The Answer to Fighting Anti-Semitism is not Aliyah

This article was originally published on February 19, 2015, in the Ops & Blogs section of Times of Israel. The full article can be found on their website here

Times of Israel

The Jewish community is still reeling from the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. While there have been scary examples of hate and anti-Semitism towards the Jewish community for years, the hostage crisis and murder of four Jews at the Hypercacher Kosher Supermarket in East Paris on January 9th, 2015, by terrorists awakened the rest of World Jewry to the challenges that the French Jewish community, and much of European Jewry face regularly.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to France following the Hypercacher Kosher Supermarket terrorist attack – which occurred only days after the Charlie Hebdo attack – and reminded French Jews that Israel is their home, encouraging them to emigrate from France to Israel if they want to live safely as Jews. The desecration of a Jewish cemetery in France only days ago has only made Netanyahu’s calls for Aliyah that much louder. As it is, seven thousand French Jews made Aliyah in 2014, more than double that of the previous year.

Like a terrible case of Déjà vu, we heard of the tragic terrorist attack at a Copenhagen synagogue on February 14th which left one dead and two wounded – and following an attack at a free speech event at a nearby café earlier in the day. Just as was the case in France, Prime Minister Netanyahu called for Jews of Denmark to make Aliyah to Israel, even discussing with Cabinet members a $46 million plan to encourage mass Aliyah of European Jewry.

French President Hollande disagrees with Netanyahu’s calls for Jews to leave France, saying that he would not allow Jews to “believe that [they] no longer have a place in Europe. Jews have their place in Europe and, in particular, in France.” Similarly, Danish Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt said “the Jewish community has been in this country for centuries. They belong in Denmark, they are a part of the Danish community and we wouldn’t be the same without the Jewish community in Denmark.” Of course talk is cheap. They can make such public statements, but those statements are meaningless if such anti-Semitic terrorist attacks continue. Still, I agree with them, that Europe has failed, and the European Jewish community has failed, if there they leave and immigrate to Israel.

Don’t get me wrong: I love Israel. I support and believe in the state of Israel. I am a Zionist and I believe in the modern-day miracle, a realization of our thousands year old goal to live Jewishly, under Jewish sovereignty, in the Promised land. I am grateful that Jews everywhere in the world can make Aliyah, can move to Israel, and can live in a place where they can be Jewish, speak Hebrew, and observe Jewish law how they see fit. Additionally, I appreciate that there is a safe haven of sorts for World Jewry, a place where Jews who fear their safety can live safely.

That being said, I think we have failed as a people, and as society, if all Jews leave their homes and move to Israel. While there are those who ideologically promote mass Aliyah of all Jews to bring about Messianic redemption, that is not what this is about. This type of Aliyah is about leaving where you are because it is not safe to be a Jew there. We have failed as a people – especially given the horrific events of the twentieth century — if our solution to anti-Semitism anywhere is to make Aliyah.

As an American Jew and as an American rabbi, I admit that my Jewish identity and American identity are intertwined. While it may be scandalous for a rabbi to say, although I am a Zionist, I never envision making Aliyah. I do not dream of living in Israel one day. I love Israel and love visiting Israel, but my Jewish identity is strengthened through my experiences as an American, living in American society. Furthermore, my beliefs regarding policy and legislation in America is influenced by the ethics and values of my faith that I hold to be true. My dream is to be a Jew living in America, just as I am now. My dream is that every Jew is free to be themselves, as they are, where they live.

The answer is not to leave. The answer most certainly is not to make mass Aliyah as Netanyahu promotes. Rather, the answer is for us – Jews in America, Jews in Israel, and Jews throughout the world – to stand up in solidarity with the Jewish communities of Paris, Copenhagen, and all of Europe. The answer is that we must refuse to be silent. We cannot ignore such anti-Semitism. We cannot pretend that it does not exist. Leaving Europe does just that. We must stand up to it. We must make sure that like-minded Christians, Catholics, and Muslims, those who refuse to be consumed by hatred and bigotry, stand up to such anti-Semitism as well.

Judaism existed, and in many cases thrived, for almost two thousand years in the diaspora. We must support Israel, but cannot give up on the need and importance of the diaspora Jewish community. We must not run. We must not flee. Rather, we must stand united against terrorism, against hate, and against anti-Semitism.

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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