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July 4, 2003

Rise in Aliyah Rates From Frum

by Gaby Wenig,Contributing Writer

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The Brownsteins, like many Orthodox Jews, arenít waiting for an improvement in the situation before moving to Israel.

 

The Transcription Company, started by Rich Brownstein 13 years ago, is the largest in the entertainment industry. Brownsteinís business transcribes TV programs and radio shows from ABC, NBC, CBS, Paramount, Universal and Disney. It is a thriving business, and yet Brownstein is selling it and leaving California in order to fulfill a lifelong dream.

Itís his dream of aliyah ó moving to Israel. Despite the terror attacks, the threat of war and the economic uncertainty of Israel, Rich, his wife, Sara, and their two children will move there on July 13.

"We have always intended to go to Israel," said Rich, an Orthodox Jew from Pico-Robertson. "And in terms of the perceived danger, I donít think it is very different to any other time in Jewish history. They have always been shooting at us, there have always been wars and there have always been difficulties."

The Browsteins' move to Israel is typical of todayís aliyah reality ó the majority of the Jews who choose to battle the odds and move to Israel are Orthodox.

Since the start of the intifada, Israelís economic recession and the fear of terror attacks has kept many potential immigrants away. In fact, the number of people making aliyah has declined so sharply ó from 377,000 in 1991 (when Russian aliyot was at its peak) to 35,168 in 2002, according to Nefesh BíNefesh, a private philanthropic foundation ó that last week Tzipi Livni, the Israeli minister of immigrant absorption told the Associated Press that immigration to Israel is in a "tailspin" and that her ministry needs to find ways to make the country more attractive to potential immigrants. On June 23, housing grants were reinstated to immigrants as a first step to keep them coming to the country, and a government task force was set up to study the immigrant needs.

But many Orthodox Jews arenít waiting for the situation to get better or for the Israeli government to lure them to Israel. Of the 35,168 immigrants, 80 percent are estimated to be Orthodox. They see aliyah as an integral part of their Judaism; a halachic necessity they have aspired to their whole lives, reinforced by their education and communities. In Los Angeles, Orthodox Jews have even accounted for aliyah rates rising slightly over the past few years.

"The people who are going to Israel come from very committed backgrounds," said Batya Dashefsky, the Israeli emissary for the Aliyah Center in Los Angeles. "I think they take the long view. They realize that things are difficult now, but [aliyah] fits into the way they see themselves as Jews, and they are able to see the bigger picture. Something that happens today or yesterday doesnít affect what happens to the tomorrow, because they are going for the rest of their lives."

Dashefsky said that the number of people making aliyah through her office has risen slightly over the past few years ó 90 in 2001, 107 in 2002 and the prediction for 2003 is at least 120 ó and about 90 percent of the Los Angeles immigrants are Orthodox. Dashefsky also attributes the slight increase in numbers to Nefesh BíNefesh, which started in 2000 to provides financial assistance in the form of a grant to Jews making aliyah. The organization gives families making aliyah average grants of $18,000, and also assists with social integration and governmental processing. Last year, the organization sponsored a mass charter flight of people making aliyah; this year they have two such flights leaving in July.

Rabbi Yehoshua Fass, the founder and executive director of Nefesh BíNefesh said that of the olim (immigrants to Israel) his organization helps, 78 percent are Orthodox.

"It is a tremendously high proportion," he said. "You just have to go to the theological schools of each organization and see where Zionism and aliyah play a role in its curriculum in order to understand this."

Fass said that people making aliyah send a strong message of support to Israel and create good public relations for Israel around the world.

"When we did the charter flight in 2001, it was covered in Russia, China, Japan ó all over the world, and it showed the world that Israel is strong, and that Israel has individuals who are choosing aliyah," he said. "It also created a tremendous moral boost for Israelis, who have been experiencing a very tough time over the last two years. To have individuals come and live there is the ultimate expression of solidarity."

Sarah Brownstein agreed.

"This is the message we want to tell them [Israelis]: You are not alone," she said. "We are tired of sending checks to Israel. Now we want to send ourselves."

For more information about Nefesh BíNefesh, visit www.nefeshbnefesh.org  or call (866) 425-4924.