Why aren't more orthodox American yeshiva students in Israel making Aliyah? Let's take a closer look at two young men who are making a difference by bringing the holiness of the Holy Land back into the consciousness of the Jewish people.
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Most yeshiva students have things somewhat mapped out. Spend a year or two learning in yeshiva in Israel, return to the states, often to a place like Lakewood or Monsey, spend 6 months in the "freezer" focusing on only learning and then start shidduchim, dating for marriage. However, sometimes these guys end up staying in Israel for another year, and another year etc. And sometimes they settle in Israel and build their lives here in the holy land. Other times they set their sights on returning sometime in the not so distant future…which seems to ebb further and further away with each year that passes. Every so often, there are those who ask the question, "Why aren’t more people staying here after yeshiva?"
In this episode we take a closer look at two young men who not only decided to live in the Holy Land, but have founded organizations to help bring the holiness of the Holy Land back to the forefront of consciousness of the yeshiva world.
Vilna Gaon & Baal Shem Tov
Its never easy being an immigrant. Everyone knows Israel has changed over the decades. We hear how difficult it was for the immigrants of political zionism in the mid 1900’s. We can’t imagine what the Vilna Gaon, the father of the yeshiva movement had to endure in the late 1700’s during his failed attempt at making aliyah to the Holy Land. He made it as far as Odessa and then literally missed the boat. It was the students and children that eventually actualized his vision and moved to Israel to build what became known as the Hayishuv Hayashan, the old settlement. However, this is often forgotten or buried deep within the collective consciousness of today's yeshiva world.
Rabbi Berel Wein and JewishHistory.org (click here for their YouTube link) explain the story of of the Vilna Gaon's attempt to return to Israel in the 1700's and his students eventual successful journey to the Holy Land to build Torah communities. As Rabbi Wein explains, the Vilna Gaon got as far as Odessa and had to return because "he literally missed the boat."
Yoel Berman from Kedushas Tzion reminds us that the students of the Vilna Gaon and the students of the Baal Shem Tov are our role models. They experienced unthinkable hardships and were happy. He explains that this isn't just a question of a mitzvah to live here or not. Rather, this is what G-d intended for the Jewish people to live here, keep his Torah and
Yoel explains his perspective on Aliyah, "Just because its easier for us to just hop on a plane and go to Eretz Yisrael doesn't mean it should be any less important. If they were willing to go through [unthinkable hardship] in order to come here and to live here and they were happy doing it, then it doesn't make sense for us to ignore all that."
"Just because its easier for us to just hop on a plane and go to Eretz Yisrael doesn't mean it should be any less important. If they were willing to go through [unthinkable hardship] in order to come here and to live here and they were happy doing it, then it doesn't make sense for us to ignore all that." - Yoel Berman
The Generation that didn't make it
Yehoshua Bin Nun also didn't have it easy in the times of Moses leading the Jewish people out of Egypt. In fact, due to lack of confidence, faith and trust in G-d an entire generation was sentenced to die in the desert and not enter the land. Entering the land only happened 40 years later when that next generation was able to go in and conquer the cities of the morally bankrupt Canaanites living here several thousands of years ago. During a tour hosted by Nachliel, the group went to Yarmut just outside Bet Shemesh. The tour guide Nesanel Eisenman brought participants on a journey in time as they explored the ruins of that Cannanite city that was eventually inhabited by the Israelites during the times of Yehoshua. He explained that Ramat Bet Shemesh Dalet was originally going to be called Yarmut but they changed it to RBS Dalet for marketing purposes since RBS is a hot spot destination for those making Aliyah from English speaking countries.
Today, not only does Israel have modern day amenities such as sewage, running water, hospitals, but it also has economic opportunity, a hitech industry of world renown, a booming economy, as well as a diversity of communities for nearly any immigrant in any language. There are new charedi English speaking communities and schools popping up all the time and in places such as Ramat Bet Shemesh, many of these schools are vibrant and flourishing.
Avraham Shusteris started Nachliel after his own experience both spending time in yeshiva after yeshiva high school and then after living with his family in Money, New York and watching Eretz Yisrael from the sidelines, he went into deep research mode. Avraham explained, "Everyone told me that I was crazy, that it is impossible to live here. When I came here I was prepared for a very difficult time. Because I did the research and I spoke to enough people I found that my experience was actually not nearly as difficult as people as what I had expected and I was very pleasantly surprised." Today, Nachliel creates touring events for locals and tourists to discover or rediscover the holy history right here in our own back yards (if you live here).
"Everyone told me that I was crazy, that it is impossible to live here. When I came here I was prepared for a very difficult time. Because I did the research and I spoke to enough people I found that my experience was actually not nearly as difficult as people as what I had expected and I was very pleasantly surprised." - Avraham Shusteris
Demographics of a Religious Jewish State
According to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, about 62% Haredim said that the term Zionists does describe them accurately. But Pew was probably asking the wrong question. If the question is about living in the Holy Land, they may have answered differently. It is strangely ironic that many may find it astonishing that today, religious Jews also have a deep yearning and passion for living here. In fact, as we saw in 2021 approximately 75% of those making aliyah from North America were Orthodox, hands down the largest group in 2021. According to the Israel Democracy Institute, Haredim alone (not including other Orthodox Jewish groups) will comprise 32% of Israel’s population by the year 2065. Although the politics of the 20th century may have been confusing, there's no question that the future of Israel looks more religious than the early founders of the modern state could ever have dreamed.
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