A Question About Aliya

I am writing this from Israel near the end of perhaps my one-hundredth trip.  The first was in 1959.  As a rule, I am here three times a year.  We have an apartment in Jerusalem and I have a relationship with the Avi Chai Foundation which is nearby.  However, we are not considering aliya, primarily because our children and grandchildren are in the U.S. and my primary communal responsibilities are also there.

We once did consider aliya, at least at one or two levels of seriousness, including looking at an apartment.  That was forty-three years ago, when we came with two young children and I taught at Bar Ilan.  Although my feelings about Israel are powerful, I cannot say that I regret that we did not take advantage of the opportunity that was present in 1970.

Why?  For all of its diversity, American Orthodoxy ranges across a continuum.  There are the most charedi at one pole and the ultra-Modern Orthodox at the other pole, with much variety in-between.  There is also much fluidity and movement and there is no socio-psychological compulsion to embrace either extreme.  Charedi life in the U.S. is for many charedim not like charedi life in Israel.  There is much differentiation, as is evident when Lakewood is contrasted with Flatbush.  What is termed charedi in the U.S. may accept significant dosages of secular education at the elementary and high school levels and even accept forms of higher secular education.

The point is that being an American charedi does not necessarily mean extremely limited educational and career choices.  Nor, in fact, does it necessarily mean a distinctive charedi life-style.  If someone from a charedi family decides to be somewhat more modern, there are plenty of opportunities within Orthodox life to accommodate this desire.

The pattern is different in Israel.  There is greater rigidity.  This isn’t to suggest that there aren’t any charedi professors, lawyers, doctors, etc. or that charedim and the Modern Orthodox are never found in the same shul or that a chassidic young man who moves away from his parents’ orientation must necessarily reject religious life.  There is a measure of variety in Israel, but it is far less pronounced than what exists in the U.S. and there is far greater polarization.  This is abundantly evident at the basic educational level where choices must be made regarding schooling.  There is nothing in Israel remotely comparable to the American yeshiva/day school pattern.

Israel schools are more homogeneous, with charedim exposed only minimally or not at all to secular study.  Charedi schools are exclusionary and exclusion extends not only to families that might be just a faint shade less charedi but, in fact, to charedim of different stripes.  As we have seen, chassidim do not want Sephardic youngsters in their schools.

Although at times the choice of school is difficult and even wrenching for American parents, there is no comparison to what occurs in Israel.  There the choice is often between a charedi school that outlaws limudei chol, the prospect being for exclusion from society, and a school that is weak religiously, the prospect being in that situation for religious abandonment.

Nearly all of us have, I believe, relatives or friends whose Israeli educational experiences testify to this reality.

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31 Responses

  1. joel rich says:

    Reminds me of discussions on local out of town day schools:
    Them – I won’t send my kid there because it is too (RW,LW whatever) so I will send “out of town”.
    Me – If you want change in the school (and in the community) it won’t happen by people opting out. Someone needs to be in the trenches.

    For artzeinu hakedosha the stakes are even greater, the question which is a difficult one to answer in both cases is, what personal risk should we take for the betterment of the community?


  2. lacosta says:

    a dilemma …. the live-and-let-live O of chu”l seems verboten in the religion-is-a-war society created by the hilonophobia that resulted from the Old Yishuv being undermined by the secular minions —- and any religious compromise [eg Mizrachi] became just as verboten in the Middle East as it was in haredi Europe… good luck to Mashiach ben David to solve these internecine wars — i guess he has the advantage in definitively being able to declare a mode of living kosher or treif— if he declares Satmar or Kerem Beyavna or Meshichistic Chabad as the one and only correct derech , the others would have to fold; but maybe harder, he will declare many drachim kosher, and that will be much harder for us [whose whole life revolves around deciding who or what is treif or kosher] to learn to lvie with…..

  3. D says:

    Excellent article. This was the main reason why I moved back to the US after a few years in kollel in E”Y.

