December 13, 2001
The Hebrew word aliyah is taken from the biblical reference to "Aliyat Haregel" or going up to the Temple in Jerusalem during the three pilgrimage festivals. The Zionists succeeded in appropriating the symbolic power of this term when they transferred its meaning to the act of moving to live in Israel. Today, as we live in the wake of the year-long Intifada in which the Palestinian Authority responded to Israel's peace initiative with violence -- today, as we look for a response to the most recent terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Haifa -- today the time has come to redefine the term aliyah once again.
Here's my suggestion for a new definition for aliyah -- anytime a Jew takes it upon him or herself to travel to Israel, for a week, a month, a year or a lifetime, it should be considered the fulfillment of a mitzvah, an obligation to God and to the Jewish People.
The most powerful weapon of terrorism is fear. During the last year, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and other terrorist organizations have succeeded in rendering us helpless with fear. Jews who once traveled to Israel in droves, who filled the hotels and tourist sites, who sent their children to study in summer and yearlong study programs, have been frightened away. In defending the controversial discussion to suspend the Reform movement's program in Israel last summer, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, summarized this fear by saying, "We do not make ideological statements with our children."
It is not only the children; students also have been kept away. Israeli universities' overseas programs have experienced a dramatic reduction, reporting enrollees of less than half of their usual numbers. Adults are also staying away. Tourism is at a virtual standstill. Israel's hotels are empty. Restaurants in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are closing for lack of business. Those of us who live in Israel feel isolated and abandoned by our American friends.
Yet, American Jews are keenly aware of the significance of Israel's survival to Jewish life around the world. When all of this clears up, they will want to send their children on Israel programs once again, and reap the many other benefits that a strong Israel offers Diaspora Jews. Recalling that those brave Israeli soldiers who serve to defend this strong Israel are themselves but 18 -21-year-olds, it seems that we are expected to do with our children what American Jews will not do with their own!
By staying away, Americans are granting terror a decisive victory. They are sending the message that, in the final analysis, a wedge can indeed be inserted between the Jewish State and the Jewish Diaspora. Terror can hurt not only Israel's citizens in the short run, but its economy and infrastructure in the long run. Waging a war of fear against the innocent, terrorists can be victorious over the brave.
Jewish philosopher Emile Fackenheim once suggested a new mitzvah, obligatory upon Jews after the Holocaust -- not to grant Hitler a posthumous victory by abandoning Jewish life. When Jews and Judaism survive, it is the ultimate defeat for the Nazis. Fortunately, Israel's defense establishment is strong and today we can defend ourselves against the despotism that has so long tortured our people. But that defense establishment needs support from the Jewish world today. Our response to terror must be defiance, not complacency.
The time has come not to create a new commandment but to redefine an old one. The time has come for every Jew to stand up and be counted, to defy terror, to vote with their airplane tickets. Come to Israel today -- nothing short of the Jewish future hangs in the balance!