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Aliyah Day: The mission isn’t complete

Every wave of aliyah strengthens Israel, but the country isn’t doing enough to encourage Diaspora Jews to tie their fates to ours.

Ukrainian Jewish immigrants arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv as part of an aliyah from Ukraine on Feb. 20, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Ukrainian Jewish immigrants arrive at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv as part of an aliyah from Ukraine on Feb. 20, 2022. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Ariel Bulshtein
Ariel Bulshtein

Israel’s Aliyah Day, which is marked in the Hebrew month of Cheshvan in honor of the original aliyah, when the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River, was added to the modern calendar a few years ago, when many (possibly too many) people thought that mass waves of aliyah were a thing of the past.

Accordingly, Aliyah Day thus far has traditionally looked back to our history. The historical emphasis and prestige accorded to previous waves of aliyah are important, but this year’s Aliyah Day reminded us that the work is far from over, and that Israel must continue to welcome Jews from all over the world.

The right to make aliyah is in demand, and thousands are considering exercising it. Ukrainian Jews are fleeing war, Russian Jews are fleeing tyranny and uncertainty, and tomorrow, the Jews of France—who see their country being torn between left-wing and right-wing radicalism—might join them. One cannot guess what might befall other Diaspora Jewish communities, but we can say with certainty that the world is in chaos, and that unlike many others, Jews have somewhere to go.

Given this situation, how absurd Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai’s remarks appear; when he first took over the job, he rushed to characterize aliyah as a phenomenon of the past.

“I haven’t come to encourage aliyah,” he declared, in a demonstration of post-Zionism which went against any understanding of history or reading of the present.

Now is the time to erase his pathetic comments from our lexicon and say exactly the opposite to the Jews of the world. Israel should encourage aliyah, for both values-based and practical reasons.

There are fringes of Israeli society for whom the ingathering of the exiles is just the name of a highway interchange (“Kibbutz Galuyot”), but for most of us, it is a living, breathing vision. Seventy years ago, only incorrigible optimists believed that millions of Jews would move to Israel and that Israel would become the world’s biggest Jewish community. There is no reason why millions more of our people shouldn’t make aliyah in the next 70 years.

Unlike the past, modern-day Israel can and should fight for the new immigrants, and not merely wait for reality to send them out to seek a new place for themselves. Every wave of aliyah makes our country stronger, so it’s in our own interest to attract more and more Jews.

Sadly, even now, when masses of Jews are leaving Ukraine and Russia, we are far from realizing the potential of aliyah. Israel should, of course, take in those who come, but what about the others who stay behind in Europe? Why hasn’t Shai, in his nine months as minister, begun encouraging them to come, and making preparations for it?

If Israel would take determined action rather than waiting, if politicians who don’t encourage aliyah were tossed out, we could convince many more Jews to tie their fates to ours so that Aliyah Day 2022 won’t be remembered as a lost opportunity.

Ariel Bulshtein is a journalist, translator, lecturer and lawyer.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

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