Has Jewish immigration to Israel lost its significance?

Having immigrated to Israel a month ago, A. Daniel Roth contemplates the concept of ‘aliya’ — Jewish immigration to Israel — and how to make it significant.

By A. Daniel Roth

About a month ago I attended a lecture by one of my undergraduate professors from the Jewish studies department at the University of Toronto about the current situation in Israel. In his lectures, he always mentions early on that he holds views that are politically moderate.

After the lecture I mentioned to him that I was planning to move to Israel in the near future and I was wondering what he thought about the laws banning people from calling to boycott Israeli companies, marking Al Nakba in public institutions on Israel’s independence day, and other repressive motions. I asked if he thought this indicated fascist tendencies. I was certain that he would temper my more radical thought processes. I was wrong. He frowned slightly, and said that the indications were there.

I made Aliyah last week and the congratulations and Mazel Tov’s are still pouring in. Every time someone congratulates me for moving here I wonder why, although I do understand what they mean. Aliyah, after all is literally translated, “a step up.” Of course congratulations are in order.

Having grown up in Canada attending Hashomer Hatzair, a Socialist-Zionist youth movement, I was given a good Socialist-Zionist education, focused on Jewish self-determination in solidarity with the self-determination of all peoples, and social and economic equity in the society we build. I have spent two previous years of my life in Israel and many more deeply involved in the Jewish world. In the movement, when we spoke of Aliyah we used the term “significant Aliyah”. Once upon a time that was a more common phrase. Later it may have been implicit in discussions about Aliya. These days it barely registers in the collective Zionist mind.

The “significance” makes all the difference. Aliyah alone is simply moving somewhere (albeit it takes strength and courage to go through the bureaucracy of the Aliyah process), and with internet and telecommunications it’s almost like you never left. Moving to another country, even one’s homeland, may answer a demographic question. It certainly puts more people on the ground. The cynic will tell you that demographics are everything here. It’s not true. Significant Aliyah is a way to fulfill our goals; in Hebrew it is called Hagshama – “Actualization.”

One can make Aliyah to find a better life here than the life offered where he or she came from. That is important and significant for many people today and in the past, but it’s not what I am doing in Israel. I can work at an office or a café in Toronto and make more money than I would here. I am not here to make a new life doing what I could be doing elsewhere. I am here to make a different life, and a different world.

I am here because I see social injustice, economic inequity, continuous occupation, and the destruction of the natural beauty that was once Israel. I have been witnessing the turn toward repressive, undemocratic bills in the Knesset, such as the bill to cut off international funding for so-called “political” non-governmental organizations. True many of these issues are common throughout the world, but I am a member of the Jewish people and a Zionist at my core. Israel is where I need to be to effect the change that I envision at my core.

I am deeply intertwined with this place and this state. I am a part of this collective Jewish project. I believe that Zionism can offer something better to the Jewish people and to all of humanity. Zionism is about us, as a people, reaching our potential. Judaism is rooted in a vision of justice and compassion. We need to work toward that in Israel.

As I try to balance the very real need for income with the very real need for profound societal transformation, I do keep in mind the welcoming words and smiles of those I meet along the way. Still, filling this space with my presence and citizenship is not enough to fulfill the Zionism that I was raised on.


Aliyah becomes significant when it is made with a mission in mind. Political opponents may disagree, but at least they are taking part in the conversation. Zionism is a mission. Significant Aliyah demands that we take part in the bettering of this place and by extension, the world.

If my level-headed professor is right about the actuality of fascism here, we have a lot of work to do. Repressive policies, military occupation, and profound social and economic inequity are not, I hope, what the Jewish people and all Israelis, want for this place. Significant Aliyah, moving to Israel with a mission and a vision of a better world is needed now, maybe more than ever.

Sitting in the Misrad Ha’pnim (the Ministry of the Interior), waiting for my number to be called, I had a realization. Hundreds of thousands, even millions of others who had made Aliyah before me had sat in that chair, or one like it, waiting for their own numbers to be called. I imagined a young Berl Katznelson or Abba Kovner sitting in that chair and I wondered if significant Aliyah is a thing of the past.

A. Daniel Roth is a writer, educator, photographer, and organizer. He is from Toronto, has lived in New York City, and recently moved to Israel. He works with the Hashomer Hatzair Movement and the Organization for a Free Society.