A Question About Aliya


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"

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David F.
3 years 2 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… Read more »

Yehoshua Friedman
3 years 2 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… Read more »

shlomo zalman
3 years 2 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:

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… Read more »

3 years 2 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?

3 years 2 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!

3 years 2 months ago

A few inaccuracies:
1. “As we have seen, chassidim do not want Sephardic youngsters in their schools” – It is mainly the Litvish Bet Yakov’s that are closed to Sephardim, the Sephardim have no interest or desire to join in the Chassidish chinuch.
2. The Charedei system is starting to offer Limudei Chol in spurts, sometimes after hours or independently studied. When you locate to Rechovot, Petah Tikvah, etc. (outside of Yerushalayim) there are more choices and less chumros.
3. The choice to make aliyah should encompasses more thorough thought of the pros & cons with an emphasis on the many PROS.

Sarah Shapiro
3 years 2 months ago

Do we, or do we not, believe that Torah delivers Hashem’s instructiono to us as the Jewish People?

If so, is it coincidental that observance of the mitzvah mentioned more frequently in Chumash than most others, has always involved difficulties great and small?

Do we measure the signifcancce, centrality, or value of other mitzvahs in terms of the difficulties they incur?

In the early 1970s I encountered Dr. Schick in his capacity as an Orthodox public servant working selflessly to help his brethren from behind a municipal office desk. His sincerity buttressed my faith in relgious Jews.

How profoundly Israeli society could be… Read more »

3 years 2 months ago

The decision to move to Israel brings a unique set of challenges; however while baruch Hashem one can live a very fulfilled Jewish life in chutz l’aretz, it is important to admit that in deciding to live outside of Eretz Yisrael one is giving up on important aspects of the Jewish experience. I Agree there are many difficulties with society in Eretz Yisrael these days, I wish it were different…but there are also many beautiful aspects of society, and religious life in Israel that are lacking in chutz l’aretz. Every individual and family must make a decision that… Read more »

thinking outloud
3 years 2 months ago

you neglect the Char”dal community in Israel which may satisfy your needs.
Charedi Dati Leumi might be more similar to “modern orthodox machmir” in the parlance of today’s efforts to somehow squeeze out every difference between what is a comparatively homogeneous population with regard to the world at large.

Also, I am somewhat surprised that you use of the term Charedi, it has always seemed more israel-centric.
Americans seem to (or at least used to) prefer Yeshivish and Chasidish to distinguish themselves from modern orthodoxy.
Or as my 9th grade Rebbe, in what you would describe as a very Charedi Yeshiva liked to use:… Read more »

3 years 2 months ago

Homeschooling anyone?

Why the unchallenged assumption that ‘of course’ our children’s education belongs in the hands of a bureaucracy?…

Homeschooling on personal, familial and neighborhood levels is increasingly widespread in America. Do Israelis even consider this? Or is submission to the “educational” bureaucracies the only conceivable path?

3 years 2 months ago

Dr. Schick: it’s not too late to make aliya!!! Come join us. You couldn’t or didn’t then, you can do it now. Bring the kids and grandkids.
That said: we olim here are building the land of Israel by creating a new model. When Israelis ask me: What are you? I say, American charedi. We are here building American style schools – black hats with secular education, respect for the Israeli flag without making Zionism the religion, etc.. C’mon, all you Americans, join us!!!

Allan Katz
3 years 2 months ago

The words of Ilana, SA , Derek resonate with me. I live in Israel.

I would label myself as ‘ being on the fence.’

In order to progress in Yiddishkeit , kids need to feel part of some camp, so it is very likely that your kids will turn out different to you.
Depending when kids come to Israel , the challenges of Limudie kodesh can lead to off the derech.

