Rabbi Yakov Horowitz on Making Aliya

Recommended reading for this column – “When American Families Move to Eretz Yisroel” by Rabbi Yair Spolter of Kiryat Sefer.

Dear Rabbi Horowitz:

My wife and I have always had a deep love for Eretz Yisroel since we both studied there in our post high school years. Over the years, we have been discussing the idea of making aliya (moving there) with our family, but somehow we never got to actually doing it.

Now, we feel that we are ready, but we are concerned about relocating our children. We have four children; the eldest is thirteen, and we would appreciate your guidance with this potential move.

I’m not sure how important this information is, but my wife is not as gung-ho about this as I am.


Rabbi Horowitz Responds

Imagine that you decided to go on a one-day camping trip and then prepared a backpack with your provisions. Please bear with me Dovid while I carry this one out, but in the analogy, you are the sandwich, your wife is the bottle of orange juice and your kids are the dozen eggs.

I say that because generally speaking the men/fathers find relocation to be less stressful than do the wives/mothers. Why? Because the mothers are the ones who need to take care of the ‘stuff’ – the details that will make or break the success of your aliya.

Dovid don’t make the all-to-common mistake of underestimating the importance of getting the ‘stuff’ right. Please don’t trivialize or dismiss your wife’s concerns with the pragmatics of the move. Don’t think, “Here we are thinking of the incredible mitzvah of spending the rest of our lives in Eretz Yisroel and my wife is worried about jobs and schools for the kids.” If you need an example of what things look like when one is inspired by a big idea and neglects the details, just analyze the horrific train wreck that the war in Iraq has become. That also began with two big ideas – free the Iraqi people and spread democracy. But President Bush was so inspired by his vision that he forgot to ask or inquire if the troops will have bulletproof vests or who will make sure that the Iraqi people have electricity.

All things considered, I am most concerned about your thirteen year old. If you are the sandwich (easy to move), and your wife is the bottle of orange juice (much more likely not to handle the adjustment well), your children are the dozen eggs (far more likely to crack during the transition). And moving your adolescent child is like taking the eggs out of the container and stuffing all of them into your pants pockets.

I am always reluctant to give detailed advice to people whom I do not know well, but I can tell you with near certainty that you should not make the move at this point in your life. Let’s face it. Your children – especially the older ones – are Americans and making the adjustment to the Israeli culture is quite complicated. And although the benefit of making aliya is great, the risks are simply too high in your case. I suggest that you keep this dream of yours on hold until, with the help of Hashem, your children are married, or at least settled in the last year or two of High School. I would be far more likely to encourage you to make the move if you had written that you had either: 1) spent a great deal of time planning the move, 2) spent a summer in Eretz Yisroel with your children, 3) taught your children Hebrew and they took to the language well, and 4) your wife and children all ‘on board’ with your aliya plans. But from your question, it does not seem that this is the case. Should you decide to go ahead with your plans, please spend lots of time and effort properly planning for the move. The people I know who have made successful aliya — including and especially those who had teen children — all spent many months or years preparing for the transition.

For readers who are contemplating aliya, here are my suggestions:

* Do as much homework as possible. Speak to as many American olim as you can to pick up tips and suggestions to make the transition easier.
* Please read an outstanding article by my dear chaver, Rabbi Yair Spolter of Kiryat Sefer. While we respectfully agree-to-disagree on other topics (Click here and here), I concur with his column completely. (In fact, I first got to know Yair when I cold-called him to compliment him for his clarity of thought – and courage – when this article was first published in The Jewish Observer.)
* An excellent resource is Nefesh B’nefesh. (www.nbn.org.il) They have successfully facilitated the aliya of hundreds of families due to their methodical approach to guiding families – and their understanding of the importance of getting the ‘stuff’ right for the families who are making the move.
* If you are making the move, do so while your children are younger. The earlier in their lives the better.
* Look into the schools in prospective communities – even if your children are toddlers. Most Israeli schools are very different than American ones, and it is critically important that your family is in sync with the mosdos that your children will attend. Generally speaking, there is far more ‘gray’ in America than in charedi society in Eretz Yisroel. Make sure that your views on kollel, sports-playing-for-children, tzniyus for girls (and mothers) are at least close to that of the community in which you live.

