GA / North Americans Tout Aliyah, but Few Ready to Make Move

Over 5,000 people dressed in colorful garb, holding balloons and signs and waving American, Canadian and Israeli flags streamed through the streets of Jerusalem last night in the General Assembly's "Salute to Jerusalem" parade through the capital city's downtown district.

After finishing their march down the Ben Yehuda pedestrian mall to Zion Square, Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski handed the key to the city to UJC official Robert Goldberg. The key, said Goldberg, "connects the North American community with the people of Israel and the city of Jerusalem."

Charles Luken, mayor of Cleveland, marched with residents of his city. "I wanted to show support for our own Jewish community and support for the state of Israel and the issues they face here," Luken said.

Glenn Goldstein, 26, from Austin, Texas said, "Israel is the home, it's where every Jew can be comfortable."

But despite a widespread expression of support in recent days for the concept of North American aliyah, participants in the GA appear to be leaving the act of immigrating to someone else.

More than a dozen GA participants said during last night's march that they considered aliyah a positive value, echoing the notion behind the applause that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and President Moshe Katsav received when they encouraged aliyah the night before. But only one of the participants interviewed said she was planning on immigrating herself, saying she would make aliyah "one day." And while several said they would support family members who chose to do so, not one said they had actively encouraged them to immigrate.

That's because American Jews tend to view aliyah as an abstraction, said Marty Flashner, president of the Greenwich, Connecticut Jewish federation.

"I don't think a lot of Americans think about aliyah," said Flashner, adding that his community is struggling with the more basic issue of getting Jews to visit Israel. "I think they're caught up in their own lives in America."

Despite Sharon's declaration that thousands of immigrants will be arriving and Katsav's plea for a million Jews to come from the West, Flashner said, "I just don't know if it's going to happen in the near future."

Flashner himself is not planning on immigrating, but said he would be proud if Will, his 18-year-old son studying at the Conservative yeshiva in Jerusalem for the year, decided to make the move. For his part, Will is thinking about aliyah but said he has no relatives in Israel to soften his absorption and isn't sure "if I'm ready for it."

But it appears that having a close relative in Israel is no recipe for aliyah. One of Gerald Rosenfeld's three daughters has made aliyah, but that hasn't interested him in following. "I'm comfortable where I am," said Rosenfeld, who is from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania federation. "We're creatures of comfort. I don't speak the language, and with my memory there's not much change I'm going to learn - and I don't want to live in Netanya with all the English-speakers."

While several people said they would consider making aliyah at some undefined point in the future, others said they would not even consider immigrating - even while touting its importance.

"As long as people are still coming, it lets the world know that this is a place to be," said Sara-Ellen Greenberg, a member of the southern New Jersey federation. "It is important that people who come here don't always come here from places that are threatened or places that are in need, but people who have means and choose to come here anyway."

But she said she wouldn't immigrate to Israel herself, even though her sister moved here 34 years ago. "I think I can do more good helping convince people in the United States to support Israel," she said, "but I do like to come visit."

Fellow New Jersey native Jane Cantor, from the Middlesex County federation, also has a sister in Israel, but that doesn't make her eager to see her children move so far away.

Cantor said she has encouraged her children to study in Israel for a year, and would consider aliyah only if all her four children - between the ages of 27 and 33 - decided to move as well. When asked if she would encourage her children to immigrate to Israel, Cantor said, "Without me? No!"

"I would be upset by the distance, I can't do anything about that," said Cantor. "The same way I would feel if they moved to California."