Friday, April 23, 2010

An Odd Rumor About America's Jews

A fellow I know who is normally a reasonable chap, well respected in his profession, good sense of humor but serious when called for, politics a bit to the left of what intelligent folks ought to think but generally an upright citizen, recently told me a very outlandish tale. He insists it's true, and claims to have seen part of the documentation.

Apparently someone did a large survey not long ago and found that about one third of American Jews, i.e. more than one and a half million people, might consider moving to Israel; of that third, a third (so, a number above 500,000) would be actively willing to discuss how such a move might be realized. The Jewish Agency knows about this survey, but is keeping mum rather than running with it, out of fear their donors will be peeved, since many of the donors wish to strengthen American Jewry, not see Jews move to Israel.

How plausible is any of this? Not very, to my mind. Over the past 62 years there probably haven't been 100,000 American Jews who moved to Israel and stayed. It's a free country (both), so if they wanted to, no one would stop them; even Icelandic volcanoes don't get in the way since it's possible to fly further south. I rather doubt there are 500,000 American Jews who give much thought to Israel in their daily lives; 1,500,000 willing to consider moving here sounds outlandish; even more so as at least 75% of American Jews have never visited Israel, ever.

It doesn't make sense - even though we do have cheap universal health care that keeps Israelis alive (statistically) longer than Americans. The part about the Jewish Agency suppressing the survey, though, for fear of causing a rumpus: that part is of course easily believable. The Jewish Agency is not the force it once was, when David Ben Gurion was its boss.

So that's the story. If any of you can add anything to substantiate or disprove this new urban legend, feel free. Even if not, perhaps the mere spreading of the legend will make people think about it.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is an urban legend and your friend is far too gullible.

If it were any more than an urban legend, it would come with details such as the name of the polling organization that conducted this 'large survey, not long ago'.

Also, the Jewish Agency would not be capable of 'suppressing' such a story if it had any substance to it. That is a conspiracy theory and not at all 'easily believable'.

In any case, "might consider" is such a vague term that, depending on how the question is phrased and what the other options are, almost anyone "might consider" aliyah, even if they'd have to convert to Judaism first.

Anonymous said...

As an American Jew obsessed with Israel, I find it hard to believe.

Nycerbarb

Yaacov said...

Just for the record: the surveying organization is named, and does exist.

Anonymous said...

"Just for the record: the surveying organization is named, and does exist."

OK, in that case I may have misjudged your friend. My apologies.

But what exactly was the question? Was it "Can you imagine circumstances under which you might consider moving to Israel?"?

Anonymous said...

why not have an urban legend with a tune in favour of Israel?
to me it feels like a breath of fresh air and who's to know
... after all self-help books recommend to imagine yourself as the winner if you want to become one (besides doing all the right things)
- so ...
when it is a truth so universally acknowledged why not practice it to generate good will towards Israel.
Silke

Menachem Mendel said...

It seems not to be an urban legend and may have been written about in Haaretz five years ago. See reports about it here and here.

David Gruber said...

The 1/3rd figure doesn't strike me as so outlandish, particularly considering the way that the question seems to be phrased: "might" consider a move to Israel. Judging only from my own experience as an American Jew with American Jewish friends, Israel is on our minds enough that, if presented with a question like this, a lot of people would say yes in that they would be willing to consider such a move. That's not to say, though, that it would ever get beyond the level of "might consider" for the vast majority of that third.

Sylvia said...

I would be worried if the Jewish Agency, with such a long history of rescuing Jews, didn't plan for any eventuality.
In the 1950s, the Agency found itself faced with some 800 000 Jewish refugees from Karachi to Casablanca in life threatening situations who fled their homes with barely the clothes on their back. Israel wasn't equipped to receive them and most had to spend as much as 3 years in a third country before they could be accommodated in Israel. Many Iraqi Jews lived in camps in Iran, North African Jews in France in the famous camp d'Arenas, etc.
And who thought the irion curtain would fall and a million Jews would flee Russia in the 1990?
Now with the threat from radical Islamists, the terrorism which has struck Jewish communities already, rabid antisemitism and anti-Zionism, talk of "dual loyalties",and preventing Jews and Israelis from speaking, there is reason to worry and anticipate the worst case scenario. If today tens of thousands of American Jews suddenly started feeling threatened for whatever reason and asked to immigrate en masse, I am not sure Israel would have the capacity to integrate all those immigrants.

If true - it's only routine and it makes sense. That's exactly the reason why the Jewish Agency has been created.

Anonymous said...

Let me say that there might be a small skew. I am an American born to israeli parents and lived in IL for several and served in a sayeret.

I would move to Israel yesterday if not for my 5th generation Texan wife and her entire family here in TX.

I think there are many of us who would like to move home but cannot and only wish.

Carrie said...

Well let's think about it. I am only estimating here, but go with me. We have around 6 million Jews here, and about 10% are Orthodox. Out of that 600k I would say, maybe half are Modern Orthodox, which is the key demographic making aliyah. So 300k sounds more accurate. Plus, I know a small # of Birthrighters who have already made aliyah, but not in such significant #'s to be relevant enough.

On the other hand, I tend to agree with the others that I'd have to see how the question was phrased.

Sylvia said...

A survey of French Jews 6 years ago revealed that at that time, 30 000 of them would make Alyah. In June 2004, Maariv "revealed" a plan to convince French Jews to make alyah. This provoked the ire of the French leadership who didn't appreciate the operation and accused the the Jewish Agency of "going over their heads". I don't have the Maariv article but here is a French summary for those who read French.

http://www.col.fr/article.php3?id_article=578

Sylvia said...

I think this puts the whole thing into context.

Forum on Emergency and Crisis Situations in Jewish Communities


http://chalav-udvash.org.il/JewishAgency/English/About/Updates/Chairman/Archive/2008/sep18.htm

Saul Lieberman said...

Halevai one third of Yeshiva University alumni (let alone the larger Jewish population) would consider moving to Israel.

But I suppose if you ask them, "Would you consider moving to Israel at some point?" Probably most would have a hard time answering no. Which tells you nothing.

This Is Hell said...

Live with a suitcase packed and ready by the door, my grandmother used to say.

Barry Meislin said...

...5th generation Texan....

Would that be Mizrachi Texan, Sephardi Texan or Ashkenazi Texan (or do such distinctions become meaningless after so many generations)?

Laura SF said...

My husband & I talk about it from time to time, usually in the context of "If the U.S. starts turning seriously antisemitic..." Until there is real freedom of religion for Jews in Israel, I can't see any sizable number of American Jews moving there for any reason. It's not "easier to be a Jew" there unless by that you mean haredi or identified-but-secular. And don't get me started about the "who is a Jew" madness...

Barry Meislin said...

Alas, it is, sadly, time to think about about the unthinkable (and speak about the unspeakable).

And if Israel proves "uncongenial" to those millions of the amcha who have difficulty with certain definitions (and how they're implemented), along with the concommitant prickliness (bruskness? rudeness?)---or should that be "pluck"---and perhaps, climate, then, it appears not unlikely that Micronesia may prove to be the only remaining congenial place of refuge (given the extraordinary success of the global media)....or perhaps Sarah (immenu?) Palin's Alaska (a la that modern-day prophet, Michael Chabon).

Yes, the new century may come down in history as being "The Micronesian Century"...