Education is not all free – Hareidi – girls pay min , basically free
… Read more »

3 years 2 months ago

In his discussions of the question of whether being indispensable to Jewish life in the golah exempts people from Aliyah, R’ Herschel Shachter adds, “Everyone thinks they’re indispensable. Even I do.” He says that in a self-deprecating tone, and if anyone’s entitled to say it, it’s him.

dr. bill
3 years 2 months ago

Ilana, when you write about the Israeli chareidi community: “….embrace the kedusha of that community and give up on the relative openness that was available in America.” by kedusha, I assume you mean separateness not holiness.

The student/soldier/scholar is not separate from israeli society but their way of life is sanctified by halakhic observance; those who die for the jewish people are (real/also) kedoshim.

Kedusha (and chillul haShem) are not the exclusive province of any of the various groups you mention.

koillel nick
3 years 2 months ago

I live here in Eretz Yisrael. And as my children get older, I worry. For the same reasons that Dr Schick mentions. It is not there is absolutely no place for a Haredi that want’s a secular education. There are a few. But it keeps me limited with choices, and forces me to weigh more serious issues. One school may have the Limudei Kodesh, and Limudei chol, but may be far more nationalistic than I’d like to educate my kids. The next school may be on target with all the above, but may be a dumping ground for turned off… Read more »

3 years 2 months ago

Rav Menachmen Mendel of Vitebsk wrote a treatise on the soul-churning process that olim chadashim go through…about two hundred years ago. We all have to adapt, we all have a lot to work out, and it can take many years.
While I agree that the flaws inherent in the Israeli-charedi system are real, who says that this is a sufficient reason not to take the plunge? Why don’t we all imagine, if only for a moment, a future when every frum Jew (of every possible stripe) gets on a plane and moves to Eretz Yisrael. I’m hoping for every Jew, but… Read more »

Aharon Haber
3 years 3 months ago

This blog post struck me as odd. It seems like a weak and somewhat transparent justification for a decision made 40 years ago. No nuance? No regret? Hard to believe for someone who has deep feelings for the country. I think Rabbi Schick’s generation was/is in a unique position of being the first generation in thousands of years who have to explain – at least to their children – why they could have easily lived in G-d’s chosen land and yet decided against it. I think different people deal with this contradiction in different… Read more »

Derek Saker
3 years 3 months ago

While I believe the thesis of your argument is much a search for justification in not leaving the U.S. – I completely understand your “primary communal responsibilities” weighed heavily.

Every situation is different and Israel is not for everyone. And this particularly when someone like yourself has contributed so greatly to Jewish community life in the U.S.

That said. I believe your article does raise a profound challenge in Orthodox world and particularly the American Chareidi world.

As both an American and Israel citizen – living in both countries, I see the tremendous responsibility and contribution that especially American Charedi… Read more »

3 years 3 months ago

Aside from disagreeing with most of what are asserted as facts here, it can be boiled down to one simple point:

1. It’s a mitzvah to live in Israel.

2. It’s not a mitzvah to be a Charedi.


3 years 3 months ago

Greetings from Jerusalem. Indeed, there are chinuch options here now that really do turn out well-rounded Torah-committed kids with a lifestyle, like no TV, that is comparable to American haredi, and who also engage the world. But the American chareidi may have to accept that their children, as they grow up, will not **look** exactly like them (i.e., hat and jacket and wig) but will probably end up wearing kippa sruga and kerchiefs/hats. In a world where we are so hung up on externals, that is apparently enough of a turn-off.

This is not to say that kids here don’t… Read more »

L. Oberstein
3 years 3 months ago

Dr. Schick deals with an issue that is very important. One obvious answer is that if more of us lived there, we would be able to have our own schools and communities and be positive role models. The almost free nature of Israeli schools is a major plus. Most of all, Israel is Jewish. Bibi Netanyahu called up little Moshe ,whose parents were murdered in Mumbai, to wish him well on his first day of school and tell him that we all love him. The fact is that he means it and so does the rest of the country, who… Read more »

Rafi Hecht
3 years 3 months ago

This may have been the case 43 years ago but this isn’t the Israel I know and love (I visited there numerous times as a child and have many relatives there). There’s dati leumi, CharDal (many varieties depending on the neighborhood), and in-between.