  4. Ben Waxman says:

    I don’t know what was available in 1970 but today there are dati leumi schools whose emphasis is on Torah and there are Chareidi schools that prepare their students for a bagrut. Assuming a young man can do the army (Nachal Chareidi, Shachar, etc) there is nothing standing between him and getting a higher education and entering whatever profession he wants.

  5. moshe says:

    I shared many of the same concerns before I made aliya.
    But I have discovered that Eretz Yisrael is Eretz Hatzvi- it expands to make it comfortable for any Jew to sincerely express his individuality in avodas Hashem.
    It is a mitzva to live in Eretz Yisrael, so doesn’t it follow that anyone who has a realistic idea of how he and his family could thrive in Israel- should just go ahead and take a calculated risk?
    That’s what I did and BH so far so good!

  6. Rena Freedenberg says:

    The author writes, “There is nothing in Israel remotely comparable to the American yeshiva/day school pattern.”

    Is this the same yeshiva/day school pattern that is driving many parents to the brink of bankruptcy? No school system is perfect but Israeli yeshivot/chadorim/Beis Ya’akovs are affordable to everyone and provide a quality education. Their students learn far and away much more limudei kodesh on a much higher level than will every be possible in the States where Hebrew is not a first language.

    Many hold yishuv EY to be a mitzva and even those who don’t hold it to be a positive action. There is no place on earth like Eretz Yisrael and I am very sorry that the author seems to be so misinformed about the Israeli school system.

  7. Steve Brizel says:

    Dr Schick’s article should be compared with an article by R S Carmy in one of the Orthodox Forum volumes that can be accessed at YuTorah. I think that many MO and Charedim in the US would agree with Dr Schick’s assessment of a very polarized Torah world in Israel, but would be certainly considering aliyah if their children stayed in Israel, and could find a community of similar minded Anglos. Such considerations should not be discounted as the liberal-left in the US continues defining deviance down and American popular culture rapidly approaches the lowest common denominator of popular acceptability on the West and East Coasts and in other venues of that world. It is probably unprintable here, but last week’s NYT Book Review reviewed a book which IMO sets forth why Yale is a clear and present moral danger for any Torah observant Jew to even think of attending because Midas Sdom has become part and parcel of the undergraduate culture.

  8. DF says:

    I am not so sure the rationale offered by Dr. Shick is anything more than an excuse. “We remember the melons and the leek we had in Egypt.” Life is easier in the Diaspora, and that includes religious life. No doubt the Jews who remained in Bavel, when the second Temple was being rebuilt, also could make the same or similar claims. Eretz Yisrael is only acquired with difficulty. And yet hundreds of thousands have made aliyah and continue to do so, despite the fears . . . .

    I too live in the Diaspora, and three times a day, when I am paying attention, I think myself a hypocrite. Dr. Shick’s approach might be healtier to assuage one’s psyche, but intelectually it must leave one wanting. It is simply a teretz – nothing more.

  9. Ilana says:

    Yes, it is quite difficult for American hareidim to find a place in the Israeli religious spectrum. The msin options are:

    1) Become real Israeli hareidim – embrace the kedusha of that community and give up on the relative openness that was available in America. It should be noted that, for eoonomic reasons, more Israeli hareidi boys/men are getting some parnasa-oriented secular education (which girls have always gotten).

    2) Become part of the in-between sector – it is much smaller than the straight hareidi or dati leumi sectors, but it exists, is probably growing, and is not so different from American hareidi. It even has educational institutions, and pretty good ones. Kids raised in this community do often grow up to choose one of the more “mainstream” options – either hareidi or dati leumi.

    3) Become dati leumi. The dati leumi sector in Israel has a wide spectrum of observance and commitment, and includes communities whose levels of observance, tzniut, and hakpadah are comparable to those of hareidim (at least of American hareidim). Dati leumi is NOT synonymous with the US Modern Orthodox, any more than Israeli hareidi is synonymous with American hareidi. (Dati leumi communities in chu”l are somewhat weakened by a high aliyah rate, often including a disproportionate number of the most committed – a problem that doesn’t exist in Israel.) But this choice would require accepting some level of Zionism, and presumably seeing one’s kids take it further.

