing with Rabbi Shalom Rosner about a trip he made with his family to go cherry-picking. They don’t have a fruit tree in their yard, so it was one of the only times he has separated terumot and ma’asrot from fruit he has picked, and he commented how incredibly moving it was for him.
We have fruit trees in our yard and I can tell you that the feeling does not get old. I’ve harvested a lulav from a tree. We’ve kept Shemittah twice already. And of course there’s Birkat Kohanim every day and three times on Yom Kippur! There are so many mitzvot we can do here—and only here. I believe that this helps strengthen our bond to G‑d and His Torah.
5. Chagim Are Not Workdays. No, we are not a religious Jewish State. But many things we do are very connected to halachah. Yom tov is an official holiday, so employees do not have to take regular vacation days for yom tov. The general atmosphere here revolves around our Jewish calendar and the chagim. Our daily routine is connected more to who we are and what we do instead of being a constant reminder of how different we are from most of our neighbors. This also means that . . .
4. Kosher Food in the Mall. We can go shopping in the mall without having to worry about where to buy food. I know that it seems repetitive, but all of these things add up to a certain quality of life that we enjoy. It has been over a decade since our Israeli kids lived in the U.S. We’ll be there in November and I am wondering how they will react to things they hardly remember.
November means Thanksgiving will be in season, and there will be holiday-themed light displays on many lawns, which the younger ones have either never seen or at least won’t remember. It’s really cool that we’ve never had to explain such things in the past.
3. Educational Options. I talked about tuitions earlier. One of the byproducts of high tuition is the effect of getting discounts like multiple-child discounts or paying into a building fund only once per family instead of once per student. We don’t have building funds, and tuitions here are fairly inexpensive. So we have a lot of freedom to choose the best environment for each child, without having to consider dealing with the cost of yet another building fund, etc.
For example, we had the freedom to move Mordechai from a local Bet Shemesh school to the Shaalvim High School last year. It was not a good fit in the old school and he really needed the change. And he is now the top student in his grade. A lot of the credit for that goes to his being in the right place. We might not have been able to switch him out had we needed to worry about messing up a multiple-child kind of deal. Nor would we have been able to register Moshe for the upcoming year in a local school that fits his specific needs.
2. A Land of Opportunity. They call us the start-up nation. We have a ridiculously inordinate amount of technological and medical innovation here relative to our population. Serious companies all invest in developing products and ideas here. And career change is a fact of life here. Many olim (including yours truly) go through a career change here and move on to extremely rewarding careers in fields they would never have dreamed of entering when we lived in “the old country.”
1. It’s a Mitzvah. There are definitely differing opinions about what the level of obligation to move here is. However, even if it is not obligatory, living here is the fulfillment of a mitzvah. What more do you want?
Shmuel Katz, his wife Goldie, and their six children made aliyah in July 2006. Before making aliyah, Shmuel was the executive director of the Yeshiva of South Shore in Hewlett. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.