Israel Report

August 2002         

The Aliyah Boat

By Yishai Fleisher - August 27, 2002
A middle-aged man awakens in the middle of the night. He gets up, dresses lightly, and steps outside his cabin-room, making sure to close the door quietly as to not disturb his sleeping wife. Walking out on to the ship's deck, he finds himself utterly alone overlooking the mighty and dark expanse of the ocean, his lungs inhaling deeply, his eyes enchanted by the interplay of moon and waves. Above him the Milky Way is a carpet of light and below him is the Atlantic's mysterious deep.

Suddenly he is reminded of his childhood and his parents, he thinks about his slumbering wife and their three children in the cabin next door. He ponders the vastness of the universe and asks: "Is there really one special place on this Earth, and do one special people really belong in this place?" He knows the answer. He is leaving the past behind, and in the horizon is his future; he is on a journey of a lifetime, one which the world will never forget. "Oh my G-d, it's really happening, I'm finally making Aliyah."

Images of the St. Louis, of the Exodus, of poor Jews on boats seeking refuge crisscross his mind, and tears wells up as he thinks about his grandfather, whom he never met, saying 'Next year in Jerusalem' at a Passover Seder in Poland. The stars in the sky remind him of G-d's promise to Abraham that his children's children will be redeemed. "The road to Israel has cut across many generations," he says to himself. "This ocean is my Sea of Reeds, and my children will soon speak Hebrew."

In the summer of 5762 (July 2002), Nefesh B'Nefesh brought a planeload of 400 North American Jews to Israel, not on a solidarity mission - on Aliyah! The plane's landing was greeted by hundreds of people and was marked by an emotional ceremony. Many people around the world were uplifted by the news of American Aliyah, a few were angered, and certainly everybody was surprised. American Aliyah is the next major Jewish migration; it is the final step in Jewish reunification, and it's happening now.

Nefesh B'Nefesh's plan is to continue bringing American Jews over to Israel on Aliyah via airplanes: "On wings of eagles." However there is downside to the use of airplanes: the process is too quick, too fast for people to understand. The new American immigrants land in a total daze, in shock from the massive and sudden change they are undergoing. The people of Israel are unsure of the significance of this phenomenon because they have had very little time to consider it, to internalize it. The world media covers this story, but its come and go, just a sound bite on the evening news. We need to slow this process down, to make American Aliyah evocative and romantic; to bring out the deep seeded emotions of the Jewish People in this historic time.

The Aliyah Boat is a cruise-liner which can hold 2,500 Olim at one time. It sails for three weeks from the northeastern coast of the U.S. to a port in Israel - Haifa or Ashkelon. While on this 'cruise' the new immigrants begin their Hebrew training, they hear speeches by great educators, and they are prepped and trained to deal with their new home and environment.

They study Jewish history and Israeli folk dance. They have a huge and inclusive Shabbat program, they eat well; they sing songs. Everything from a Mikve to Bingo, from Daf Yomi to deep-sea fishing, the ship could cater to all types of Jews.

On the boat, children aren't strapped in to a constrictive seat for the duration of a flight; instead they are happy in their groups and activities, they are making friends and meeting kids just like them. Older people play shuffleboard and sun themselves. Grown-ups dip in Jacuzzis to relax and make real friends and contacts. When the ship arrives in Israel, this group of Olim will have become one cohesive unit, a support network, helping each other through the tribulations of immigration.

Unlike the daze of instant-air-travel, the passengers of the Aliyah Boat will have time to reflect on the deep meaning of their voyage, its personal and historical significance for them, for their forefathers, and for the world. Through the on-board education and with their newfound friends, the new Olim will gather strength to succeed in Israel.

The Aliyah Boat will have a great impact on the world media. Unlike the airplane, the Aliyah Boat would be a news item for three weeks straight. The sheer amount of people, the romantic and retro imagery of it all would make the Aliyah Boat a features piece in every news outlet. Discreet on-board reporters, a documentary on American Aliyah, an Internet site with updates from the passengers as the voyage progresses, much can be done to spread the word. An Israeli navy escort and a massive welcome in Israel would make the Aliyah Boat the most moving spectacle of our time.

You just have to imagine it, close your eyes and visualize American Jews boarding this ship, see them bidding farewell to America, see them arrive in Israel. See them dancing.

This project is possible.

So let's make it happen. If sick people like Adolph Hitler, Osama Bin-Laden, and Saddam Hussein can dream big for the destruction of the world, it is up to us Jews to plan for a good future and to dream even bigger for the creation of life. "If we will it, it is no dream" - let's make the Aliyah Boat happen!
Yishai Fleisher attends the Cardozo School of Law. He graduated from Yeshiva College and studied at the Hesder Yeshiva of Maaleh Adumim. Fleisher served as a paratrooper in the IDF and is the founder of Kumah, a pro-Aliyah grassroots movement.

©2002 -

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