    4) Don’t make aliyah. This really is the right choice for some families.

  10. Rafi Hecht says:

    This may have been the case 43 years ago but this isn’t the Israel I know and love (I visited there numerous times as a child and have many relatives there). There’s dati leumi, CharDal (many varieties depending on the neighborhood), and in-between.

  11. L. Oberstein says:

    Dr. Schick deals with an issue that is very important. One obvious answer is that if more of us lived there, we would be able to have our own schools and communities and be positive role models. The almost free nature of Israeli schools is a major plus. Most of all, Israel is Jewish. Bibi Netanyahu called up little Moshe ,whose parents were murdered in Mumbai, to wish him well on his first day of school and tell him that we all love him. The fact is that he means it and so does the rest of the country, who can compare that to being a minority in exile.
    Israel has so many existential threats that some of these problems get pushed aside. The demographic time bomb of both Arab and Charedi births has to be dealt with. Both cannot be ignored,but politically, it is easier to postpone real change in the educational situation.
    I wish more of our leaders were willing and able to lead their flock to change, but it seems that Israelis in general have a culture that mitigates against moderation. The chareidim are not the only ones who are unrealistic and live in a bubble. I have many children and grandchildren in Israel, all of whom have made Aliyah . I wish my grandsons in Ramat Beit Shemesh had a decent secular education but their parents made that decision. I find my grandchildren in Moddin living a middle class life as good as any in the USA. I am very proud of my son in Netzach Yehudah who just completed a 40 kilometer march, but, in honesty, there are more “datiim” in Nachal Charedi than real “chareidim”. If they want the real chareidim, I don’t know how much more they can do to accomadate them. It’s one of those problems that I thank G-d we have. Remember 1939 when the world was divided between places that wouldn’t let the Jews out and places that wouldn’t let the Jews in.

  12. SA says:

    Greetings from Jerusalem. Indeed, there are chinuch options here now that really do turn out well-rounded Torah-committed kids with a lifestyle, like no TV, that is comparable to American haredi, and who also engage the world. But the American chareidi may have to accept that their children, as they grow up, will not **look** exactly like them (i.e., hat and jacket and wig) but will probably end up wearing kippa sruga and kerchiefs/hats. In a world where we are so hung up on externals, that is apparently enough of a turn-off.

    This is not to say that kids here don’t sometimes go off the derech but based on what I’m reading and hearing over the past few years, there are no guarantees anywhere, even within the most closed communities and not even after the children are “safely ” married.

    If parents have a reasonable chance of making a living in Israel (and those options can be explored), the combination of health insurance and tuition costs in the US should spur all young religious families to consider aliya as a viable option (As has been discussed elsewhere in Cross-Currents). It’s a matter of critical mass — the more people who come here who need a certain type of school, the more that school is likely to thrive.

  13. Nachum says:

    Aside from disagreeing with most of what are asserted as facts here, it can be boiled down to one simple point:

    1. It’s a mitzvah to live in Israel.

    2. It’s not a mitzvah to be a Charedi.


  14. Derek Saker says:

    While I believe the thesis of your argument is much a search for justification in not leaving the U.S. – I completely understand your “primary communal responsibilities” weighed heavily.

    Every situation is different and Israel is not for everyone. And this particularly when someone like yourself has contributed so greatly to Jewish community life in the U.S.

    That said. I believe your article does raise a profound challenge in Orthodox world and particularly the American Chareidi world.

    As both an American and Israel citizen – living in both countries, I see the tremendous responsibility and contribution that especially American Charedi Rabbonim should have as regards their Charedi brethren in Israel.

    For too long the Chareidi American world has just blank endorsed any Chareidi position in Israel (in part – because they don’t have to live with the consequences – as they attend their Yankees game)

    And in doing so – they have ironically endorsed the absolutist hashkafa that you refer to that ironically acts AGAINST the growing tens of thousands of Chareidi individuals in Israel – who only seek the EMULATE their American brethren, WHO DO SEE the value in work, contributing to society etc.

