Chairman’s Message

by | in Chairman's Message

imageIsrael is a country built on immigration. In the early years of the State, Holocaust survivors came by the thousands, helping to build its infrastructure and contributing enormously to the fledgling state. The following years saw entire Jewish communities transplanted to Israel from countries where Jews long suffered from virulent anti-Semitism and terrible oppression. Most dramatically, Operation Magic Carpet and Operation Ezra and Nehemia brought Jews over from Yemen and Iraq, respectively. Decades later, in the euphoric aftermath of the Six-Day War, thousands more made Israel their home, and in the 1990s, more than one million Jews from the former Soviet Union infused Israeli society with new talent and energy.

What is most apparent, however, is that over the years, olim have typically been motivated by anti-Semitism, economic distress or oppression. Indeed, it is not surprising that for most of the State’s existence, North American aliyah was, sadly enough, barely a trickle. Moreover, of the North Americans who made aliyah, roughly 50 percent ended up not staying.

And yet, dramatic changes are taking place: the past seven years alone have witnessed the aliyah of nearly 18,000 North American Jews. Indeed, many now believe that North America is the next aliyah frontier and that a North American “aliyah revolution” is on the horizon. How did this amazing turnabout come to be?

In 2002, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, then a little-known rabbi of a Florida congregation, had an ambitious plan: to help thousands of North American Jews trade in their lives of comfort in the Diaspora to pursue their dormant dreams of aliyah. Amazingly, the plan worked. Large-scale emigration from the West is no longer a fantasy. By offering cash grants and an array of supportive services, Nefesh B’Nefesh promotes, in Rabbi Fass’s words, “aliyah of choice” rather than an escape from distress and persecution. Today, one cannot speak of North American aliyah without speaking of Nefesh B’Nefesh; they are practically synonymous.

To me, however, the story of Nefesh B’Nefesh is not only that of the 18,000 North Americans who have returned home or the thousands more who will do so in the coming years. It is a story about the determination of one individual, the power of pursuing one’s goals and convictions, despite the odds. Six years ago, who would have thought that Rabbi Fass would be bringing dozens of planeloads of olim to Israel? Perhaps no one but Rabbi Fass himself. His contagious enthusiasm, his tenacity and his unwillingness to submit to failure has helped create “the aliyah revolution” you will read about in the pages ahead.

In this issue, we also review two important books on the contemporary rabbinate that we hope will give you a deeper appreciation for a complex and often challenging profession. Indeed, reviewer Rabbi Avraham J. Shmidman, rabbi of the Lower Merion Synagogue in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, lists the seemingly endless qualifications one must possess to be an effective rabbi: “a gifted and innovative orator, erudite in all areas of halachah, a dynamic teacher, a skilled provider of pastoral guidance, an enthusiastic youth director, an efficient administrator, a visionary community activist, a successful fundraiser and a creative outreach director.” Just in case readers feel this list does not suffice, Rabbi Solomon and Shoshana Rybak, in their book review, assert that because rabbis must contend with addiction, domestic abuse and other sensitive issues, “they need more than empathy and understanding…they require considerable [psychological] training.” In a lighter vein, Rebbetzin Estelle Feldman, wife of the well-known rabbi and author Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, gives us insight into the often undefined and underappreciated role of the rebbetzin.

Also in an informative if somewhat controversial article, Dr. Edward Reichman seeks to answer a critical question for Orthodox parents: “To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?” With many Orthodox parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, this important article traces the history of vaccination and the halachic response to it.

Finally, I invite readers to read the usual array of stimulating articles on Israel, health, kashrut and other relevant, timely issues. As always, feel free to e-mail me with your comments at ja@ou.org

This article was featured in Jewish Action Winter 2008.

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