A letter to my fellow Shlichim: How to educate to Aliyah

We know that in our work as Shlichim we will not be influencing the masses to make Aliyah. Based on historical precedence, the masses will make Aliyah only when and if large scale historical events take place such as dramatic shifts in the political and/or economic situations in the “host countries” and/or in Israel. As Shlichim we hope to influence individuals; individual students, individual families, individual classes and if we’re lucky – individual schools or shuls. But even among those with whom we have a close relationship, those who we teach day in and day out, those who hear our Shiurim on a daily basis, the influence towards actual Aliyah is frustratingly negligible. One can argue that the decision to make Aliyah is a dramatic one and needs to come about gradually and slowly but still – we have to admit that the numbers are frustratingly small, especially considering the efforts devoted to it.

I have found that there are 3 common approaches to educating towards Aliyah. Below is a short description of each approach including the advantages and disadvantages of each. I’d then like to suggest a 4th approach; one which I believe is sorely absent and may very well be far more effective.

Approach 1 – The “Stage 1, Stage 2” Approach

This approach holds that stage one is to connect people to Torah and Mitzvot in general and only once that is achieved you move on to stage two – connect them to Israel and Aliyah in particular. Advantages It seems to makes a lot of sense. How can you expect someone to follow the commandment of uprooting their lives and family due to belief in the holiness of The Land of Israel if they don’t first have a strong connection and obligation to Torah on its more simple levels? Disadvantage This approach is usually applied when dealing with people who are just discovering or rediscovering Judaism and observance. What happens if you never reach stage 2? Or if people become content with stage number 1? The goal of securing Israel as a central part of their understanding of Torah can easily be missed completely, let alone have them actually make Aliyah.

Approach 2 – The “Let’s Paint the Whole Picture” Approach

This approach holds that you focus on every topic appropriately. When getting to the appropriate places, Parshat Lech-Lecha, for example, one would naturally teach about the value of Israel and Aliyah but when in Parshat Noach – you wouldn’t Advantage This is a more accurate portrayal of Torah, where Eretz Yisrael is one topic – albeit an extremely important one – among many other topics This approach also allows for a steady and inconspicuous influence. The Shaliach is not seen as brainwashing listeners or too demagogic in his understanding and teaching of Torah Disadvantage People will think that Eretz Yisrael is just another topic within Torah, whereas, as Shlichim, we believe it is the topic in Torah most important for them to be aware of – realizing there is something fundamental missing from their lives as Jews.

Approach 3 – The “One Track Mind” Approach

This approach tries to connect everything, one way or another, to Eretz Yisrael. No matter the topic, no matter the Parsha or the occasion – the bottom line of the speech/Drasha/Shiur will be – “Israel is amazing” and/or “… therefore make Aliyah” and/or “this is what it teaches us about Israel today”, etc… A good example of this would be focusing exclusively in Parashat Bereshit on the 2 sentences of Rashi discussing Eretz Yisrael while ignoring the more obvious, very significant, topics in the Parsha… Advantage The message does not get lost among other information. The intensity and exclusivity of the message is clear. Repetition is a strong tool in education. Disadvantage People become desensitized to the message. Who will honestly buy that the message of every Parsha is the obligation to make Aliyah or that Israel is the most important concept in Torah? The Shaliach can be perceived as a demagogue and risks becoming irrelevant. There are different individuals/groups who may respond better to one approach verses the other and more often than not, we find people using different variations of all three.

Approach 4 – the “It’s Not About the Content, It’s About The Personality” Approach

This approach looks at the question within a much larger context. All three previous approaches are missing a very important point, that is – what actually motivates people towards action? People are rarely motivated to act, let alone life altering ones, based on logical argumentation. They do so either because they have no – or little – choice or because they identify with the value represented by that change. If we want people to make Aliyah because they value living in Israel – living in a Jewish country and state – they need to value it, personally. Valuing living in Israel in contrast to living in North America necessitates a certain kind of character, a character which has an affinity and identification with a national identity as opposed solely to a communal one. This is precisely what seems to be almost completely absent from North American Jewish identity, especially the youth.