    Israel desperately needs and cries out for the leadership of people like Rabbi Berel Wein, Rabbi Dov Lipman etc. – and the failure of the American Charedi community to at the very least provide a platform for robust and healthy debate will only cause more tragic implosion in this community – and all those consequences. As Rabbi Alderstein has so eloquently spoken about – the failure of creativity, the failure to encourage intelligent and opposing discourse yields a perilous price of failed solutions and no solutions.

    I see that the American community has an enormous responsibility in part to be a catalyst of change for the good, of being a beacon of guiding light where there is so much darkness, polarity and intolerance at best.

    I remember over 15 years ago attending a community-wide lecture in Telz-Stone, just outside Jerusalem that had been called for by a community largely of American and other Anglo olim who were concerned that their children were not getting any secular education, skills for a trade or a profession, sports etc. (that they had experienced in America and elsewhere). I remember so vividly the mantra that was delivered. “This is Israel. Your child does not need it. With his mind mastered in Gemara learning, he can easily just find work should he ever have to later in life.”

    Unfortunately I know so many of these individuals today. They are neither dedicated full-time learners nor have they found a balance in learning and a profession. They are in no-man’s land and worse.

  15. Aharon Haber says:

    This blog post struck me as odd. It seems like a weak and somewhat transparent justification for a decision made 40 years ago. No nuance? No regret? Hard to believe for someone who has deep feelings for the country. I think Rabbi Schick’s generation was/is in a unique position of being the first generation in thousands of years who have to explain – at least to their children – why they could have easily lived in G-d’s chosen land and yet decided against it. I think different people deal with this contradiction in different ways. Some decide they cant live with it at all.

  16. yehudis says:

    Rav Menachmen Mendel of Vitebsk wrote a treatise on the soul-churning process that olim chadashim go through…about two hundred years ago. We all have to adapt, we all have a lot to work out, and it can take many years.
    While I agree that the flaws inherent in the Israeli-charedi system are real, who says that this is a sufficient reason not to take the plunge? Why don’t we all imagine, if only for a moment, a future when every frum Jew (of every possible stripe) gets on a plane and moves to Eretz Yisrael. I’m hoping for every Jew, but let’s just talk about yidden who actually have an understanding of the spiritual significance of Eretz Yisrael. How many Orthodox Jews are there in the world right now? How might this revolutionize the yishuv?
    What might that mean for our educational system? Our political system? Our social networks, our economy, our communities? How about the potential for the greatest kiddush Hashem imaginable?
    I dream about this and daven for it every single day, from my perch in Yerushalayim.
    Change can only be made here, not in wishing it were so from a distance.

  17. koillel nick says:

    I live here in Eretz Yisrael. And as my children get older, I worry. For the same reasons that Dr Schick mentions. It is not there is absolutely no place for a Haredi that want’s a secular education. There are a few. But it keeps me limited with choices, and forces me to weigh more serious issues. One school may have the Limudei Kodesh, and Limudei chol, but may be far more nationalistic than I’d like to educate my kids. The next school may be on target with all the above, but may be a dumping ground for turned off disenfranchised Israeli Haredim who just want to escape the general system. The next school may have all three points that I want, but a staff that is fully Haredi and implants a negative view of limudei chol into the school, as they don’t really believe in it themselves.
    I can go on and on. My point is that I am a typical student of my yeshivsh Alma Mater, still attend kollel for two sedarim a day, yet the world views that I was raised up with and received in yeshiva a far different than Israeli Haredi. Aside from the role that Zionism plays in one’s life, your average American Haredi, has more of a common world view with Merkaz Harav than with Bnei Brak, Ponivezh, Kol Torah etc. The Hashkafa expoused in American yeshivos is more in line with R Avraham Shapira zl than with R Schach zl.

  18. dr. bill says:

    Ilana, when you write about the Israeli chareidi community: “….embrace the kedusha of that community and give up on the relative openness that was available in America.” by kedusha, I assume you mean separateness not holiness.

    The student/soldier/scholar is not separate from israeli society but their way of life is sanctified by halakhic observance; those who die for the jewish people are (real/also) kedoshim.

    Kedusha (and chillul haShem) are not the exclusive province of any of the various groups you mention.

