Thursday, December 02, 2004

Aliya apology

Orthodox Union President Stephen Savitsky has had the decency to apologise for comments made concerning Aliya in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, published in last Friday's edition.

The comments, which stated that the current wave of Aliyah from North America was of "people (who) are starting to go to Israel for the right reasons", whilst previous Olim had been "running away from something. They weren't successful. They didn't have a successful marriage. They were coming because there was a reason. They weren't role models", rightly provoked fury amongst those besmirched by Savitsky, as well as any right thinking person.

The response to the JPost was immediate and the blogging community (see An Unsealed Room, Treppenwitz, Chayei Sarah, Israellycool, My Obiter Dicta and I'm sure others) had plenty to say too.

In his apology, which appears on page 3 of today's print edition JPost, Savitsky assures us that "I deeply regret the remarks I made concerning past motivations for aliya..... and I apologise for them. I am sorry that these remarks, which were part of a lengthy discussion on aliya and many other topics, denigrated, albeit unintentionally those who have made aliya over the years."

I am uncharitably inclined to think that there is a little more to it than that, as does Calev Ben David in his editorial in yesterday's JPost which argues that as Savitsky sees his organisation, the OU, as representing the best that American Jewry has to offer, the fact that Aliya was never a centrepiece of its agenda in the past, clearly means that past Olim must be losers by dint of their not being OU people. I don't know American Jewry well enough to add to that opinion but have considered a couple of other options which give Savitsky the benefit of the doubt, not always in a flattering manner however.

It is my experience as an Oleh, that those who are not themselves Olim or involved in the field of promoting Aliya, are particularly ignorant on the subject. They really haven't a clue how many people have made Aliya this year, from what countries they have come and whether that represents a positive or negative trend. They certainly don't have a clue who is making Aliyah and often can't conceive why someone succesful would want to pick up and leave the wealthiest Jewish community in the world behind. The logical assumption would be therefore that those who are making Aliya are those who have not succeeded.

How does one define who is a succesful person? Is it personal wealth, raising a large family, being a Torah scholar? In short it is a personal definition - "HaSameach Bechelko" - the person who is happy with his lot is truly a rich person. I would suggest that a businessman might however, see the issue of financial wealth as being the defining factor - so yes, if you apply that definition, past Olim are less succesful (wealthy) than their American counterparts.

But Mr Savitsky, people don't make Aliya for what would normally be termed logical reasons, they don't come with the expectation that they will have salaries equivalent to what they would make in the US - they make it for far higher ideals. These are people for whom "Leshana Haba B'Yerushalayim" is not just a cute little ditty sung at the end of the Pesach Seder but has real meaning. These are people who have chosen to put aside the fleshpots of Manhattan for something which is far more important. These are people who have come home.

Thank you for apologising Sir. Having realised your mistake, it is the correct response and behaviour befitting of a leader. We are quick to lambast Israeli leaders for making rash comments but are ourselves, often just as prone to ingesting a foot or two. I would suggest that you make sure that you become better acquainted with the many wonderful people who have made Aliya from the States and many other countires over the years - you would be truly inspired.



Anonymous said...

As if I didn't already know...

This is how I know that I would be ill suited to diplomatic service! I agree with every word... every nuance... every bit of punctuation that you wrote. Yet, with a gun to my head I would not have been able (or willing) to articulate those sentiments.

Thank you.


j-jen said...

I'd rather see him put his money where his mouth is and come on aliyah...