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by Judy Lash Balint
December 5, 2002

There's power in numbers, and it was the power of more than 700 young yeshiva students that gripped Rabbi Shlom Gold last Saturday night. The young men, all from English speaking countries, are here for a year or two of study at yeshivot all over Israel.

As a member of the board of Aloh Na'aleh, the Jerusaem based organization that had brought the students together on the evening of Shabbat Chanuka, Rabbi Gold cast his eyes over the vast crowd in the ballroom of the Ramada Hotel and remarked upon the "awesome" sight. He noted that when he studied here in 1955, there were only 15 foreign students in Israeli yeshivot. "What a Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name) you are! " he exclaimed. "You're part of the holy madness that defines Klal Yisrael," Rabbi Gold stated to the applause of the young men.

Aloh Na'aleh, an organization founded by a group of modern orthodox rabbis who themselves made aliya, strives to motivate American Jews to come to Israel. " We believe that the mitzvah (commandment) of Yishuv Haaretz (returning to the Land) is of utmost importance and that aliya for the majority of Jews is an achievable goal," says their publicity material. "we seek to legitimize aliya and place it firmly on the agenda of the North American Jewish community."

Saturday night's event was a logical step in furthering the agenda of Aloh Na'aleh. The few thousand young men and women who choose to come to Israel to study are a natural pool for potential aliya. Presumably they are the most committed Jews of their generation, and will form the nucleus of leadership for the observant community in the US, Great Britain, South Africa and Australia in ten or twenty years time.

The Chanuka event brought together students from the spectrum of modern orthodox, Zionist yeshivot. Busloads arrived from Shaalvim, Kerem B'Yavneh, Shaarei Mevasseret, Yeshivat Hakotel, Yeshivat Har Etzion (Gush), Birkat Moshe, Darche Noam, Hamivtar Orot Lev, Ohr Yerushalayim, and Reishit Yerushalayim in Beit Shemesh. Looking over the assembly, head coverings of every type were visible. A few black hats scattered around; black velvet kippot, crocheted kippot, multi-colored, large knitted kippot and even a few baseball caps could be seen.

The agenda was simple--celebrate Chanuka with music, food and dancing, and plant the seeds for thinking of their own futures in Israel. In coming months, Aloh Naaleh hopes to duplicate this event for young women studying here, and also to conduct hasbara training for all the students who will enter colleges and universities next year.

According to Rabbi Yerachmiel Roness, Aloh Naaleh hopes to emphasize the religious imperative to live in the land of Israel. "It's important that they understand the difference between 'Yofi shel kedushah' (beauty of Holiness)--the spiritual element present only in Israel, and 'kedushah shel yofi' (holiness of beauty)--emphasis on the material and physical that generally marks life in western societies, he said.

Speeches by Rabbi Gold, David Zeevi, a young new oleh and former Mevasseret student; and Rabbi Zev Leff, rav of Moshav Mattityahu formed the first part of the program.

With many reunions going on throughout the hall, it took a few minutes to quiet the exuberant young men, but most listened attentively through almost an hour of speeches.

Rabbi Gold told the students that "the history of Klal Yisrael is being written here, nowhere else." He urged the students to complete their education and then consider what kind of impact they could have in Israel.

David Zeevi told the audience his life story--Ramaz High School, a year at Mevasseret and a degree at the University of Pennsylvania before returning six months ago to settle permanently in Israel "That could be you!" he exclaimed.

Rabbi Leff, the author of a booklet entitled Mitzvat Yishuv Haaretz (the commandment to settle the land), commended the students on their commitment to study here during the current difficult period. He urged them to view aliya not just as a geographic relocation, but as a different outlook on life. "Life means something here," he stated. Aliya should be the ultimate goal, since it is one of the most central mizvot (commandments), Rabb Leff said. If it becomes a goal, you should feel bad--you should realize you're missing something if circumstances don't permit a speedy return to live in Israel. But when those circumstances change, he said, you'll come if that was your goal.

Before releasing the students to find the refreshments that were donated by Keren Ruth Bat Sara - courtesy of Rabbi Aharon Bina of Yeshivat Hakotel, Rabbi Roness concluded the formal part of the evening by relating his family's story. The Roness family made aliya more than 35 years ago and raised their five children here. As he described the accomplishments of each of them--two teaching rabbis, three with degrees from Bar Ilan, many offspring--one could only imagine the power of those achievements for the Jewish people multiplied by 700....