I know many people who have successfully made aliya and I commend you for having the commitment to consider the move. My response is not ‘no’ – it is just, “Not yet” or “Not now.”

© 2007 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved

Please visit Rabbi Horowitz’ newly redesigned website, www.rabbihorowitz.com, to review/post comments on any of the archived articles. You can also visit the “Resource Listing” section (Click Here) of the website to become more familiar with many services and organizations that can assist you in your quest to help your children realize their fullest potential. Bright Beginnings has a growing number of skill-based materials in Chumash (Click Here) and Kriah (Click Here). I hope that you find them helpful. YH.

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31 comments on “Rabbi Yakov Horowitz on Making Aliya

  1. Throught out the generations we have been Zoche to be lead by our Rabanim and if we are really Zocheh – we have people considered Gedolai Hador. Looking back in history we can identify such people.

    If today this is debatable by some people – who is from Gedoali Hador and who is not. That is a sad and for sure a product of out bitter Galus.

    But to be labled ‘Charedi’ means that you accept specidic people as the Gedoali Hador. These are our mentors, these are our guides.

    They tell us quite clearly where we should live and when/why, we should move. It is to them that we should listen. They tell us what are the Mitzvas we are Mechuyav to be Moser Nefesh for and which we should not.

    If anyone reading this blog feels they are “Charedi” and thereby they have deep respect for specific Gedolai Hador. That is where they need to turn for guidance and “switching” to becoming something else is from the top serious questions I can think of.

    I wish/pray upon that all BT’s that read this blog – that they become very very close to their RAV – and if not, be very carefful to cherish the guidance of our Gedolai Hador.

    I don’t write in the format well and I do apologize if I am offending anyone – but this is the bottom line – to follow how Gedoali Interpret the Toarh for our generation – not how we ourselves do.

  2. Note: “Both” in the last line of my 21:38 comment means Jewish Action and Jewish Observer. I don’t think Viewpoint is now available on line.

  3. The groups you asked for info about differ as to their view of the religious significance of the State of Israel and its government. They also differ as to their degree of modernity or Western-ness in thought and practice, dress being only one indicator. The labels you named are mainly applicable to Jews living in Israel, but are also used to describe similar (but not always the same) types of Jews elsewhere.

    It’s probably best for you to meet Jews belonging to these different groups, to get your own sense of what makes them tick. In Canada, you’ll find all types in the Toronto and Montreal areas. Direct contact may protect you from viewing groups you’re not part of as stereotypes.

    Beyond that, some information sources are objective and informative, while others are highly biased for or against one or more particular groups. If you can get copies of the Jewish Action (Orthodox Union) and Jewish Observer (Agudath Israel) and Viewpoint (Young Israel) magazines, you’ll get a sense of how some major Orthodox groups think of themselves and each other. Some issues of both can be found on line.

  4. Shalom Menachem,

    A gut voch/shavua tov,

    Okay, I’m about to confess my total ignorance here, being a Canadian and relatively new BT, plus never having yet been to EY.

    What is the difference between all the labels I keep seeing? Please help with this….

    – chareidi
    – dati
    – dati leumi, etc.

    I really have no clue. We’re not black hat yeshivish. My husband would say we’d fall into “misnagdim.” I really don’t know what they all mean, and why the categorizations are necessary.

    I do know yeshivish from chassidish.

    I do know some people wear sheitels, some people wear scarves/snoods, and some people wear hats, and some people wear both, and the black hat brims will point up or down depending on your yeshiva or your custom.

    I think I understand it gets down to philosophy, custom and ideology, but it bothers me a lot to hear that there are prejudices between groups.

    Can someone please enlighten me on this whole topic?


  5. I just re-read my last comment and I don’t want people to get the wrong idea. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be chareidi or that there’s anything wrong with being chareidi. What I’m trying to say is that I believe there are some people in America who identify as chareidi there who, with some minor changes, could live happily as Chardal or right wing Religious Zionists here.

