Why is another group of Americans leaving the most powerful and prosperous nation on the planet to move to a small, distant state and become Israelis by choice? Some are going in order to live in the land given by God to Jews, some will pursue new careers, some will rejoin family members, and all seek to fulfill the Zionist dream of "living life on a higher plane" in Israel.
Forty native-born Americans were honored at a farewell reception Sunday, May 21, at Shalhevet High School in Los Angeles by the Aliyah Development Project Committee of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, along with the new and outgoing Israeli consul generals for southwestern United States.
Speaking behind a podium draped with the Israeli flag, Dr. Auri Spigelman explained his motives and desires. "Our imminent aliyah fulfills our dream in many ways," said Spigelman, a spokesperson for the group of émigrés.
Living in Israel, Spigelman noted, brings together a triad: religion, peoplehood, and living in the historical and promised land of Israel. "We will meet difficulties, and we will meet them with patience, flexibility, and a willingness to learn." An audience of 150 people sat at tables with American and Israeli flags surrounded by large promotional posters of Israel.
Spigelman will begin "an active retirement" in Jerusalem. Deena Spigelman, married to Auri for 36 years, will also enjoy a new home with a wonderful view and shopping with her daughter, who also made aliyah. The Spigelmans have already made 18 trips to Israel and taken many Hebrew courses at the University of Judaism to prepare for their new lives. Deena Spigelman's mother will also relocate to Jerusalem.
"Aliyah culminates a 20-year dream to live in my grandparents' city and the reclaiming of my heritage," the doctor continued. "In my mind, the best gift we offer to Israel's evolving democracy is not merely tolerating diversity, but promoting diversity within the context of national security."
"Aliyah seems like an inevitable thing," added Dr. Claire Ho, speaking as the group's second spokesperson. "People ask, 'Isn't that odd? Strange?' Not at all." Ho attended Jewish day schools, studied Judaism and Jewish history at college, interned in Israel, and studied advanced Hebrew in the ulpan program. The final touch was "meeting a nice Israeli-American gentleman." Ho will marry a fellow American Israeli in July in Israel, where she will start a new family and continue her career.
"Lving in the land of Israel is worth all the other religious precepts," said outgoing Israeli Consul member Aharon Bar-Natan, quoting the Torah.Giving a brief overview of modern Israel's 52-year history, Bar-Natan observed that "despite the fact that the news from Israel is not easy," a "new reality" of "peace and prosperity" has been created on the ground. American Israelis continue to play a disproportionate role in building that "new reality," partly grounded in Israel's expanding high-tech economy.
The ceremony included presentations of aliyah certificates to emigrating families and individuals. A total of 40 individuals will be making aliyah within the next three months. The Aliyah Development Project Committee has helped more than 500 individuals move to Israel during the past two years.
"I believe that North American Jews have a special contribution to make within Israeli society, a unique contribution that will not come from Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, Europe, or Argentina," said Larry Tishkoff, the Israeli emissary for aliyah."Far greater than their numbers would suggest, North American olim are spearheading the high-tech revolution in Israel, serving in various capacities throughout Israel's broadbased industries: in finance, government, commerce, education, science, tourism, you name it, olim have made their mark," Tishkoff said. "But it is with regard to the rich democratic and pluralistic heritage North American olim bring with them to Israeli society that can be perhaps their greatest contribution." Tishkoff was born and raised in Los Angeles and became an "Israeli by choice" in 1977.
Other speakers included Rabbi Harvey J. Fields, chair of the Jewish Agency's subcommittee on Aliyah from the West; Fredi Rembaum, Federation's director for Israel and overseas relationships; Eddie Friedman, chairman of the Aliyah Development Project Committee, and Suzanne Eigenstein, Tishkoff's associate.
While hopes for peaceful life in Israel are strong, the new olim think perspective is needed to get beyond the headlines. "We don't go to Harlem or Watts here, and we won't go to East Jerusalem there," Auri Spigelman said. "In many ways, it's just as dangerous here with the shootings, carjackings, and gangs," Deena Spigelman added. "We just don't call it terrorism, but the result is just the same."