A Question About Aliya

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I am writing this from Israel near the end of perhaps my one-hundredth trip.  The first was in 1959.  As a rule, I am here three times a year.  We have an apartment in Jerusalem and I have a relationship with the Avi Chai Foundation which is nearby.  However, we are not considering aliya, primarily because our children and grandchildren are in the U.S. and my primary communal responsibilities are also there.

We once did consider aliya, at least at one or two levels of seriousness, including looking at an apartment.  That was forty-three years ago, when we came with two young children and I taught at Bar Ilan.  Although my feelings about Israel are powerful, I cannot say that I regret that we did not take advantage of the opportunity that was present in 1970.

Why?  For all of its diversity, American Orthodoxy ranges across a continuum.  There are the most charedi at one pole and the ultra-Modern Orthodox at the other pole, with much variety in-between.  There is also much fluidity and movement and there is no socio-psychological compulsion to embrace either extreme.  Charedi life in the U.S. is for many charedim not like charedi life in Israel.  There is much differentiation, as is evident when Lakewood is contrasted with Flatbush.  What is termed charedi in the U.S. may accept significant dosages of secular education at the elementary and high school levels and even accept forms of higher secular education.

The point is that being an American charedi does not necessarily mean extremely limited educational and career choices.  Nor, in fact, does it necessarily mean a distinctive charedi life-style.  If someone from a charedi family decides to be somewhat more modern, there are plenty of opportunities within Orthodox life to accommodate this desire.

The pattern is different in Israel.  There is greater rigidity.  This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t any charedi professors, lawyers, doctors, etc. or that charedim and the Modern Orthodox are never found in the same shul or that a chassidic young man who moves away from his parents’ orientation must necessarily reject religious life.  There is a measure of variety in Israel, but it is far less pronounced than what exists in the U.S. and there is far greater polarization.  This is abundantly evident at the basic educational level where choices must be made regarding schooling.  There is nothing in Israel remotely comparable to the American yeshiva/day school pattern.

Israel schools are more homogeneous, with charedim exposed only minimally or not at all to secular study.  Charedi schools are exclusionary and exclusion extends not only to families that might be just a faint shade less charedi but, in fact, to charedim of different stripes.  As we have seen, chassidim do not want Sephardic youngsters in their schools.

Although at times the choice of school is difficult and even wrenching for American parents, there is no comparison to what occurs in Israel.  There the choice is often between a charedi school that outlaws limudei chol, the prospect being for exclusion from society, and a school that is weak religiously, the prospect being in that situation for religious abandonment.

Nearly all of us have, I believe, relatives or friends whose Israeli educational experiences testify to this reality.

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31 Comments on "A Question About Aliya"


David F.
2 years 11 months ago

Yehoshua Friedman,

As someone who lived in Israel for a significant period of time following marriage and now travels there frequently on business, I can state with confidence that you are 100% correct. There is far more convergence than divergence and the gap is closing with each passing day. Economic realities are forcing this issue and a perspective based on 40 years ago isn’t reflective of the reality nor are blogs where folks are free to write about things they often know little about.
The only way to truly get a sense of what’s happening in EY today is by spending real time there.

Yehoshua Friedman
2 years 11 months ago

I strongly empathize with Dr. Schick and many other Torah Jews in the Diaspora. The mistake is in assuming that life in Israel and the options available are constant rather than dynamic. People naturally want to have their cake and eat it. Since I made aliya 42 years ago the cake has gotten better, augmented by pizza, which didn’t exist then. My current circumference attests to that change. The kippa-sruga community has become sadder but wiser since the series of withdrawals and demolitions and the hareidi community has become more aware of the need for a more balanced, economically viable communal lifestyle. More and more Torah is being learned in all communities. I see extremism, but also convergence. More and more awareness exists regarding the possibilities in the larger world for Torah Jews. This process will continue. Israel will remain a small country with small markets, less shopping, without locally available major league baseball (but with Israel competing in the 2013 World Baseball Classic!). The isolation that you had to accept 40 years ago is not the case nowadays. The perfect school is not here and not there. The bankrupting cost of a Jewish day school trying to maintain the standards of an American private school with sports teams and extracurricular activities and shtick is not worth maintaining. Israelis have been chastened by the events of the last decades and no longer think they know everything and can do everything better than Americans. Get updated and get some perspective.

shlomo zalman
2 years 11 months ago

I disagree with but respect Dr. Schick’s life choice. He is certainly a major contributor to the vibrancy of contemporary Judaism.
Curiously, he ommitted the one word which has polarized the populace here in Israel more than any other:
Army.

As my wife said to me every morning while our son was in Gaza fighting in Oferet Yetzukah, “All night long I thought I heard a jeep pulling up in front of the house” .
Every Israeli knows what that means.
My son was lucky, his two friends standing in front of him closer to the explosion were not as lucky.

And that is the difference, Dr. Schick, between chareidim and non-chareidim, and between living here and living there.

YM
2 years 11 months ago

Is it really true that (Ashkenazi) Charedim don’t want their children going to school with Sephardim, or is there a tremendous overlap between Sephardim and a “weaker” level of observance, and the Charedim just don’t want their children educated with those whose observance is different and, as they perceive it, weaker?

Shimon
2 years 11 months ago

Gee, and here I am in Ramat Beit Shemesh, 6,000 away from family, struggling financially to live here in Israel just because I thought this is the chosen land and where Hashem wants us to be. Thanks for the update…now we can come back to NY!