The Youth Aliyah Phenomenon
בִּנְעָרֵינוּ וּבִזְקֵנֵינוּ נֵלֵךְ
With our young and our old we will go!
What was a brave and unusual decision only 20 years ago has become a legitimate phenomenon. Each year, hundreds of young religious students from English-speaking countries are choosing to stay in Israel after their “gap year” at yeshivot and midrashot in the Holy Land – and many more are joining them after finishing their university studies in the Diaspora. For a community as small as our own, these numbers represent a paradigm shift that will reverberate for years to come, impacting Anglo communities both in Israel and the Diaspora.
What is driving this trend?
If most Anglo olim are idealistic, young olim are emphatically so. The young people featured in this edition are passionately committed to giving back to Am Yisrael, and feel there is no better way to actualize their beliefs than the all-in commitment of Aliyah.
But if they are driven by idealism, it is the extraordinary growth of support services and career opportunities that is enabling more young people than ever before to translate their idealism into reality.
College programs in English, with free or drastically reduced tuition for young olim, are an increasingly attractive alternative to overpriced universities in the Diaspora. Programs like Here Next Year, Ori and Lev LaChayal ensure that lone soldiers and bnot sherut are not nearly as alone as they once were. The explosive growth of Israel’s high-tech sector means that many of the best paying jobs in Israel no longer require mother-tongue Hebrew – and that native English is a distinct advantage. And perhaps most importantly, the increasing momentum of youth Aliyah means that young olim can tap into an ever-growing support network of friends to help them through the inevitable challenges that await.
The extraordinary increase in Anglo youth Aliyah is a recent phenomenon, but it is one foreseen at the very beginning of our history. Rabbi Yitzchak Nissenbaum hy”d, editor of the HaMizrachi newspaper in Warsaw until his death at the hands of the Nazis in 1943, understood that the young generation would lead us back to the Land of Israel. When Pharaoh asks, “who are they that will go with you to the desert?”, Moshe defiantly responds: “We will go with our young and with our old, with our sons and with our daughters!” Rabbi Nissenbaum elaborates: “No, Pharaoh; our children will come with us. Among our people, it is the young who lead the way! They will be our first redeemers; they will not be cowed, like their elders, before the taskmasters of Egypt! Our youth, who are free of spirit, will be the first to cry out ‘this is my G-d, and I will glorify Him; my father’s G-d, and I will exalt Him!’” (Yahadut U’Leumiyut, 121).
May the courage and idealism of our youth inspire us to follow in their footsteps!