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Has Jewish immigration to Israel lost its significance?

Having immigrated to Israel a month ago, A. Daniel Roth contemplates the concept of ‘aliya’ — Jewish immigration to Israel — and how to make it significant.

By A. Daniel Roth

About a month ago I attended a lecture by one of my undergraduate professors from the Jewish studies department at the University of Toronto about the current situation in Israel. In his lectures, he always mentions early on that he holds views that are politically moderate.

After the lecture I mentioned to him that I was planning to move to Israel in the near future and I was wondering what he thought about the laws banning people from calling to boycott Israeli companies, marking Al Nakba in public institutions on Israel’s independence day, and other repressive motions. I asked if he thought this indicated fascist tendencies. I was certain that he would temper my more radical thought processes. I was wrong. He frowned slightly, and said that the indications were there.

I made Aliyah last week and the congratulations and Mazel Tov’s are still pouring in. Every time someone congratulates me for moving here I wonder why, although I do understand what they mean. Aliyah, after all is literally translated, “a step up.” Of course congratulations are in order.

Having grown up in Canada attending Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist-Zionist youth movement, I was given a good Socialist-Zionist education, focused on Jewish self-determination in solidarity with the self-determination of all peoples, and social and economic equity in the society we build. I have spent two previous years of my life in Israel and many more deeply involved in the Jewish world. In the movement, when we spoke of Aliyah we used the term “significant Aliyah”. Once upon a time that was a more common phrase. Later it may have been implicit in discussions about Aliya. These days it barely registers in the collective Zionist mind.

The “significance” makes all the difference. Aliyah alone is simply moving somewhere (albeit it takes strength and courage to go through the bureaucracy of the Aliyah process), and with internet and telecommunications it’s almost like you never left. Moving to another country, even one’s homeland, may answer a demographic question. It certainly puts more people on the ground. The cynic will tell you that demographics are everything here. It’s not true. Significant Aliyah is a way to fulfill our goals; in Hebrew it is called Hagshama – “Actualization.”

One can make Aliyah to find a better life here than the life offered where he or she came from. That is important and significant for many people today and in the past, but it’s not what I am doing in Israel. I can work at an office or a café in Toronto and make more money than I would here. I am not here to make a new life doing what I could be doing elsewhere. I am here to make a different life, and a different world.

I am here because I see social injustice, economic inequity, continuous occupation, and the destruction of the natural beauty that was once Israel. I have been witnessing the turn toward repressive, undemocratic bills in the Knesset, such as the bill to cut off international funding for so-called “political” non-governmental organizations. True many of these issues are common throughout the world, but I am a member of the Jewish people and a Zionist at my core. Israel is where I need to be to effect the change that I envision at my core.

I am deeply intertwined with this place and this state. I am a part of this collective Jewish project. I believe that Zionism can offer something better to the Jewish people and to all of humanity. Zionism is about us, as a people, reaching our potential. Judaism is rooted in a vision of justice and compassion. We need to work toward that in Israel.

As I try to balance the very real need for income with the very real need for profound societal transformation, I do keep in mind the welcoming words and smiles of those I meet along the way. Still, filling this space with my presence and citizenship is not enough to fulfill the Zionism that I was raised on.


Aliyah becomes significant when it is made with a mission in mind. Political opponents may disagree, but at least they are taking part in the conversation. Zionism is a mission. Significant Aliyah demands that we take part in the bettering of this place and by extension, the world.

If my level-headed professor is right about the actuality of fascism here, we have a lot of work to do. Repressive policies, military occupation, and profound social and economic inequity are not, I hope, what the Jewish people and all Israelis, want for this place. Significant Aliyah, moving to Israel with a mission and a vision of a better world is needed now, maybe more than ever.

Sitting in the Misrad Ha’pnim (the Ministry of the Interior), waiting for my number to be called, I had a realization. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of others who had made Aliyah before me had sat in that chair, or one like it, waiting for their own numbers to be called. I imagined a young Berl Katznelson or Abba Kovner sitting in that chair and I wondered if significant Aliyah is a thing of the past.

