Monday, November 29, 2004

New OU Prez off to an inauspicious start

At least, it's inauspicious vis-a-vis American immigrants to Israel.

David and Allison have both posted the following clip from a Jerusalem Post article dated November 25, in which the new president of America's Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, Stephen Savitsky, is reported as having said:

"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[.]"


Memo to the moron: What do you mean STARTING? Who exactly, are the North American immigrants who populate my town of Ra'anana -- doctors, lawyers, business people, university professors -- who have been here for 10, 20 years or longer?

Also, nobody comes to Israel with the INTENTION of starving or taking money from their parents. In fact, if your goal is to sponge off your parents, moving far away from them isn't the greatest strategy. If they have financial difficulty in Israel, it certainly isn't because of laziness, it's because it's not easy to make ends meet here, no matter how many qualifications you arrive with. Cost of living is equal to or more than that in the U.S., and salaries are much, much lower.


Not being Orthodox, this guy doesn't represent me, and so I don't know if it's my place to call for his resignation, but he darn well better apologize.

And while he's at it, he can explain to me exactly what Golda Meir was running away from...

And here's David, who is extremely upset and calling for Savitsky's resignation (I'm quoting the more reasoned parts of his post):

What he's saying is that all of the people from North America who have previously given up successful careers, financial security, proximity to friends and family, as well as whatever standing they may have had in their former communities... all in order to live with impossibly high taxes and a lower standard of living... these are apparently all just figments of Zionist mythology???

It sounds like he is trying to liken us to Australia's early immigrants; refugees and outcasts from a society in which we all failed miserably. Apparently, it is only the current wave of immigrants that are coming for the "right reasons" and who are proper "role models".


Since I moved here within the past two years, Mr. Savitsky probably thinks of me as part of this 'good aliyah'.

Thanks, but no thanks. If you have to lump me with someone... I'd much rather be counted with the brave, selfless, idealistic Americans who came before me... for all the RIGHT reasons!

Also via Allison, check out the well-stated response by Jeffrey Woolf, whom Allison says is a faculty member at Bar-Ilan University.

But I think the best response is from Zahava, David's wife, who wrote the following as a comment to David's post:

I wonder how many of the "new" olim would have the patience to sit hour after hour in office after office, only to be told their documents are insufficient and they need to return day after day to correct things?!

Or to be the first Anglos in a community, with no other English speakers to help you or your children with your klita?

I am so very grateful to the thousands of olim who preceded me! They are my heros! Through their successes I learned that I, too, could be successful! Their invaluable advice, their so-called-failed-attempts at making a living, their desire to escape WHATEVER � they showed me that it IS possible to reinvent yourself and to make a sustainable home and pursue happiness in our homeland.

When I read Mr. Savitsky's words, my heart hurt for the former olim who welcomed us into their homes on our pilot trip. These selfless people � some who've lived here more than 30 years � are so infused with a love of our land and our people that they open their homes 3, 4 and 5 times a year to groups like Tehilla to educate potential olim and to offer emotional and logistical support.

I also thought of the many former olim who've dedicated their professional lives to easing the path for new olim: many (if not all) of the staff at the Nefesh B'Nefesh offices, the folks at the Sachnut (Jewish Agency), the folks at Tehilla, AACI, the list could go on indefinitely.

And even if his comments didn't actively insult olim whose aliyah was "years ago" � don't you find it odd � perhaps even a tad [note the dripping sarcasm here!] hypocritical that these comments are being made by someone who has YET to make aliyah?

I deeply understand that the decision to make aliyah (or not) can be difficult. Separating yourself from family, friends, language, country, etc. is a monumental task. Some people require more time to work up the courage to take this step.

Certainly, new olim are deserving of encouragement, admiration, and recognition; BUT, to honor them at the expense of those who've not only preceded them but improved their lot, is just plain wrong!

Personally, I'm most upset not by the pomposity and ignorance in Savitsky's statement (assuming, of course, that he has not been misquoted --and I dearly hope he has), but rather by the implication that the new president of the Orthodox Union doesn't seem to grasp that perhaps for the past 58-plus years, Americans have been moving to Israel because of an ideal. That, even if these olim had problems later supporting themselves (and who could blame them?) or weren't the law/medical-degree-wielding folk that Savitsky seems to value so much, that perhaps they did, in fact, believe in something (the mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael, perhaps? Or Zionism?) greater than themselves. That even people who had problems in their lives in the United States (and, who in this world does not have some sort of problem?), perhaps they also wished to help build the Jewish state?

Would Savitsky dare to say "up until now, all the baalei teshuva were losers who only became frum because they wanted to make their parents mad, or because they wanted a sense of control in their lives, or because they were a little mentally unbalanced -- but lately the people becoming baalei teshuva, I've noticed, are psychologically together, wealthy people who we can be proud of!"? Of course not.

How disturbing that an Orthodox leader would imply that people with familial or financial problems cannot also be idealistic and live according to values that may make their lives uncomfortable. If we all waited to have perfect lives before we lived according to our values, none of us would be Orthodox.

And, of course, there is the implication that if someone had a failed marriage or needed financial assistance from his or her parents, that the person could not be a role model. I wonder what he thinks about all the divorced or financially-as-yet-unstable members of OU shules?

I'm also deeply disturbed by the low quality of the writing and editing in the article, but that's another story.

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