Rabbi Kass' Viewpoint: "Aliyah" at 60
As Israel celebrates its 60th birthday, the touchiest subject in the relationship between the Jewish State and Diaspora Jewry remains aliyah, the encouragement of American Jews to emigrate to Israel. Indeed, the attitude of the American rabbinate toward aliyah has, for the most part, vacillated over the years. On the one hand, we are aware of the indispensability of an ample quantity of Jews making their home in Israel in order to insure the viability of a Jewish State. On the other hand, if all or most of American Jewry heeded the call to go on aliyah, we would have no one to whom we could speak or with whom we could work.
In truth, we have little cause to worry that the bulk of American Jewry will go to Israel. (They may move to Florida or Arizona; but that’s another story!) What’s more, there is no reason to bemoan the fact that most of our co-religionists prefer to remain in this country. The Jews of America have evolved a vital, vibrant, and creative life here. They have erected a most impressive array of institutions which minister, outstandingly and effectively, to the religious, educational, social and health needs of the Jewish community. Over 300 of the finest colleges and universities in the United States have chairs of Jewish studies. To be sure, we have our difficulties, most especially intermarriage and assimilation; but none of the negatives can gainsay the reality that one can most certainly live an authentic and genuine Jewish life in America.
To be sure, as good as things are in America, our Jewishness will always be a secondary element of our lives; since the dominant American way must, of necessity, constitute the principal priority of our thoughts and actions. Only in Israel will it ever be possible for Jewishness to be completely natural, without having to compete with conflicting ideologies and orientations towards life. Aliyah is the sole option available to those who desire to live totally integrated Jewish lives, free of intrusive and alien elements.
The most potent force that will galvanize the interest of American Jews to make aliyah is the desire to be part of the incomparably exciting and exhilarating drama of a people returning to its home after two thousand years of wandering all over the globe. Jewish history possesses a grandeur and nobility which cannot be adequately grasped by the powers of the human intellect. These qualities can, nevertheless, be most fully experienced in the land of Israel. Although the Middle East is currently the focal point of so much enmity and violence, it continues to arouse the imagination, concern, and involvement of the greatest nations and religions of the Western world, and to constitute a source of inspiration and encouragement to countless millions everywhere. To play a role in establishing amity and harmony in that spot of the globe which is the crossroads of the human race is the kind of challenging aspiration that can fire the idealism of some of our finest young people.
Such elevated and noble objectives will probably never motivate more than a minority of our co-religionists in this country. But we American Jews, rabbis and laity alike, have a duty to encourage and support that minority. While most American Jews will elect to stay here, that special and blessed group which makes aliyah will prove that American Jews are not hopeless captives of the fleshpots of wealth and security. These noble and sanctified Jews, finally, have the best chance to succeed in the all-important task of building a living bridge between us and the people of Israel which alone can assure the survival of the Jewish people and the Jewish way of life everywhere.