    Beyond that, I believe that there is a growing place for American Yeshivish people here. Some of the issues that have been raised with regard to places like RBS A represent the growing pains of just such a newly emerging Israeli Hashkafa.

  6. There seems to be a subtle prioritization being projected here, i.e. it’s more important to be “chareidi” than to fulfill the mitzvah of living in Eretz Yisroel.

    There are numerous Jews who live wonderful, kadosh, Torah-centered lives here without being chareidi.

    Many of you who are sitting there, reading and commenting on internet blogs, sending your kids to yeshivas with decent secular education, going to work everyday as college-educated professionals don’t realize that you simply do not fit into the “Chareidi” label here at all.

    You can live pretty much the same lives here, black hats and all, without that label. Sure you may have to suffer the indignity of sitting through the tefillah for the medina or going on a shul-sponsored tiyul on Yom Haatzmaut, but maybe you really need to do a sincere Cheshbon Hanefesh and ask yourselves if what you gain by living in this holy land and fulfilling such a great mitzvah is maybe worth such “great” sacrifices.

    I think what’s important to take away from Rabbi Horowitz’s article is that everyone should be thinking about living in Eretz Yisroel enough to at least make the sincere effort of going through Rabbi Horowitz’s check list and doing their due dilligence just as we do when approaching all mitzvot. And if you don’t feel you make the “cut” now, the list should be reviewed and researched on a regular basis. Life is dynamic, you’re changing and things are changing here. Something you see as not feasible today could become quite feasible tomorrow.

  7. “and living in EY by itself brings an extra dimension to a person’s spirituality”

    I would write, “[can, and often does] brings an extra dimension to a person’s spirituality”. Eretz Yisrael has an ultimate spiritual fulfillment, as the Ramban writes.

    But practically, there are challanges to fulfilling that dimension of spirituality. There are some people who do not do well in Israel, whether adapting to the charedi system or adapting in general. Such people can accomplish their spiritual goal and purpose in life outside of Eretz Yisrael, and should not be thought of as “less spiritual”.

    I see this as the Mesilas Yesharim concludes in the final chapter about different paths in avodas Hashem, “In all your ways know Him and He will straighten your paths.”

  8. shavua tov

    following this discussion, i’m amazed at the suggestion that staying in chul is somehow ‘protecting’ anyone’s spirituality. this has to be the single most ‘upside down’ piece of reasoning i’ve heard.
    what happens in eretz yisrael is that what is really on the ‘inside’ of your yiddishkeit comes out – which is why many people go up, and some people go ‘down’ in their observance.
    but whichever way it goes, it’s more ‘real’ – and living in EY by itself brings an extra dimension to a person’s spirituality that is simply unattainable outside of EY, whatever their level of observance.

  9. European Jews newly arrived in America used to organize “landsmanshaften”, which were mutual aid societies for people who hailed from the same towns or regions. Congregations were also often composed of people from the same place (the “Poilisher Shul”, etc.)

    The phenomenon of “Anglo” neighborhoods or kehillos in Israel seems to come from much the same cause and serve much the same purpose. Like the landsmanshaften, they may represent a necessary transitional stage.

  10. While there is undoubtedly a spiritual aliyah in living in EY which WADR and IMO is unattainable in ChuL and which I miss in many ways almost 4 months since our trip to EY, one simply has to go with their minds, eyes, ears and hearts open to the fact that unless they are heading with a group of people from their old ChUl neighborhoods to live in EY, day to life, hashkafic attitudes and acculuration,education, etc are quite different and more intense in EY than the whole range of Torah communities in ChuL. IMO, perhaps one strategy that has been hinted at is a balanced strategy of knowing what one is getting into, appreciating why you are doing it and remembering that “you’re not in Kansas” anymore, regardless of where you lived in ChuL. In that regard, IMO, one should certainly network with others , utilize the services rendered by NTF and strongly consider living in all Anglo neighborhoods to ease one’s klitah as much as possible.

