The Aliyah Apocalypse is coming
The Aliyah Apocalypse is coming
by Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
The difference between the situation of Jews in the Diaspora and those in Israel during the corona pandemic has led to a change in the way Diaspora Jews look at the Jewish state, from the Zionists to the haredim to the progressives.
If there is one thing we know about the post-coronavirus era that connects with the post WWII era, it is that we have no idea what the world will look like.. Who will be the winners? Who will be the losers? We do not know what industries will survive and which won’t, which economies will rise, and which will crumble.
One thing we do know for certain: the Aliyah apocalypse is coming.
As many have noted, for American Jews, the notion that America is a first-world country, and Israel is some kind of second world country can no longer exist. Sitting in New York hearing the harrowing sounds of ambulances all day and all night, while watching videos of Israelis singing Ma Nishtana from their balconies, can never be erased. The far superior management of the coronavirus outbreak in Israel, while we felt stranded and abandoned by state policies, will never disappear. Haredi Jews in Brooklyn and Rockland County who had seen tens of deaths a day for the past few weeks will never again be able to look down on Israel.
The contrast between the swift and effective action taken in Israel confronting the coronavirus, although it did suffer fatalities - a much lower number proportionately than outside Israel - contrasted with the slow and inadequate actions taken against it in most states in America, highlights the technological, governmental, and medical superiority Israel has been able to exercise in defense of its citizens. This is something everyone considering making Aliyah will now have on their minds. This is not true only of Jews in America. It is also true of Jews in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Australia, and more.
Then comes the economic aspect.
We do not know when economies will go back to function. We do know that many aspects of the economy may never come back. Others will be very hard hit. We do know that the world may be facing the greatest economic depression since the 1930s.
For American Jews it’s a simple choice: would you like to stay here to find out what a full-blown economic catastrophe looks like during an unresolved pandemic, with no guarantee for health insurance, not able to afford your children’s education, or would you like to take your chances and go to Israel? In Israel, you are guaranteed almost free healthcare—which has proven itself far superior and more effective—free or low-cost high-quality Jewish education (and low-cost higher education), and effective public policy (albeit with a civic license to complain and insane politics).
It is hard to imagine this will be a difficult choice. Once the airways reopen, and a ravaged world economy emerges, it is likely we will see an Aliyah apocalypse. Americans from all walks of life are likely to find the fast track back to Israel.
Another group that is likely to find their way back are Israeli yordim, those who emigrated to other countries. Many of them decided to take a risk and relocate so they could succeed at building a better standard of life in New York, Florida, Berlin, or Los Angeles. When economic opportunities are at a one hundred year low, when they are guaranteed a better healthcare system, when the world is far less globalized than ever before, many of them are likely to jump on the first flight back to Israel available to them. Many have already.
Every day I turn with horror to the various sites to see if there is anyone I know, a family member, a friend, or a known community leader.
Another change we are likely to see in Israeli-Diaspora relations is between the haredi sector and Israel. My heart bleeds as I think of the dozens who died and die every day in Brooklyn, Rockland County, Lakewood, Kiryas Joel, and more. Every day I turn with horror to the various sites to see if there is anyone I know, a family member, a friend, or a known community leader. Sadly, this happens almost every day and I hope is on a downward trend.
Seeing this happen in our community (I see myself as part of this community in many ways) while sister communities in Israel go almost unscathed - and seeing the IDF helping haredim in Bnei Brak with food and transportation to hotels to save the elderly) is going to change attitudes towards Israel. No longer can Israel be viewed as the Nebach subject of pity and America as the benevolent stable one. There is likely to be a reversal of roles which is likely to impact decision making. More haredi and Yeshivish Jews will see Aliyah as a sensible and desirable decision.
I vividly recall standing in my home in New York, at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, getting one of the usual charity calls from Israel. “You know the situation here is very difficult,” was the pitch. I couldn’t even pretend to listen. Hundreds of people were dying in New York and they were asking for sympathy? Thank G-d, they did not need it as much as we do! American Jews will realize that not being the big brother — benevolent uncle Sam — is not much fun.
Earlier this year, Rav Ahron, one of the two current Satmar Rebbes, came from Brooklyn to Israel, greeted by thousands, donating five million dollars to non-Zionist institutions. There was a subtle message about his arrival. The drones on the way to the airport, the private jets, the fancy motorcades, dashing out cash to supporters, all gave a simple message: American dollars can outdo Zionism. Rabbi Mordechai Berkovitch, a leading figure in the Satmar community in America, said it then outright: “the Zionists bought the Jews of Israel for a few dollars, we are going to get them back with millions of dollars. We are going to fight them face to face.”
If indeed this was a battle between the Brooklyn dollar and the Israeli Shekel, the outcome is not looking great for Brooklyn. Time to begin opting for Jerusalem over a beleaguered Brooklyn.
This symbolism is not just true for Brooklyn. Jews in haredi communities in London, Manchester, and beyond will do the same. It is hard to imagine Jewish communities like Antwerp, Belgium, which are now bracing an 85% coronavirus infection rate, soon forgetting how much better off their cousins in Israel were during this period. Israel will become a far more appealing option than ever before.
Progressive Jews won’t fall far behind either. Especially young ones. Reflecting on my days of hitting the job market during the 2008 recession, I can say with certainty there is nothing exciting about hitting a job market in decline. No matter what you think about Netanyahu, he did not abandon his citizens during the coronavirus outbreak just because they didn’t vote for him. Those who lived in blue states during this outbreak felt, although unjustifiably, abandoned and stranded by the federal government. The possibility of a country with nationalized healthcare, effective public health systems, an economy that is open both to the West and the East, is likely to appeal to many young Jews.
During this coronavirus outbreak, we should be thinking about our friends, family, grandparents, and members of our community. We should be thinking about how to get over this 21st century horror alive and well, care for others, and look out for anyone we can. Israel has done so in a spectacular way. For that reason, Israel should also be preparing for the Aliyah Apocalypse. Once the airways are open, many Jews will be saying: this year in Jerusalem. Israel should prepare to embrace them.
Rabbi Elchanan Poupko
The writer is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He lives with his wife in New York City and is the president of EITAN - The American-Israeli Jewish Network