In the midst of a pandemic and political and social unrest, more American Jews are considering aliyah — moving to Israel.
Aliyah facilitation organization Nefesh B’Nefesh, which has helped more than 65,000 North American and British Jews relocate to their ancestral homeland since 2002, received 6,704 aliyah applications in 2020. Compare that to 2019, when it got 3,035.
During the last year, 3,216 North Americans emigrated to Israel, including 811 families, 1,032 singles, and 332 retirees.
There’s a great deal of interest in aliyah in Bergen County; many families go every year, and every year a new group of families starts to plan.
But landing in Israel does not always lead to remaining happily in Israel. How can you be reasonably certain you’re ready to make the move and adjust successfully?
There’s a way to find out. The new Aliyah Risk Calculator, designed for potential Western immigrant families with children, is available online at www.aliyahresearch.com.
This tool was developed by Rabbi Dr. Avidan Milevsky, the founding director of the new Center for Research on Aliyah in the department of behavioral sciences at Ariel University. The psychologist and former pulpit rabbi arrived in Israel in 2016. He came from Maryland, along with his wife and five children.
The calculator, which takes about 15 minutes to complete, uses scientific measures to assess resources and risks based on answers to questions about social, financial, family, educational, and individual life that have been shown to affect aliyah success.
The final score shows where you rank on a risk scale coded red, orange, or green — high, medium, and low risk — and offers specific recommendations to consider as you contemplate the big move.
“The final score and interpretation should assist you in making an informed decision about aliyah and will help you in developing a clear plan of success should you choose to move to Israel,” Dr. Milevsky said.
He and his wife, Ilana, also a psychologist, tried to prepare for their own move by searching for scientific literature on factors likely to predict a family’s aliyah experience.
“We found very little as relates to North American aliyah,” he said. “There was some information on the financial piece, which is important, but surprisingly we didn’t find much on mental health, family dynamics, or child development. So I conducted my own study on this topic when I was on sabbatical as a visiting professor at Hebrew University in 2012 and I started to see there are pre-aliyah factors that contribute to success.”
His research revealed academic studies suggesting that variables including parenting style, family communication, the children’s temperaments, and the reasons motivating aliyah all influence the outcome.
“That was eye-opening for us, and helped my wife and me make the decision,” Dr. Milevsky said.
Eager to transfer the information he’d uncovered from the ivory tower of academia to the community, he worked with a computer programmer to devise the user-friendly calculator in connection with his research center at Ariel.
“It’s not meant to scare people away,” he emphasized.
“It’s quite the opposite. People want to move with their eyes open. They want to know where they stand, and this will clarify the issues and help them make sound decisions. If you score in the red zone, maybe this is not the right time, but you can focus on addressing the issues and then revisit the idea in a few years.”
Dr. Milevsky said that one weighty consideration is “the pull factor versus the push factor.”
In other words, are you drawn to Israel for Zionistic or religious reasons, or are you being pushed to Israel by your problems?
“If someone answers, ‘I have addiction issues,’ or ‘My kids aren’t doing well in the U.S.,’ those are push factors,” Dr. Milevsky said. “That is higher risk.”
Rabbi Elie and Dr. Rebecca Mischel of Livingston — who have deep roots in Teaneck and plan to make aliyah this summer — agreed to give the Aliyah Risk Calculator a try at the request of this reporter.
“Fortunately, since we’re already planning on moving, the results were encouraging,” Rabbi Mischel reported.
“Part of the intent of the calculator was to figure out if people are running away from problems and that’s a wise question. I’m married to a psychologist so I’m hyperaware of these issues,” he added.
He is the spiritual leader of Suburban Torah in Livingston, and his wife — the daughter of Lenny and Michele Fuld of Teaneck — is the school psychologist at the JEC Lower School in Elizabeth. Rabbi Mischel’s parents, Howard and Terry, made aliyah from Teaneck in August 2009. Each has siblings living in Israel as well.
With children in ninth, seventh, fourth, and first grades, and fulfilling careers, the Mischels are “choosing to leave an easier life behind,” Rabbi Mischel said. He and his wife have assured their children that they will help one another through the challenges ahead.
In their case, aliyah is coming from the pull rather than the push side.
“We’re fortunate in having two major motivations: we are being reunited with our families and we are really believers that we are in the process of redemption, that the future of the Jewish people is there and we want to be part of it,” Rabbi Mischel said.
“If you’re going so that you can stop paying yeshiva day school tuition or because America is so uncertain now in terms of the economy and the status of the Jews, it’s probably not a good idea,” he said. “New challenges will replace old challenges. I think this is what the Aliyah Risk Calculator is looking to determine.”
“I can see it could be helpful for a lot of people who are considering aliyah. I have people calling me from within and even from outside the community who heard we are going and want to talk about aliyah. I get a sense it’s in the air a little more than it used to be.”
Indeed, the Aliyah Risk Calculator had 2,000 hits over the first 48 hours of its launch in early February.
“We are getting emails about it from around the world,” Dr. Milevsky said. “Even though it’s meant for North Americans, it works for Westerners in general. We’ve had hundreds of hits from France already.”
To ensure privacy, the calculator does not store the data entered. An optional survey that pops up after the score and recommendations are delivered asks whether it made the respondent’s aliyah more or less likely.
“One individual responded that he had had some concerns, but seeing the exact issues laid out in an honest assessment really calmed him,” Dr. Milevsky said.
A similar tool for other demographic groups is under development, he added.
Meanwhile, he is starting to spread the word about the Aliyah Risk Calculator through the Jewish Agency, print and broadcast media, and other channels. He’s had discussions with Nefesh B’Nefesh and hopes to reach out to rabbis across the United States to publicize it.
“Based on the initial response, it’s very promising,” he said.