How many American teens know, let alone care, about any political issues? How many of them are involved in discussions about immigration law, gun control or American foreign policy? How many of them can name a single government official other than the President (and possibly the VP)? To be clear – I do not blame them for this, rather, am just pointing out that for majority of American teens, the boundaries of the world they feel part of does not extent far beyond their tight nit communities and the comatose inducing world of commercialism. Contrast that with Israeli youth. Though they are exposed to the same commercialism and (sub) culture, they cannot escape the realities of life in Israel which – by definition – lend themselves to the formation of personalities with an expanded awareness of the world around them. There is not a teenager in Israel that cannot tell you which political party they support, who the finance minister is and how well he is performing his job and what Israel should do to finally achieve peace with the Arabs. When comparing North American youth to their Israeli counterpart’s one immediately identifies that most North American youth are lacking an entire section of identity – a national consciousness. Is it any wonder than that appealing to their intellect does not motivate them to make such a dramatic change in their lives? Giving up the comfort of friends and family, the comfort of cultural familiarity and the comfort of relative material contentment? Therefore, in order to promote Aliyah we need to mold characters that posses a national conciseness, that identify with its values and therefore able to internalize and act on the message of Aliyah.

How does one do this? I’ve actually found it to be simpler than it may seem: teach Torah – all topics in Torah – within the context of a national identity and existence. A few short examples:

1. Shabbat – less of a focus on its beauty and serenity and more of an emphasis on the role Shabbat has played in preserving Am Yisrael and the fact that the entire world has adopted the Shabbat model from us. Stage two very well may be the beauty of Shabbat, the time with the family, etc… but Shabbat begins as an אות, a covenant between Am Yisrael and Hashem, reminding us that we were taken out of Mitzraim. (First we are obligated by Shabbat Mitzraim, only then – by Shabbat Bereshit).

2. Shmirat Mitzvot – Emphasis on the aspect of continuity, that being a link in a long and consistent change makes one part of something big and meaningful. Another direction is to see the transformative affect the Jewish People have had on the world by maintaining our unique culture and way of life.

3. Tfila – Emphasizing that aspect of Tfila which has to do with the needs of the nation as a whole. Shmone Esre is not about a personal connection to Hashem, rather, yearning for the loftiest ideals of the Jewish People as a collective. Individual Tfila should be looked over by any means but we should not let it hijack Tfila’s primary – national purpose.

4. Israel – de-emphasize Israel’s role as a ‘safe haven’ from persecution or just ‘a great place to keep Torah’, and play up the role of the Land of Israel and the State of Israel in the fulfillment of Jewish Destiny and as the realization of the dreams, hopes and prayers of millions of Jews throughout thousands of years.

These are but few examples of how approaches to “regular” topics can create a different – and deeper – context to Torah in a way that powerfully impacts personality and values thus opening the way to Aliyah not just being an ideal to strive for, rather, an actual plan of action. I have found that it can be done in every area of Torah, in every Parsha, for any Simcha or event and so on. To be clear – I don’t think it is a trick or a manipulation. I believe this approach should be used not only because it is affective, rather, because I think it is correct. The entire Torah is זכר ליציאת מצרים in remembrance of the fact that Hashem took us out of Egypt, created us as a nation and defined our destiny as a national-communal one: ממלכת כהנים וגוי קדוש a kingdom of priests and a holly nation. I believe that only through the lens of our collective identity can one truly understand Torah and because it is true – it has the greatest chance of success, even for those who have forgotten long ago what it means to be part of a full Jewish national identity. It doesn’t mean they cannot be reminded.

Adults and youth whose spiritual world will be built with this orientation will find themselves naturally drawn towards the ideal of Aliyah, not only because they will become convinced of its truth rather because they will identify themselves within the collective and national ideal which are the increasing reality of the Land and State of Israel.

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Filed under Israel, Israel and Galut, Zionism

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