Friday, January 30, 2009

Making Aliyah a Reality in Allentown, Pennsylvania

My shul, Congregation Sons of Israel in Allentown, Pennsylvania, has seen quite a few families, as well as individuals, make aliyah over the past several years. Certainly, the number of olim per capita is higher here than in many larger communities.

There are various reasons for this phenomenon, but today I am interested in finding ways to build on this success – to promote Aliyah to Israel as an achievable goal for members of our Jewish community.

Our Jewish Day School already helps, bringing in Israelis to teach and hosting girls from the “Bat Ami” program. And, of course, our shul offers both regular and special Israel-related events, and Israel is at the top of everyone’s radar screen. But I’d like to do more.

So I had a new idea just this morning, and I expect to implement it this year: A Shabbat Aliyah, juxtaposed with Yom ha’Atzmaut, in which we honor our Allentown Olim.
• I’m thinking of asking our olim to send family photographs, which we could post on the walls of the shul.
• I would ask a few of them, including a former rabbi of our shul, to send divrei torah for Friday night, Shabbat morning and Seudah Shlishit.
• I want to put up a wall mural of the map of Israel, highlighting the places where our Olim now live.

Building on that, I’d like to have an “Allentown Oleh” column in our special HaModia bulletins, which we publish six times per year. Not necessarily a political, even aliyah-oriented column; I'm thinking more of a blog post talking about life, updating us on lifecycle events, that sort of thing.

The overall idea is to make people more aware of their peers who have made aliyah, to provide insights into the process of aliyah, to help people understand כי יכול נוכל לה, that, yes, we can do this.

I find that one of the major obstacles to aliyah is simply the sense that this is a major, years-long, arduous task. In truth, it is. But Nefesh b’Nefesh has done a lot to smooth the way – and, perhaps, seeing how others have succeeded will help people to envision doing it themselves.

So I'll ask you: What ideas do you have? In particular, I’d like to hear from the Olim who read this blog – what else could we do, to promote aliyah from our shul?

We don’t have the funds to run pilot trips or start building a development, but I am a firm believer in the idea that small steps count, too - so let’s hear your advice.


  1. Great ideas, rabbi.

    Do you have any programs to retrain Americans in Israeli-style politics? ;-}

  2. Sure, Tzipporah - I think Ex-Gov Blagojevich will even offer internships from his cell.

  3. many former members of my Upstate NY community have made aliyá... i keep on thinking that they should all start a town together someplace and call it אפסטייט* החדשה. maybe you should suggest that to your Israeli Allentowners ;-)

    (*name withheld for internet privacy purposes)

  4. It sounds wonderful. Your congregants, present and former, are very lucky.
    My former rabbi, the late Rabbi Ephraim Wolf, ZaTz"L, was so excited about our moving to Shiloh, he used to mention me in his sermons.

  5. Hi Rabbi,
    I grew up in Allentown and made aliyah three years ago. My mom and stepdad and two siblings still live in Allentown. My mom is Israeli, and she desperately wants to move back. Her husband, and American, is afraid of the language barrier. I suggest promoting Hebrew classes, getting Nefesh b'Nefesh and Birthright to hold meetings there, holding classes on the importance of the land of Israel to Jews. Check out some of the Nefesh b'Nefesh videos on my website, I hope to see you all in Israel!
    Margelit Hoffman nee Melody Zilber

  6. Contact Avi Zimmerman of the Ariel Community Aliah program. He is a one man Aliah program and a real mentch.


  7. Steg-
    We're a pretty diverse crowd; not sure that would work...


    Thanks for emailing! We have the Hebrew/Israel classes, and Birthright is pretty active locally because of the high concentration of Jewish students at our local Muhlenberg College, but I agree that more JAFI/NBN involvement would be good.

    Thanks; sounds like a good contact.