    OTOH, if aliyah simply is not viable for any one of a number of legitimate reasons, then IMO, the following story that I posted previously is worth considering. RAL once mentioned that a couple came before a rav in Minsk and related that the husband wanted to move to EY and that the wife was opposed.The rav pointed out that while halachically the husband was correct, there was yet another factor. IOW, it was better to live in ChuL and think and dream about living in EY than to live in EY and thinka and dream about living in ChuL. Somehow,IMO, I think that that consideration should be part of every person’s process in thinking about this issue.

  11. If all of American religious Jewry moved to Israel, it would change the face of Israel. Half the knesset would be frum. It would really change things here for the positive.
    My one piece of advice for people is if/ when people do move here, they make a spiritual aliyah as well as a religious one.

  12. There are adjustments to moving to any country no matter if one is charedi or secular, but American charedim have the unique issue of adopting to a different standard than they were used to. We can disagree about whether an “ideal” EY Torah community should allow for a greater degree of flexibility for some of its members(I think it should), but the EY charedi community is what it is, and will evolve at its own pace.

    Basically, the message I hear from the Israeli charedi community is that “ you are welcome to come and your contribution is valued and needed, but only if you are willing to accept our terms”. That is definitely a fair position, but on the other hand, those who feel that they can not, or do not want to make the necessary changes, should instead support in different ways yishuv haaretz from afar, and grow in ruchaniyus at their own pace. The charedi community can not have it both ways– court the physical presence of the more “slow to change” Americans, and at the same time, not allow them to duplicate certain essential areas that the American model of community has, baruch Hashem, seen success with. Many charedi rabbonim and mechanchim realize that, and that is one reason why they do not encourage aliyah on a mass scale.

    Another analogy can be to marriage. There may be certain reasons why a person eventually “falls in love” with Eretz Yisrael(it’s more Jewish, uniquely spiritual, will help a person achieve their life’s goals), but one’s decision should be based on evaluating these benefits in a calculated way. Stories about why *someone else* loves everyday life and the people in Israel—from the taxi drivers to gedolie harabbonim– are useful to the public in many ways, but are like stories why *another person* decided to get married(I realize its only a partial analogy).

    I think that everyone agrees that parents have no right to put the spirituality of their children at risk to fulfill their dreams of aliyah, if that is indeed a concern in their specific case. Therefore, publicly debating the risks and benefits are important, but of limited value, since there is always a personal element involved. Fortunately for someone considering moving, there are mentors who can help one weigh the benefits and risks that are involved, to help them make an informed and intelligent decision that is correct for them.

  13. “As I’ve pointed out before, the meraglim discussion is a very valid discussion if it applies. It’s an idea that has been raised by gedolim whenever people try to discourage others from moving to Israel.”

    I saw the back and forth in the Jewish Observer about this, so I can see both sides. IIRC, Rav Chaim Malinowitz quoted Rav YC Sonnefeld on the “meraglim” point, but Rabbi Spolter defended his article. The meraglim concern is certainly a valid point in theory. There were also letters in the JO that felt that Rabbi Spolter did not emphasize enough the success stories of adaptation to Israeli charedi life.

    I think that the meraglim issue depends on the context. R YC Sonnefeld’s statement was applicable to his times, and we are living in a different era. If one wants to have a thorough discussion of the pros and cons of settling in EY, then it becomes very hard to do so if one needs to worry about being guilty of pointing out the flaws of living in Eretz Yisrael. I agree that posters should do their best to give a full picture, and mention the good of EY and its community– u’reh b’tuv Yerushalayim. In my comments on the previous thread, I did mention positive aspects (I was raised with significant ahavas haaretz, and my parents were planning to move there, but things did not work out that way).

    I see such a discussions like discussions about purchasing a new brand of a car; there are positives and negatives which can be discussed openly without concern of lashon hara. Some people should buy the car, some shouldn’t, but the issue is an important one that should be discussed publicly, and the flaws should neither be hidden nor minimized, to encourage purchase.

  14. In reality Rabbi Horowitz’s article simply skipped the issue of why, as he put it, “making the adjustment to the Israeli culture is quite complicated.” I tried to wrestle with the “why.” I knew I’d take some heat for it; it’s okay. I can handle being called names by people who are righteously indignant, perhaps appropriately so!

