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Summer Wave of Olim-by-Choice Celebrate their Farewell to America

יולי 2, 2008. Jewish Press: Leah Rothstein

“The real question is why I didn’t make aliyah 30 years ago…every day felt like a wasted day,” Rabbi David Wadler said. “It was just time.”

Rabbi Wadler, the principal of Moshe Aaron Yeshiva High School in South River, N.J., was one of almost 300 tri-state residents about to make aliyah who gathered in the Jewish Agency building in Manhattan Thursday night to celebrate their decision and to hear advice on practical aspects of the move. In all, some 900 tri-state residents will be making aliyah this summer, and 3,000 total from North America. The expected olim are a mixed bunch; about 30 percent are single, and roughly 60 percent are Orthodox, including several prominent rabbis.

Others made their decision more hastily. Dr. Herman Weiss spoke of how a false fire alarm in his house earlier this year caused his wife to joke that, “if our house burns down, we’re making aliyah .” They had discussed the prospect but decided they weren’t ready to move. On January 11, though, the joke became all too real: the Weiss home caught fire. Although the family was safe, their home and belongings were destroyed and they are now preparing to move to Israel.

The number of olim has stayed fairly steady over the past three or four years. The number of Russian immigrants has slowed considerably, though there are 50 going from the tri-state area this year. The current real estate crisis and economic hardships make it a bad time for prospective olim to sell their homes, although the strength of the Israeli economy and shekel are helpful to those who need to find jobs in Israel. Maxyne Finkelstein, CEO of the Jewish Agency for Israel, said in her speech, “It is an excellent time to go, economically and socially, to be a part of Israel in such an important way.”

Among those who agree that now is an excellent time to go is Rabbi Ari Berman, the rabbi of the Jewish Center on the Upper West Side. He is turning last year’s sabbatical into a permanent move to Neve Daniel. When asked about his plans for the future, he said that despite a few offers he has not yet selected a job, because “there are a lot of areas for a productive rabbi to contribute to in Israel. I look forward to investigating different opportunities.”

Rabbi Shalom Rosner did not attend the dinner, but he too is making aliyah , leaving Congregation Bais Ephraim Yitzchok in Woodmere and his position as head of the Bais Medrash Program at Yeshiva University. He plans to establish a 400-family community in a new Beit Shemesh suburb, Nofei Hashemesh.

Many of the speakers at the dinner stressed that this generation of olim are making “aliyah-by-choice,” instead of being forced out by a hostile government or difficult conditions in their host country. Akiva Werber, ashaliach for the Jewish Agency who answers questions for olim and helps them with the move, said that “the era of aliyah by rescue has come to an end,” and that the newcomers to Israel go “to fulfill a personal and national dream.”

Other olim expressed various motives, such as Marni Mandell (moving to Tel Aviv) who raised a laugh by saying, “I want to make aliyah for the vegetables. In Israel, you bite into a cucumber, it’s a real cucumber.” She has lived temporarily in Israel before, and visited often – she has flown back and forth 27 times in the past seven years – and has decided that she wants her home to be in Israel.

Sixty years after Israel’s founding, aliyah has become so established that many go in order to be with family who have gone before. The Bergers, a couple from Great Neck who are about to make aliyah , experienced a similar tug-of war between the two countries, as their married daughter and grandchildren live in Israel; the Bergers have finally decided to join their family there full-time.

Frequently, the olim state that aliyah is a dream that has been cherished since childhood and is only now about to come true. Many have chosen to move this year because their children are now at an age to smoothly make the transition.

Their reasons span the full range from ideological to pragmatic, but the common denominator that motivates most of the people making aliyah was summed up neatly by Marni Mandell, who said that aliyah comes “out of a deep and abiding love for the country.”

The evening was concluded by Akiva Werber who presented the crowd with a slide show and packets of information with the practical nitty-gritty about the flight and the basic steps to take upon arrival in Israel. He also apprised them of the lengthy list of benefits Israel offers new olim, and advised, “If anyone offers you help, take it.” He closed by praising the olim for their choice and added, “For the first time since Bayis Rishon, we are approaching a majority of Jews living in Israel, and your generation is part of it and making it happen.”

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