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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Putting his money where his mouth is

On Saturday night in synagogue, I struck up a conversation with an Israeli I had never met before. Sensing my American-accented Hebrew, he asked from where in the US I had made aliya (immigrated) and whether I did so immediately after I got married. He was shocked to hear that we did not make aliya until ten years after we got married. He said that he has lots of relatives in America, and he believes that one of the few acts of mesirat nefesh (dedication) left in Judaism today is moving to Israel. That got me to thinking about the family pictured above. I had actually chanced upon this story a couple of weeks ago and had never gotten around to running it. Now that Arutz Sheva has run it, I figured I ought to make a couple of comments as well.

Rabbi Shalom Rosner of Woodmere, New York is picking up his wife and six children and his entire congregation (or so we are told - I hope the congregation will all come too) and making aliya (immigrating) to Beit Shemesh this summer.
"This is not a sudden decision," Rabbi Rosner explained. "My wife and I and our six children have been dreaming and planning for this day for years. It is a highly personal decision yet part of a much larger mission… Nearly 20,000 North American Jews have moved to Israel in recent years. This is a dynamic, growing trend. We have much to add to Israeli society, and the community we are embarking to develop will, with G-d's help, be a model environment reflecting our ideals and our vision for centuries to come."

Nofei HaShemesh will take some of the hallmarks of American Jewish life – community rabbis and synagogue-centric communal life – and bring it to a region already populated by a large number of olim (immigrants to Israel). Located between the existing Anglo-rich neighborhoods of Scheinfeld and Nofei Aviv, 30 families have already purchased homes in the 400-unit neighborhood now being built.

Rabbi Rosner gave classes at Yeshiva University in Talmud, Jewish Law and Bible over the past seven years since being ordained and studying at the school’s RIETS Seminary’s Kollel Elyon Talmudic fellowship.


“Aliya is an ideal that we as Jews can all recognize as our common destiny,” Rabbi Rosner wrote to his congregants. “We hope to forge a path that will encourage other inspired Jews from around the world to become our neighbors, along with veteran Israelis who share our commitment to building a community based on a deeply rooted love of our people, our Torah values and service to our nation.”

He is not leaving due to any lack of success, having built a synagogue community of 15 families into 125 in just six years.


“On a personal level, [Aliyah] has always been a paramount - yet elusive - quest for our family,” Rabbi Rosner said. “Before we were married, my wife and I had decided in principle that Israel would be our home. Decisions in principle are often mightily slowed down by developments on the ground. Before we knew it, my wife’s medical school was upon us, along with my rabbinic training at Yeshiva University. Starting a family and many other considerations naturally followed, all creating a situation where Aliyah remained more a beckoning dream than an immediate step.

“Despite these ‘distractions,’ rarely did even one day pass in which we both didn’t express to each other our desire to make this move. Our hearts were heavy that we were not in Israel. Whether it was the chafing distance of witnessing miraculous developments in the land or yearning to raise our children in the environment of holiness that is only available in Israel, the gravitational pull of Aliyah was a constant presence in our hearts and minds.”

Rabbi Rosner knows that the struggle is not over.

“Even while I know the period ahead will not be without its fair share of challenges and the occasional difficult days, we relish the chance to play our very own part in our people’s historic renewal,” he said. “Most exciting of all, we welcome others both from our own community and from other communities across North America and around the world who will make the decision to join us as we create a truly ideal environment in Israel…Hashem has given us the remarkable historic chance to make this land ours…and so many wonderful people who went before us have done the ‘heavy lifting’ to get us newcomers to where we are today.”


Dr. Tamar Rosner, the rabbi’s wife, is taking part in the Nefesh b’Nefesh Aliyah organization’s special promotion seeking to bring doctors on Aliyah. The pediatrician told the Five Towns Jewish News last year that the Nefesh b’Nefesh grant played a role in making their consideration of Aliyah a reality. “Doctors don’t move [to Israel] because of a lucrative salary,” Rosner said. “We’re going because it’s the Jewish homeland, and this fellowship is making the move more do-able. We know we are going to live a less lavish life than in the US, but we are not going to starve.”

Dr. Rosner is one of a number of doctors to apply for the special grant, which will be granted to ten docters a year by the Legacy Heritage Foundation through Nefesh B’Nefesh. The grant, in the form of an initial fellowship upon arrival in Israel and monthly supplemental income for the first two years, totals about $60,000. It is available to doctors under the age of 45 willing to practice at least nine months a year in Israel.
An ad was taken out in many Jewish newspapers in the US by Rabbi Rosner's mentors in YU saluting his decision. Those who have not seen it can find the ad here.

Many years ago, I happened to be in the home of a prominent New York Rabbi when one of the other Sabbath guests was one of the best known 'activists' for Gush Emunim. The 'activist' asked the Rabbi - some of whose children live in Israel - why he didn't make aliya. The Rabbi said "If I made aliya, half the shul would follow me." The 'activist' said, "that's wonderful." And the Rabbi answered, "but the other half would be left without a Rabbi." That fear has left many prominent American Rabbis in the US until their retirement. After retirement, they no longer feel guilty about abandoning the flock, and they come here. Now, Rabbi Rosner is presenting a different paradigm. I hope his aliya proves that you can take the congregation with you.


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