  15. Well, I think Rabbi Horowitz makes a very valid point… and that’s exactly why we’re not currently in Eretz Yisroel ourselves.

    When we were looking to move almost 3 years ago, E”Y was a big possibility… but our oldest (now about to turn 10) is very sensitive to change. The school he’s in now is 100% better for him than the one where we were living before, but it still took him an entire year to acclimate, and that was in the same language and basically the same culture!

    We’re still in the “growing our family years” so I’m often either expecting or have a newborn or young toddler, and leaving the country to explore communities etc., just wasn’t possible. We knew that we needed to get it right the first time, or our kids would suffer, having just watched my kid waste his first grade year in a school that was not a good match for him. And that was only 1st grade!

    E”Y is still a long term goal for us, just very long term at this point. Baruch Hashem, we found a community here that was a good fit, with an excellent school, and my kids are thriving. I would need to be very happy with both the community and schooling options anywhere else, no matter what country, before I picked them up and moved them again.

    And yes, I’m putting my kids’ needs first.

  16. Not David,

    As I’ve pointed out before, the meraglim discussion is a very valid discussion if it applies. It’s an idea that has been raised by gedolim whenever people try to discourage others from moving to Israel.

    IMHO, the JO article my have crossed that line. One of the most respected Rabbis in RBS believed so.

    Rabbi Horowitz’s article is quite different in that he’s just giving the wise advice that people need to do their due diligence before making aliyah. In a sense Rabbi Horowitz is advocating what the original maraglim were originally tasked to do!

    What I found inappropriate in your comment was the suggestion that a poster should be silenced for discussing a valid issue. One than is certainly less contentious than other issues people discuss here and don’t get banned for.

  17. We should also remember that m******m were used successfully in the days of Yehoshua.

    It’s not the idea of advance scouting and due diligence that should bother us, only its misuse to frustrate completion of a necessary mission.

  18. ‘Menachem Lipkin
    March 22nd, 2007 01:45 12“Let’s all propose right off the bat an immediate year long ban on the first commenter who brings up the word meraglim.”

    The inappropriateness of this comment aside, there is nothing “meraglish” about Rabbi Horowitz’s article. He is not speaking ill of Eretz Yisroel or its inhabitants. He is just giving wise, common sense advice for anyone contemplating such an important move, especially with teens.’

    Sorry, I don’t think it’s inappropriate at all. There are plenty of people who would have that kneejerk reaction even about this article, (as the Jewish Observer article that Rabbi Horowitz references was attacked similarly), that is, any intelligent discussion about the pros and cons gets caught up in that discussion.

  19. I 100% agree that it can be hard for kids to move. I think the kids’ personality and willingness to move matters way more than age. I know people who’ve moved to Israel as teens and done wonderfully, and I had a horrible time moving to a different state at age 7.

    My own moving experience is the cause of my suspicion towards all of the aliya-warning articles. My parents moved from NY to elsewhere on the Eastern seaboard b/c my mom found a job offering twice what she was making. Nobody ever suggested that they shouldn’t move just because the kids didn’t want to and it would be hard. Similarly, I often wonder how many of the families who just can’t make aliya because their kids might not adjust well would say the same if they were being offered a much higher salary.

    I don’t disagree with anything Rabbi Horowitz said, btw. If a family with older kids wants to move to Israel, it’s good to start with a summer trip, hopefully in a place where your kid can meet other anglo-Israeli kids and make some friends. Then work on learning Hebrew while looking for jobs in Israel and generally getting everything all planned out. Definitely know well before coming where you will live, where you will work, where your kids will go to school, etc.

  20. “Let’s all propose right off the bat an immediate year long ban on the first commenter who brings up the word meraglim.”

    The inappropriateness of this comment aside, there is nothing “meraglish” about Rabbi Horowitz’s article. He is not speaking ill of Eretz Yisroel or its inhabitants. He is just giving wise, common sense advice for anyone contemplating such an important move, especially with teens.