A. Daniel Roth is a writer, educator, photographer, and organizer. He is from Toronto, has lived in New York City, and recently moved to Israel. He works with the Hashomer Hatzair Movement and the Organization for a Free Society.

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    1. Amir.BK

      Aliyah, isn’t that when some country suffers from financial hardships and the jewish population decides to immigrate to the one country that offers them citizenship and several thousands of shekels just so they could come over?
      Sounds like a no brainer, just look at countries with a sizeable jewish population and wait for the next financial crisis to hit those countries. I am sure you’ll notice a massive zionist awakening…
      And seriously, isn’t Israel now enjoying one of the greatest waves of Aliyah from the united states? a constant trickle of american jews who favor free jewish education and the financial stability israel has to offer?

      Reply to Comment
    2. None of us is really self-consistent, but in this day and age, can the message “Jewish self-determination in solidarity with the self-determination of all peoples, and social and economic equity in the society we build” be believed as a teaching in regard to Israel (unless, perhaps, a teaching for some sort of violent revolutionary)?
      Well, come to think of it, going to Israel for such reasons is little different from remaining in the USA for the purpose of re-introducing democracy — in place of the oligarchy we enjoy at the very kind hands of BIG RMS (so solicitous of world peace and reducing the USA’s debt), BIG BANKS (so solicitous of financial equality), BIG OIL (so solicitous of environmental health of the world and ending the threat of global warming), BIG PHARMA (so solicitous of making drugs cheap enough for people to afford to stay well), etc.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Mariana

      I also attended a Zionist-socialist movement, but in Argentina. After some years, I realized Socialism and Zionism are not compatible at all. It’s impossible to agree with the way in which the State of Israel was created,its growing fascism and what everybody knows about being a occupying country. And obviously, Zionism isn’t the same as Judaism. It looks like there are people who use the terms as synonyms. I’ve known Hashomer Hatzair kibbutzim for years, and they’ve turned into common companies. The “socialist” atmosphere it used to exist has vanished completely. Anyway,Daniel, good luck if there you give meaning to your life.

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    4. Piotr Berman

      Semi-jokingly, there is a lot to do in Israel indeed. For example, the “repressive tendencies” are still an unfinished project. This is a conundrum: unlike other states, Israel is form of collective mind, and thus it is particularly bothersome if there are some misbegotten members in the collective. How to cast out the outcasts while maintaining the best traditions of Jewish humanism etc.?

      Reply to Comment
    5. directrob

      “… Zionism can offer something better to the Jewish people and to all of humanity”
      You did not mention “war”, “peace”, “settlement”, “palestinian” or even “arab”. Though you see the problems in Israel for me your focus is way too much on Jewish people, Israel and Judaism.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Abu Nuwas

      Zionism cannot offer something to humanity because Zionism was a tantamount declaration of war upon the natives of the middle east by European Colonial powers. Zionism is a romantic colonial project nurtured and protected by western imperialism against the will of the populations of the region. Zionism = Unending war with the whole region and western intervention in Eastern and Muslim affairs.

      Reply to Comment
    7. victor

      Dear Daniel, many years ago I also immigrated to Israel (I refuse to use the term aliyah )from Uruguay. I was a member of Hashomer Hatzair as well and joined a kibutz. Instead of socialism and solidarity I found exploitation of hired workers, at that time Sepahradim from the nearby town. They did not eat in the communal dining room, and were denied most of the rights of the kibutz members. The children of the kibutz were favored over the new immigrants and a cult of militarism and chauvinism permetated the whole climate of the kibutz. It was a great relief to leave the kibutz and Israel all together, I found human solidariy and understanding in other places. I wish you good luck in your own pursuit in a country as you yourself describe as showing all kind of fascist trends.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Yoav Badt

      “Come in here, Dear boy, have a cigar.”
      Your just another number,another vote, another walking corpse committed by lies to pick up a gun. there is no more “Jews”, we are a country now, a government, an army. grow up. stop being so naive.

      Reply to Comment
    9. I really appreciate your choice.
      not obvious in our days, not obvious at all.
      (we say:)
      alle ve’hagshem
      Dror Yisrael

      Reply to Comment