Friday, January 1, 2010

A couple of responses to Michael Hirsch

Yom shishi, 15 Tevet 5770.  (Yom huledet sameach, Yeshiva Bochur!)

Michael Hirsch published in The Jerusalem Post an article entitled "American Aliya - An Exercise in Futility."  (The article can also be found here, at  In his essay, Hirsch basically slam-dunks into the ash can the entire program of Nefesh B'Nefesh, apparently because it has not emptied the Jewish streets of America into flights headed for Israel.  The article was subsequently published by the estimable Rebbetzin Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler on her "Baltimore Chug Aliyah" list (which can be sought -- and joined! -- at

What follows is a response by one list member, followed by my comment.  (Since without Rivkah's help, I seem never able to make Yahoo work, I'll re-post here.  Google and I understand each other.)

What is the value of this article? Who cares whether promoting aliyah helps or does not help one million people move to Israel.

Promoting aliyah is designed to help one person and only one person. You.



I suspect Michael Hirsch is correct.  But with all due respect, I am very grateful for Nefesh B'Nefesh.  No, the organization may not turn the regrettable tide of Jews clinging tenaciously to the Diaspora.  That will be in G-d's hands, as is every other miracle.  But Rabbi Fass and Tony Gelbart made it possible for people like my family to rise above the reality of not enough assets to fulfill our personal dream of making aliyah.  And a read of their mission statement reveals that there is not a word about bringing every recalcitrant American Jew to live in Israel.

The core mission of NBN is to revitalize Aliyah and to substantially increase the number of future olim by removing the financial, professional and logistical obstacles that prevent many individuals from actualizing their dreams. In the process of fulfilling our mission, we aim to educate and inspire the Jews of the Diaspora as to the centrality of the Jewish State to the Jewish people and its desirability as a Jewish home. Such enhanced awareness will send an unmistakable signal of Anglo-Israeli Jewish solidarity and of our mutual determination to strengthen the State of Israel and thereby increase the likelihood of an ever expanding Aliyah reality.

This seems to me to be a humble and worthy goal.  NBN wants to help those who would be living in Israel, but for "financial, professional and logistical obstacles."  They are accomplishing this goal.  I can't speak for all of the olim who have been aided by NBN; but I can tell you that without them, the Eastmans would still be living in the US.  And NBN aims to increase awareness, to educate and inspire.  The fact is that every one of us who gets our break via NBN has the potential to bring a few of our friends on our coattails.  Several of my friends who wanted to make aliyah have finally convinced their spouses, in part "because the Eastmans did it."  There are even a few who never entertained the thought of aliyah who now credit us with having made the concept worthy of consideration.

To a degree, then, I agree with Tzvi's point -- it shouldn't slow down NBN's efforts that they may not bring Home a million Jews.  Is not each soul as a universe?  But I would also argue with Tzvi that we should care about the sad realities that keep many Jews from making aliyah, because my understanding of the Jewish mission is that it's not "all about me."  We are one organism.  So we should try to enlighten the other parts of us to join us here.

Rabbi Akiva is the quintessential Jewish example of the power of a drop of water, followed by another drop of water, followed by yet another, to make even the impossible a reality.  Just as a simple am ha'aretz, hostile to the rabbis and totally ignorant of Torah, could be convinced by the water wearing away the rock to begin learning at 40, and to become one of our greatest rabbis -- so too can a people be reached, one oleh at a time.

Keep up the work you are doing on Hashem's behalf, Rabbi Fass and Mr. Gelbart, heedless of naysayers' statistics.  You are doing holy work.  Yours is not to complete the task -- that is up to Hashem.

But neither is it our task to derail the mission with doubt.

Welcome Home, to the 200-plus new olim who arrived on December 30th!  Keep up the good work, NBN!

Yom huledet sameach, Yeshiva Bochur!: Happy birthday, Dovid!
Chug: club
Rabbi Akiva:  one of the greatest of our rabbis and commentators, who started as a simple, ignorant shepherd, and was convinced that even he could learn Torah, by seeing that drops of water had worn a hole in a rock, little by litte
Am ha'aretz:  ingnoramous
Oleh: a Jew who makes aliyah (immigrates to Israel) -- plural: olim

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