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Costs, not ideology, driving North American Jews to move to Israel

North American Jews who are moving to Israel are increasingly doing so for economic reasons – however, it is being packaged as Zionism

Ironically, while people around the country are pitching tents to protest the high rent prices and general cost of living in Israel, a plane full of North Americans just immigrated to Israel due to what they claim is the pull of cheaper education and health (oh and Zionism as well, of course).

(Photo: Mairav Zonszein)

In an article entitled “For the sake of a Jewish education” (Hebrew), Ynet is reporting that 250 new immigrants moved through Nefesh B’Nefesh (NBN), an American nonprofit whose mission is to encourage Anglo Jews across the West, to move to Israel (including to the Occupied Territories, to locations such as Maale Adumim and Efrat). Among other things, NBN offers every new immigrant a few thousand dollars in cash upon arrival (contingent upon their remaining in the country for over 3 years), in addition to consultation and help once in Israel on everything from where to live to employment.

The article of course forgets to mention that in addition to the cash incentive NBN provides new immigrants (many of whom are already in a much better socioeconomic position than Israelis born and raised here who can barely make their rent), new immigrants already receive an “absorption basket” from the Israeli government, paid for by citizens’ tax money, which provides them years of financial assistance, including a waiver of tuition on a first degree, rental assistance and tax exemptions on bringing in products from abroad.

The report interviews several of the new immigrants, all of whom site the radically high cost of Jewish education (which can reach tens of thousands of dollars per year) as the main reason for their move. NBN Executive VP Danny Oberman even boasted this fact in the article by asserting that the cost of [private] Jewish education in North America is one of the primary reasons people choose to immigrate, especially in recent years due to the global economic crisis.

Yet the article’s bottom line is that they moved for Zionist reasons, even though it is obvious this was not the primary reason, if a significant factor at all. In fact, the writer, himself a recent immigrant with NBN, asked some of the new immigrants whether they would have still moved if they could get a raise in their salary of several thousand dollars, and their immediate reply was “that’s a good question,” followed by the idea that they would try and purchase a place in Israel and live between Israel and their home in the United States.  In other words, Zionism is clearly not a factor.

So why does the writer insist on packaging it as a Zionist and Jewish endeavor when the entire report demonstrates that it is a practical economic consideration?  Second, why is NBN, a nonprofit that cooperates with the Jewish Agency and the State of Israel and is dedicated to Zionist “aliyah” (Jewish immigration), boasting that people are taking advantage of the Law of Return because they can save some money? Finally, one must see this story with cynical and somewhat resentful eyes, considering that many hard-working Israelis — born and bred here, who served in its army and have no where else to go — are amongst the working poor, not able to have the quality of life that these new immigrants are so eager to enjoy.

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    1. richard Allen

      The notion that Israel is cheaper is funny.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Sarah

      I think it is incorrect to conclude that Zionism is playing little role. There are many places in the world that are cheaper to live than the US – why do US Jews choose Israel? I’d be curious to hear more about what you’re defining as “because of Zionism”. I think many North American olim today act on a mix of Zionism and practical considerations, I don’t think that makes their Zionism less significant or note-worthy.

      I am saying all of this because I think this article underestimates the Zionist tendencies of the community of North American olim – important to be aware of given the power this community holds.

      Reply to Comment
    3. The people on the photo are the religious, so they have their own reasons, first of all. Second, as far as I remember, the money I used to receive for housing was enough to pay the electricity bill.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Jenny Kastner

      This is just one of a million cynical moves by the Israeli government. It has always been Israel’s policy to import white people to its stolen land. How many non-Jewish Russians were funneled into Israel (only to leave as soon as they could for the US)? Israel will buy, borrow and steal whatever it wants in order to pump up its image. But as Naomi Klein says, “Who would want to got to a country with the personality of Dick Cheney???”

      I am a proud anti-Zionist Jew, and will never return, not until all the land is once again the tolerant, diverse, secular socirey once known as PALESTINE!

      Reply to Comment
      • Sarah

        Well I’m a proud Zionist Jew and delighted you’re not here. As for those “non-Jewish Russians… funneled into Israel (only to leave as soon as they could for the US)” your denigrating statement simply proves your ignorance and racism. You don’t have to be Jewish to come here–you have to be persecuted or discriminated against for having a Jewish grandparent. Israel is a refuge–even for Christians whose kids can’t get into university or a promotion in the army because dad is a Jew. And given the huge number of them making strides in scientific research and medicine, it’s pretty clear they didn’t all “leave as soon as they could” for the US.

        Reply to Comment
    5. Michael W.

