Do we need Aliya Day?

The Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By ZIONA GREENWALD (Reuters)

Each May on Mother’s Day and a month later on Fa­ther’s Day, Amer­i­cans get all misty-eyed as they ex­press undy­ing love and grat­i­tude to­ward their par­ents. Are th­ese hol­i­days a much-needed pause for re­flec­tion, a spe­cial time for fam­i­lies to come to­gether?

Are they a mar­ket­ing scheme to ben­e­fit greet­ing card com­pa­nies, a facile way for chil­dren to as­suage their guilt about how they treat their par­ents the rest of the year? Maybe all of the above.

Those lovely yet con­trived shows of ap­pre­ci­a­tion are what came to mind when the Knes­set passed a law last year creat­ing Aliya Day. This shiny new hol­i­day hon­ors the con­tri­bu­tions of olim to the Jewish state, and is sup­posed to send a mes­sage to Di­as­pora Jews that Is­rael leaves the light on for them. It will be marked again to­day with cel­e­bra­tions in the Knes­set, at the Pres­i­dent’s Res­i­dence, schools, and other of­fi­cial venues.

But most Is­raelis – in­clud­ing, I would ven­ture to say, many olim – will, if they ac­knowl­edge the hol­i­day at all, do so with a smirk or a shrug.

Once upon a time we were all na­tives. Thou­sands of years of ex­ile drove us all over the map, and we’ve re­turned in trick­les and waves over the last cen­tury or so. In this still young coun­try, even 70 years on, the ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens has im­mi­grants in its blood.

Are we cel­e­brat­ing ev­ery­body to­day? First-gen­er­a­tion olim? Those who came as young­sters and have lived here for decades?

I salute all my fel­low olim for choos­ing Is­rael. The move takes courage, faith, and a fair amount of stamina. But let’s be real: The olim of to­day are not the true pi­o­neers.

We ar­rived in a thriv­ing, fully suited coun­try, hop­ing to be par­doned for our He­brew mal­a­prop­isms and able to han­dle with equa­nim­ity the day-to-day chal­lenges of “the sys­tem” – which pale in com­par­i­son to what awaited Jews who re­turned to Zion as re­cently as two or three gen­er­a­tions ago.

More­over, there’s no need to shuck off our cul­tural mores and man­ner­isms. We can main­tain a hy­phen­ated iden­tity and still con­trib­ute to the na­tion, even just by be­ing here to be counted.

When peo­ple im­mi­grate to any other coun­try, they adopt that place as their new home. When Jews make aliya, it is a re­turn jour­ney, a home­com­ing – no mat­ter whether they’ve ever stepped foot in Is­rael be­fore. You’re a new­comer, yet a part of you has been rooted here for­ever. You be­long from the mo­ment you get off the plane.

Of course, there is no short­age of things to get used to and fish-out-of-wa­ter ex­pe­ri­ences, but I for one would rather not be im­printed as an out­sider the rest of my life here.

Ob­serv­ing In­de­pen­dence Day, Jerusalem Day and Re­mem­brance Day as real Is­raelis were among the high points of my fam­ily’s first year here and con­tinue to be so. Those are our days now, too. In that light, frankly, Aliya Day seems su­per­flu­ous.

More than stag­ing cer­e­monies, the gov­ern­ment should con­tinue to di­rect at­ten­tion and re­sources to­ward shap­ing poli­cies that smooth the in­te­gra­tion of olim: eas­ing the trans­fer of for­eign pro­fes­sional cre­den­tials; build­ing af­ford­able hous­ing; mak­ing the bank­ing sys­tem more user-friendly and less puni­tive; pro­mot­ing a cus­tomer-friendly civil ser­vice cul­ture and so on – moves that would ben­e­fit all Is­raelis. Th­ese are ini­tia­tives worth cel­e­brat­ing.

The writer made aliya from New York to Jerusalem with her fam­ily in 2015. She is a busy mom and a free­lance writer and ed­i­tor.

A SOL­DIER shakes dirt off a blan­ket dur­ing a train­ing ex­er­cise.

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