3 years 3 months ago

Yes, it is quite difficult for American hareidim to find a place in the Israeli religious spectrum. The msin options are:

1) Become real Israeli hareidim – embrace the kedusha of that community and give up on the relative openness that was available in America. It should be noted that, for eoonomic reasons, more Israeli hareidi boys/men are getting some parnasa-oriented secular education (which girls have always gotten).

2) Become part of the in-between sector – it is much smaller than the straight hareidi or dati leumi sectors, but it exists, is probably growing, and is not so different from American hareidi.… Read more »

3 years 3 months ago

I am not so sure the rationale offered by Dr. Shick is anything more than an excuse. “We remember the melons and the leek we had in Egypt.” Life is easier in the Diaspora, and that includes religious life. No doubt the Jews who remained in Bavel, when the second Temple was being rebuilt, also could make the same or similar claims. Eretz Yisrael is only acquired with difficulty. And yet hundreds of thousands have made aliyah and continue to do so, despite the fears . . . .

I too live in the Diaspora, and three times a day,… Read more »

Steve Brizel
3 years 3 months ago

Dr Schick’s article should be compared with an article by R S Carmy in one of the Orthodox Forum volumes that can be accessed at YuTorah. I think that many MO and Charedim in the US would agree with Dr Schick’s assessment of a very polarized Torah world in Israel, but would be certainly considering aliyah if their children stayed in Israel, and could find a community of similar minded Anglos. Such considerations should not be discounted as the liberal-left in the US continues defining deviance down and American popular culture rapidly approaches the lowest common denominator of popular acceptability… Read more »

Rena Freedenberg
3 years 3 months ago

The author writes, “There is nothing in Israel remotely comparable to the American yeshiva/day school pattern.”

Is this the same yeshiva/day school pattern that is driving many parents to the brink of bankruptcy? No school system is perfect but Israeli yeshivot/chadorim/Beis Ya’akovs are affordable to everyone and provide a quality education. Their students learn far and away much more limudei kodesh on a much higher level than will every be possible in the States where Hebrew is not a first language.

Many hold yishuv EY to be a mitzva and even those who don’t hold it to be a positive action.… Read more »

3 years 3 months ago

I shared many of the same concerns before I made aliya.
But I have discovered that Eretz Yisrael is Eretz Hatzvi- it expands to make it comfortable for any Jew to sincerely express his individuality in avodas Hashem.
It is a mitzva to live in Eretz Yisrael, so doesn’t it follow that anyone who has a realistic idea of how he and his family could thrive in Israel- should just go ahead and take a calculated risk?
That’s what I did and BH so far so good!

Ben Waxman
3 years 3 months ago

I don’t know what was available in 1970 but today there are dati leumi schools whose emphasis is on Torah and there are Chareidi schools that prepare their students for a bagrut. Assuming a young man can do the army (Nachal Chareidi, Shachar, etc) there is nothing standing between him and getting a higher education and entering whatever profession he wants.

3 years 3 months ago

Excellent article. This was the main reason why I moved back to the US after a few years in kollel in E”Y.

3 years 3 months ago

a dilemma …. the live-and-let-live O of chu”l seems verboten in the religion-is-a-war society created by the hilonophobia that resulted from the Old Yishuv being undermined by the secular minions —- and any religious compromise [eg Mizrachi] became just as verboten in the Middle East as it was in haredi Europe… good luck to Mashiach ben David to solve these internecine wars — i guess he has the advantage in definitively being able to declare a mode of living kosher or treif—… Read more »

joel rich
3 years 3 months ago

Reminds me of discussions on local out of town day schools:
Them – I won’t send my kid there because it is too (RW,LW whatever) so I will send “out of town”.
Me – If you want change in the school (and in the community) it won’t happen by people opting out. Someone needs to be in the trenches.

For artzeinu hakedosha the stakes are even greater, the question which is a difficult one to answer in both cases is, what personal risk should we take for the betterment of the community?