  19. Nachum says:

    In his discussions of the question of whether being indispensable to Jewish life in the golah exempts people from Aliyah, R’ Herschel Shachter adds, “Everyone thinks they’re indispensable. Even I do.” He says that in a self-deprecating tone, and if anyone’s entitled to say it, it’s him.

  20. Allan Katz says:

    The words of Ilana, SA , Derek resonate with me. I live in Israel.

    I would label myself as ‘ being on the fence.’

    In order to progress in Yiddishkeit , kids need to feel part of some camp, so it is very likely that your kids will turn out different to you.
    Depending when kids come to Israel , the challenges of Limudie kodesh can lead to off the derech.

    Education is not all free – Hareidi – girls pay min , basically free
    boys – chinuch atzmu’i – until 8 th grade same as girls . Today there is a trend towards – chadarim – cheder – so it goes from $120 – 900 shekels a month , Yeshivah Ketana 600-900 , yeshivah gavoha 900

    Data leumi – mamlachti dati – basically free ,girls high school 5000 shekels a year
    semi private primary 600-750 , high scool 800
    boys – high school 7-8 grade 800 , high school 1000 – with dorm 1200+
    hesder – if you pay 5 years eeven while kid is in the army 60×900

    The challenge of the hareidi educational system for me is not so much the lack of secular education, but educating boys that they don’t have to make a plan on how they will make a living and provide for their families.

  21. Orit says:

    Dr. Schick: it’s not too late to make aliya!!! Come join us. You couldn’t or didn’t then, you can do it now. Bring the kids and grandkids.
    That said: we olim here are building the land of Israel by creating a new model. When Israelis ask me: What are you? I say, American charedi. We are here building American style schools – black hats with secular education, respect for the Israeli flag without making Zionism the religion, etc.. C’mon, all you Americans, join us!!!

  22. Ahron says:

    Homeschooling anyone?

    Why the unchallenged assumption that ‘of course’ our children’s education belongs in the hands of a bureaucracy?…

    Homeschooling on personal, familial and neighborhood levels is increasingly widespread in America. Do Israelis even consider this? Or is submission to the “educational” bureaucracies the only conceivable path?

  23. thinking outloud says:

    you neglect the Char”dal community in Israel which may satisfy your needs.
    Charedi Dati Leumi might be more similar to “modern orthodox machmir” in the parlance of today’s efforts to somehow squeeze out every difference between what is a comparatively homogeneous population with regard to the world at large.

    Also, I am somewhat surprised that you use of the term Charedi, it has always seemed more israel-centric.
    Americans seem to (or at least used to) prefer Yeshivish and Chasidish to distinguish themselves from modern orthodoxy.
    Or as my 9th grade Rebbe, in what you would describe as a very Charedi Yeshiva liked to use: Torah Judaism. — I think this label might fit you better.

  24. le says:

    The decision to move to Israel brings a unique set of challenges; however while baruch Hashem one can live a very fulfilled Jewish life in chutz l’aretz, it is important to admit that in deciding to live outside of Eretz Yisrael one is giving up on important aspects of the Jewish experience. I Agree there are many difficulties with society in Eretz Yisrael these days, I wish it were different…but there are also many beautiful aspects of society, and religious life in Israel that are lacking in chutz l’aretz. Every individual and family must make a decision that works for them, but at the very least it is important to admit that even if your family could not live in Eretz Yisrael for legitimate reasons (social, financial etc.) as a Jew you must always yearn for the day when we will all merit living in Eretz Yisrael. Listening to the haftoras these past few weeks should be enough to prove my point. As an aside- I am aware of many different varieties of educational institutions in Israel…in fact one criticism of society here is that each individual group looks to educate in a school that is tailored to their unique hashkafa instead of embracing a more open-minded view. Indeed there is much room for improvement; as a member of the Jewish people who hopes and prays for the geulah 3 times a day, I think there is a personal and communal responsibility to actively invest in the future of Eretz Yisrael, and to try and build a more tolerant society, and continue to improve educational and religious life here. It’s not easy work- but most great things are not achieved without a little bit of hard work!