      @ Jenny,

      “Again”???? When was Palestine ever a “tolerant, diverse, secular society”? Is Palestinian society a tolerant, diverse, and secular? In contrast to Israeli society which is intolerant, uniform, and theocratic?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ben Israel

      I see Meirav, you are using the old “jealousy” arguments to turn people against the olim. “Why should these (supposedly) ‘rich people’ get subsidies?” Everyone in Israel gets subsidies. Rich Israelis get the most subsidies, as the recent cottage cheese boycott proved, showing that the wealthy dairy producers having the state protect their monopolies and cartels.
      According to economics writer Daniel Doron, most of the loans banks give out go to wealthy, politically-connected cronies who never pay them back. That’s why the banks have to charge high fees for their customers, in order to cover the losses.
      Then, of course, there were the millions and millions of dollars the Labor Party and MAPAM-connected Histadrut stole, and the millions in more in handouts from the taxpayer the rich Kibbutzim got to cover their losses incurred in stock-market speculation.
      This is one of the reasons the Establishment media in Israel harps on the Haredim…in order to divert attention from the massive thievery the Israeli (Leftist) Establishment has carried out over the years.
      So blaming olim (who generally have the “wrong” political orientation as far as “972” sees things) are a handy target, even though they are providing Israeli, FREE, with a highly educated and motivated population that contributes a lot to the country, as I see from personal experience.

      Finally, Meirav, how many olim who came to Israel in the last 100 years came for “Idealistic” reasons. How many Jews would have left Europe had Europe NOT decided that being born a Jew was a capital crime? How many Jews would have come to Israel from the Arab countries had things not gotten “hot” there from the local population?
      It doesn’t matter. Read the Bible….after the Exodus from Egypt many, maybe most fo the Benei Israel wanted to go back. But their children came to Eretz Israel and built a power kingdom and spiritual center whose influence has lasted 3000 years. Those who came, for whatever reason, in the last 100 years are now building a similar society that will influence the whole world.

      It seems the role of the “Leftist/Progressive” Israeli is to build walls between people, to play one group off another, and to bad-mouth everyone who is on the wrong side of the political barricades. I remember when everyone in Israel dreamed of the day that the Soviet Union would allow the Jews to come to Israel, That miracle finally happened but all I see from the “progressives” are comments like “they should go back to where they came from”-as if only the Left “owns” Israel. Fortunately, after decades of having a stranglehold on the political system here in Israel, the political Left seems finally to be dissolving. It’s about time.

      Reply to Comment
    7. JUMP

      Mairav, isn’t the idea of Diaspora Jews moving to Israel because they see future in the “Galut” as “bankrupt” what Zionism has always been? Why are “economic incentives” and “Zionist endeavors” mutually exclusive? It should be obvious that people have many motivations in making their life decisions and that a material interest can align with ideology and vice versa. And there are many other places these people could go in pursuit of lifestyles more affordable and comfortable than the United States, the fact that they are choosing Israel indicates that there is some form of Zionism, Israel-affinity or Jewish solidarity at work. Most importantly, why does it matter either for the State of Israel or the Palestinian people *why* Diaspora Jews become Israelis? No matter their motivations – whether inspired by A.D. Gordon, enticed by the promise of free graduate school, running away from the law, or seeking that Jewish mate to please the grandparents – is there really any difference in what they are doing? I highly doubt ideology or lack thereof makes any difference in whether olim serve in the IDF or even how long they stay in the country. And certainly the Palestinians wouldn’t care – in their minds, does it really make any difference why “foreigners” would be stealing their homeland?

      Of course NBN is bragging. Consider: American Jews, who are among the wealthiest social groups in the most powerful and third-largest country in the world, are finding it more economically advantageous to build their lives in a little, conflict-ridden Mediterranean country which their great-grandfathers dismissed the idea of moving to as a hopeless dead-end. Why isn’t this a MAJOR achievement for the Zionist movement?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Mitchell Cohen

      Well said Ben Israel….This article seems to have it in for the Anglo Olim….NBN does great work? Of course, when I made aliyah 16.5 years ago, NBN wasn’t even an idea in anybody’s mind, but I have no regrets. The native Israelis sure never seemed to mind my presence when I showed up for miluim….

      Reply to Comment
    9. I think this is a disgusting article.

      Every single group of immigrants that has come to Israel has done so partly for economic reasons. This doesn’t diminish their zionism! Nor does it make it something to complain about. People moving to Israel with degrees and experience in a free market society will over time improve the economy for everyone in Israel, especially the “working poor”. Should we only be proud if people move as martyrs?

      “Jump” gets it 100% right: why shouldn’t we be proud? Only a self-hating Jew would find ways to be so unnecessarily disparaging. People motivated to succeed financially in Israel are what our future needs.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Mairav Zonszein

      My criticism was not pointed at the new immigrants but rather the way the Ynet writer packaged the story, how he knowingly teased Zionism out of a move that he himself demonstrated was largely economic. This is part of a general trend that has existed since the time of Ben-Gurion, where the Israeli establishment has tried to take complex, nuanced and personal decisions and simplify and monopolize them into one single meaning, whereby a “Diaspora Jew” must replace his identity with an “Israeli” one.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Anousim

      Unlike say the 20% of all Mexican nationals who illegally move to…the US? Those people are worshiped as heroes by the far left. So what kind of emigration do you find acceptable?