  21. my parents moved countries with me when i was 14 – to Canada. we stayed for 3 months and moved back to the UK. I turned 15. We stayed for 4 months, sold the house in the UK, and tried a different part of canada.
    we stayed for 6 weeks. it didn’t work out. we spent 3 months travelling cross country, trying different towns (it’s a looonnnggg story)

    the short version is, for a year, i was out of school living in close quarters with my parents and 4 younger siblings.

    while it was not an enjoyable experience, i came out of it a) a much, much better person b) a much better educated person – i got better grades than i ever would have in a ‘normal’ schooling environment, as i was so determined the moving would not mess up my education and c) far less scared of moving than most people who have never moved.

    moving ANYWHERE is 98% about having the right attitude. Tough times occurs for almost everyone who moves, in one way or another, even if it’s not an ‘aliya’ move. As chana says, if you want something badly enough, you ‘ride the waves’.

    personally, i don’t think aliya, particularly as this point in time, should be so airily dismissed.

    If kids appreciate why it’s so incredibly important to live in Israel, they will cope, adapt and thrive – sooner or later.

    From what i can see, as someone who moved here 18 months ago, it tends to be the unrealistic expectations of the parents that put the biggest strain on the family as a whole.

    take the time to explain what you are doing and why to your kids. ask them what they are worried about and what could help them. And stay positivie, even when the inevitable waves come in to try and knock you over.

    today, i walked on the patriach’s path that goes between j’lem and hevron, which is a short drive from neve daniel.

    the sun was shining, the wind was blowing, the olive groves and hills were gorgeous. i sat on a rock with my (kosher) focaccia and bottle of water, staring at the same scenario avraham, yitzhak and yaacov saw a few thousand years’ back.

    and i felt so very blessed to be living in eretz yisrael.

    if you are a religious jew, the benefits of being here are just so enormous, that it’s worth making almost any effort to move, even with all its attendant hardships.

    we live in interesting times, and there is no guarantee that life, even in america, is always going to be as easy and pleasant for the jews as it has been in the past.

  22. We attempted aliya 12 years ago with 3 children, the oldest was 9, and we were not yet frum. There was no NBN at the time, and the focus of klita resources in Israel was on immigrants from Russia.
    With that setting, I have to say that my oldest child had to make social adjustments, but loved the lifestyle and was content overall. My youngest, then 3, struggled with language acquisition as well as different social rules in the “gan”. Another child, then 6, slipped comfortably into his new settings. My husband, although positive at the outset, did not acclimate well.
    The decisive factor in our return to the US was that we wanted to change communities in Israel, but there was no help for American olim at that time. (Even the staff at Misrad Haklita spoke Hebrew & Russian, but no english). After a few months of trying to find the right location, we gave up. In hindsight, I realize we simply did not have the sheer determination necessary to “ride the waves”.
    But on the other hand, I also see that we were needed in the states for some family emergencies that occurred shortly after our return. In the end I don’t think it is predictable who will succeed and who won’t since hatzlacha is in Hashem’s hands.
    But now, I am also waiting for the right time…..

  23. Shalom Bob,

    I have news for you. I’m not David Linn either.

    Signed, Not David Linn. ;-D

    (I’m being silly. We attended a lovely chasuneh last night and I’m feeling the after effects of simcha fine dining.)

  24. David may be saying he wants to go on a blog vacation. “The pause that refreshes”

  25. David, I’m afraid we’re going to have to ban you for a year for bringing up… “that” word.

  26. Let’s all propose right off the bat an immediate year long ban on the first commenter who brings up the word meraglim.

  27. Great post! I made decided to make aliyah 25 years ago while I was still a college student. A couple of years after finishing college and still single I was on a plane to Israel. I knew at that time that getting married in the States would be the first step to getting stuck there.

    Even one who makes aliyah while single has to do it with the knowledge that Eretz Yisrael, along with Torah and Olam Habah is one of the things that is acquired al yedei yisurim. While I strongly encourage aliyah, it has to be done wisely. A person should know what he is getting into and be prepared for the challenges that face him.

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