Israel or New Zealand?

If a fascist were to be elected President, would you move to another country? If so, what country would that be? For Jews, the safe choice is assumed to be Israel.

Jews around the world are answering similar existential questions. 17,000 Ukrainians and Russians arrived in Israel from February to May of 2022. Thousands more are expected. Ukrainians want to escape the bombs and Russians anticipate the repercussions of Putin’s war. But Jews from Slavic nations are not alone. 9,000 more Jews made Aliyah from France, Argentina, and other countries in 2022. Their primary motivation was dangerous social and economic conditions. The total number of “olim” (those who go up to Israel) is far outpacing the prior year.

Rescuing Jews is a great mitzvah as Torah teaches. The donations we make to the Jewish Federation have always been used to assist the Jewish Agency. The Jewish Agency in turn helps “olim” to make Aliyah. If you are a donor, your gift to the Federation checks off that mitzva

If I felt imperiled, I too would consider moving to another country. That decision would include many factors. Do I have to learn a new language? Would I be able to make a living? Is the new country stable? Does it have adequate healthcare and a democratic government? Can my entire family emigrate together?

Israel provides an excellent choice. Most Israelis know English and signage in English is everywhere. The economy is thriving. Israel has good health care. The government may seem byzantine, yet it remains democratic.

On the flip side, the country has many problems. Enemies near and far threaten to eliminate Israel. Internally, there are deep divisions. To be blunt, the secular Jews are wary of the Orthodox and the Orthodox don’t have great respect for the secular. There are religious Zionists, political, practical, and cultural Zionists, and, of course, anti-Zionists. Large ethnic groups like the Sephardi and the Mizrachi feel second class to the white Ashkenazi. About 25 % of the population is not Jewish, generally Muslim, or Christian. Some of these are Druze, Armenian, Maronite, and Bedouin. 17% are from the Former Soviet Union States and are referred to as the “expanded Jewish population.” Many of the FSU citizens identify as Jewish. The Orthodox Jewish authorities have marked many with an asterisk for having a Jewish father but not a Jewish mother or for marrying a Christian or Muslim before arrival.

With all its mishigas and tsuris (Yiddish for craziness and troubles), Israel is a dubious choice as a refuge. Israel’s deep challenges might make it an imprudent choice. Of course, Israelis might think me insane for considering any other nation. Israeli Zionists of various stripes believe that all American Jews should already be making Aliyah.

Alternatively, you might believe that idyllic New Zealand is the refuge of choice. An English-speaking nation, you can never starve in New Zealand . . . if you eat lamb. But New Zealand is not a Jewish State. While committed to multi-culturalism, pervasive tensions between Maori natives, white Europeans, and Asian newcomers rile the status quo. How Jewish arrivals would be treated is a lingering liability that has previously plagued Jews.

Most Jews have lived in the diaspora since the second century. There may always be a Jewish diaspora. Israel has been a Jewish state for only seventy-five years. The mezuzah on the door at Ben Gurion Airport beckons us to enter.

From history’s perspective, support for Israel maintains a haven for Jews. History’s lesson is that Jews need refuge from time to time. I have no plans to emigrate from Maryland, but with every visit to Israel, I am scoping out a second-choice home.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame