This Friday, the Jerusalem Post (and IMRA) reported that the incoming OU President, Mr. Stephen Savitsky had this to say about previous generations of Olim from North America:
People are starting to go to Israel for the right reasons. Years ago aliya was for people who were running away from something. They weren't successful. They didn't have a successful marriage. They were coming because there was a reason. They weren't role models.
"But today I see really successful people. Young people. Doctors, lawyers, business people, finance people, who are giving it up not to come here to starve. Not to schnorr from their parents," he said.
This comment is so outrageous, so patently false, so devoid of Jewish values that one can hardly believe it was uttered by an ostensibly religious Jew, much less the president of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. I hardly know where to begin with it.
1) Jews who come to Israel have always been unique specifically because we have not 'run away' from anything,' We have, rather, been 'running to' something. We have been running to living in the Land God gave us, in order to fulfill more mitzvot than Mr. Savitsky ever dreamed of. We have run toward building a spiritual and political homeland and refuge for our people. We have moved out of the conviction that the Torah goes forth from Zion, not from Jersey. We have run to Israel because the future of world Jewry (like the calendar, according to the Rambam) depends upon the Jews of Eretz Yisrael, not vice versa.
2) North American Jews who made Aliyah from the 1880's onward gave up careers, material success, and the closeness of family in order to actualize a dream. How does Mr. Savitsky know that they were not (or would not have been) successful? Furthermore, since when does a believing Jew only validate the existence of professionals and business people? How very assimilated of him!
3) Nevertheless, let's see who Mr. Savitsky considers an unsuccessful refugee from America (a partial list, only counting Orthodox Jews): Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Dr. Tovah LIchtenstein, Professor Pinhas Churgin (Founder, Bar Ilan University), Rabbi Dr. David Applebaum (HY"D), Rabbi Nachman Bulman, Rabbi Eliezer Waldman (RY, Qiryat Arba), Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, all the American members of Qibbutz HaDati, Dr. Efraim Zuroff (Simon Wisenthal Center), Rabbi Shabbetai Rappaport, Rabbi Dr. Willy Lev Z'l (Founder, Machon Lev), Mrs. Rachel Levmore (highest ranking woman in Hanhalat Bate HaDin), Rabbanit Chana Henkin, Rabbanit Malka Bina, the hundreds of faculty members of Israeli Universities, Professor Dov Frimer (Frimer & Gelman PC), Professor Shmuel Adler (Head of Gastroenterology, Biqqur Holim Hospital). The list goes on and on..Oh, I forgot the hundreds of religious North American Olim who were wounded or killed in the defense of their country or in terrorist attacks. (Evidently, Mr. Savitsky thinks that Alyssa Flatow belongs in this category, as well).
4) The Gemora already makes it clear that parnassa in Eretz Yisrael has always been harder than in 'Bavel.' Nevertheless, contrary to Mr. Savitsky's assertions, North American Olim work very hard to make a living in a country with a 60% tax rate. Indeed, I wonder if he would be so successful with that kind of burden. We all work two or more jobs. Some of us commute to Europe or the US. Others make do with a lot less than we might have had in the US, in order to fulfill our ideals. Schnorrers, indeed!
Mr. Savitsky owes the Olim from North America an apology. He owes God Heshbon ha-Nefesh for besmirching the Torah, the Land and the People of Israel