      Reply to Comment
    12. Umm, Jenny, just when was there a “tolerant, diverse, secular” Palestinian society? I guess we can argue about “diverse” and possibly “tolerant”, but secular?

      Reply to Comment
    13. RichardNYC

      “So why does the writer insist on packaging it as a Zionist and Jewish endeavor when the entire report demonstrates that it is a practical economic consideration?”
      This is a ridiculous interpretation of the facts you’ve cited in your own piece. Is the desire to raise one’s children in Jewish schools not a Jewish endeavour? Is having one home in Israel (as opposed to none) not illustrative of at least SOME attachment to Israel? There’s something a little adolescent about how hard you’re trying to demoralize the NBN crowd.

      Reply to Comment
    14. Shoded Yam

      What makes Sammy run?
      Immigration into the jewish republic wasn’t a very popular notion in the shtetl when it was about draining the swamps and making the desert bloom. Aliyah only became all the rage in Chelm, when it started being about a house you don’t have to pay for, discounted gas & electric, and gov’t funded, no-show employment oppurtunities. Call em’ anything you want, just don’t call em’ late for dinner. 😛 LOL

      Reply to Comment
    15. Waffen

      This comment was deleted and the writer is from now on banned

      Reply to Comment
    16. James Marks

      Nefesh B’Nefesh found my soul to be unworthy of their help as i was adopted by jews, raised jewish..but apparently its the blood that counts.

      Reply to Comment
    17. david shalev

      This is the typical slant of the neurotic ashkenazi jew. I know because I have a few in my family.
      Take a good story with positive implications and somehow craft an argument undermining the actors’ motive.

      Reply to Comment
    18. Mitchell Cohen


      I don’t know what happened in YOUR case and I am sorry to hear you didn’t get accepted to NBN. However, a friend of mine and his wife, who converted about ten years ago, are due to come on the August 15th NBN flight along with their 3 kids. She is not the only convert I know who made aliyah under NBN. So, with all due respect to your frustrating experience, it is not only the blood that counts with NBN.

      Reply to Comment
    19. I quit my job in Washington, DC and moved here ten days ago on the Nefesh B’Nefesh charter flight. NBN did not offer me any money, so it is incorrect to say that NBN offers everybody money. In fact, I just asked the American guy sitting next to me in the absorption center if he got money from NBN, and he said he didn’t get money from NBN either. Simple fact check, folks.

      Mairav – you said that your criticism was not pointed that the new immigrants, but at the way the YNet writer packaged the story. Forgive me for thinking that your criticism is of the immigrants. First, there’s the headline. And then there’s the encapsulator below it. I’m not sure if you wrote them, but they appear to be critical of the immigrants and say nothing about the way a journalist framed a story. And your first sentence snidely mentions that Zionism is only a tertiary motivation for new immigrants. Is that your assessment? Do you think that Americans are moving to Israel for economic reasons? Were you happy with the substance of the YNet story, but merely upset at how the article was spun?

      It’s true that we receive an “absorption basket” paid for by Israeli tax dollars. Thanks. But please understand that I’ve spoken with many many Israelis in the past week, and when they find out that I’m a new immigrant from the United States – who came here alone – they are thrilled to have me here. I hope that all of us will soon be productive taxpayers. Many of my peers will soon be soldiers. Surely they didn’t come here for economic reasons.

      If you would like a different narrative about why secular and single Americans are moving to Israel, you can interview me. I can also connect you with some of the students in my ulpan.

      Reply to Comment
    20. Ben Israel

      A propos what I wrote above, here is an article by the very same Daniel Doron showing how the poor Israeli is ripped off by the very people who claim to care about them….the quasi-socialist parties and the others as well who force the average Israeli to be paid poorly and to pay high prices for goods in order to protect the cartels and monopolies of the tycoons who have bought off too many politicians, including those of the so-called “Left”. If you want to find where the poor Israeli’s money is going, look for it there, not in the small amounts used to help olim hadashim.


      Reply to Comment
    21. Mitchell Cohen

      Ben Israel, I would add to the list of ganavim the Israel Electric Company employees who get free electricity (NO limit) on the rest of our backs, as well as IBA (channel one) that exists on the taxes of anyone who dares own a TV (my wife and I gave up owning a TV for that reason, BTW).

      But, nope, it is the olim who get some breaks for a couple of years who are stealing money from the poor. Alrighty, then!