  25. Sarah Shapiro says:

    Do we, or do we not, believe that Torah delivers Hashem’s instructiono to us as the Jewish People?

    If so, is it coincidental that observance of the mitzvah mentioned more frequently in Chumash than most others, has always involved difficulties great and small?

    Do we measure the signifcancce, centrality, or value of other mitzvahs in terms of the difficulties they incur?

    In the early 1970s I encountered Dr. Schick in his capacity as an Orthodox public servant working selflessly to help his brethren from behind a municipal office desk. His sincerity buttressed my faith in relgious Jews.

    How profoundly Israeli society could be affected for the better by the likes of him!

  26. cvmay says:

    A few inaccuracies:
    1. “As we have seen, chassidim do not want Sephardic youngsters in their schools” – It is mainly the Litvish Bet Yakov’s that are closed to Sephardim, the Sephardim have no interest or desire to join in the Chassidish chinuch.
    2. The Charedei system is starting to offer Limudei Chol in spurts, sometimes after hours or independently studied. When you locate to Rechovot, Petah Tikvah, etc. (outside of Yerushalayim) there are more choices and less chumros.
    3. The choice to make aliyah should encompasses more thorough thought of the pros & cons with an emphasis on the many PROS.

  27. Shimon says:

    Gee, and here I am in Ramat Beit Shemesh, 6,000 away from family, struggling financially to live here in Israel just because I thought this is the chosen land and where Hashem wants us to be. Thanks for the update…now we can come back to NY!

  28. YM says:

    Is it really true that (Ashkenazi) Charedim don’t want their children going to school with Sephardim, or is there a tremendous overlap between Sephardim and a “weaker” level of observance, and the Charedim just don’t want their children educated with those whose observance is different and, as they perceive it, weaker?

  29. shlomo zalman says:

    I disagree with but respect Dr. Schick’s life choice. He is certainly a major contributor to the vibrancy of contemporary Judaism.
    Curiously, he ommitted the one word which has polarized the populace here in Israel more than any other:

    As my wife said to me every morning while our son was in Gaza fighting in Oferet Yetzukah, “All night long I thought I heard a jeep pulling up in front of the house” .
    Every Israeli knows what that means.
    My son was lucky, his two friends standing in front of him closer to the explosion were not as lucky.

    And that is the difference, Dr. Schick, between chareidim and non-chareidim, and between living here and living there.

  30. Yehoshua Friedman says:

    I strongly empathize with Dr. Schick and many other Torah Jews in the Diaspora. The mistake is in assuming that life in Israel and the options available are constant rather than dynamic. People naturally want to have their cake and eat it. Since I made aliya 42 years ago the cake has gotten better, augmented by pizza, which didn’t exist then. My current circumference attests to that change. The kippa-sruga community has become sadder but wiser since the series of withdrawals and demolitions and the hareidi community has become more aware of the need for a more balanced, economically viable communal lifestyle. More and more Torah is being learned in all communities. I see extremism, but also convergence. More and more awareness exists regarding the possibilities in the larger world for Torah Jews. This process will continue. Israel will remain a small country with small markets, less shopping, without locally available major league baseball (but with Israel competing in the 2013 World Baseball Classic!). The isolation that you had to accept 40 years ago is not the case nowadays. The perfect school is not here and not there. The bankrupting cost of a Jewish day school trying to maintain the standards of an American private school with sports teams and extracurricular activities and shtick is not worth maintaining. Israelis have been chastened by the events of the last decades and no longer think they know everything and can do everything better than Americans. Get updated and get some perspective.

  31. David F. says:

    Yehoshua Friedman,

    As someone who lived in Israel for a significant period of time following marriage and now travels there frequently on business, I can state with confidence that you are 100% correct. There is far more convergence than divergence and the gap is closing with each passing day. Economic realities are forcing this issue and a perspective based on 40 years ago isn’t reflective of the reality nor are blogs where folks are free to write about things they often know little about.
    The only way to truly get a sense of what’s happening in EY today is by spending real time there.

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