      Reply to Comment
    22. Mark Klein

      Are we seeing more than a trickle of North American Jews moving to Israel? Would it be fair to say that the number of North American “olim” doesn’t even come close to the numbers of Israeli Jews who are leaving Israel for better lives in the U.S. and Canada?

      Reply to Comment
    23. The Barking Goat

      Mairav – I don’t fully understand how defaming the entirety of the diaspora works to your advantage. Maybe it does but I don’t see it. Maybe when the pogroms revisit Europe….and they WILL, you can turn those refugees away as being inappropriately motivated to immigrate? I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to engineer a way to get to more friendly countries like Canada or the US which you clearly despise almost as much as your own country.

      At any rate, thanks for the heads up and the warning.

      Reply to Comment
    24. Barry

      This comment has been deleted for containing hate speech and a personal attack

      Reply to Comment
    25. I just read what I think is the English version of the story you cited: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4097856,00.html Can you compare it to the Hebrew version and see if there are differences?
      Here is what you wrote:
      [begin quote]
      Yet the article’s bottom line is that they moved for Zionist reasons, even though it is obvious this was not the primary reason, if a significant factor at all. In fact, the writer, himself a recent immigrant with NBN, asked some of the new immigrants whether they would have still moved if they could get a raise in their salary of several thousand dollars, and their immediate reply was “that’s a good question,” followed by the idea that they would try and purchase a place in Israel and live between Israel and their home in the United States. In other words, Zionism is clearly not a factor.
      [end quote]
      Here is what the English version says:
      [begin quote]
      And had you earned four or five times the average salary in the US, would have you have still made aliyah?
      “Good question,” says Ruth, and her husband replies: “I suppose we would have bought a property in Israel and traveled back and forth from the US to Israel.”
      After thinking about it for a few more minutes, the two recall the dream they had since they were young and provide a different answer: “Yes, we would have immigrated to Israel. It’s the best place for our kids.”
      [end quote]
      Mairav, you wrote that the new immigrants were asked what they would do “if they could get a raise in their salary of several thousand dollars.” Is that really what they were asked? The version that I read, as you can see above, asked what they would do if they got FOUR OR FIVE TIMES the average U.S. salary. The same English article says that the average salary is $50,000. So these people are being asked what they would do if suddenly they made $250,000. Surely such a massive raise would affect anybody’s thinking. Do these facts change your assessment at all?

      @paulrubens on Twitter

      Reply to Comment
    26. From the economic point of view Madagascar or Botswana are cheaper then Israel. But we see an increase of immigration due both to ideological and economic reasons it is obvious
      Roma (italia)

      Reply to Comment
    27. MimiB

      I think you are forgetting that many wealthy Jewish Americans move to Israel with bags of money they made in the U.S. Most of my parents friends could not make the kind of money in Israel that they could make in the states so they worked very hard for 20 years here in the U.S. paid there taxes, got married, had kids and when they had saved enough brought all of their money to Israel and bought a home there. I cannot see how this is hurting the poor in Israel. It seems to me that our big American dollars are going to help benefit everyone in Israel. If I could earn the same amount of money in Israel that I earn here in the states my husband and I would make Alliyah in a heartbeat. Not because we want to exploit Israel but because we love it there. It is a more healthy lifestyle and a much better place to raise your kids than L.A. I have the right to the Israeli dream as much as anyone. My father was raised in Israel and served in the army but during the six day war when my parents were married there was no work so they lived in the states instead. So for the moment I defend my homeland with every breath against the ever rising tide of anti-semitism in my party and dream of a day when I can bring myself and my money to Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    28. Danielle

      Girlie, your article is outrageous. Right now American jews are helping Israel by money and why do you blame immigrants for your problems. All jews have a right to return from Egypt. Right now the pharaon is in the White House. American jews are in danger, can be labeled rignt-wing extremists. You don’t know how it feels to live in a country where you are in minority. Get more room in the land of Israel for American jews right now, because they are in danger right now.

      Reply to Comment
    29. Lol Nefesh only pays a small percent the Jewish agency does all the work. I was told by NBN that they would grant me money I never got it and never will. And about us American olims stop your stereo typing us that we are rich. I did not know that G-D sees sabras different in Israel? Lol that’s the truth and about USA olims we dont get the treatment the Ethiopia Jew gets or the Russians get lol. Lets tell the truth. If you have money English will be spoken to you if you don’t you better learn Hebrew fast and ulpan is just a teaser lol. So get back on egged bus and think about that. Yom tov.

      Reply to Comment
    30. keep it holy

      There is nothing here to complain about.They could just be going back to isreal becouse they love isreal and it say’s in the bible for them to be in isreal , you cant argue with the holy bible .They belong there , your jealousy dosen’t do anything . YTou just get youself angry . There is worse thing’s you could worry about. Peacs To All <3

      Reply to Comment
    31. Frank

      Heart warming.

      Reply to Comment
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