Young Jews Emigrate in Greater Numbers to Israel

September 3, 2010

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Kate Holz and Robert Lux are among an increasing number of young Jews who plan to spend the rest of their lives in Israel. (WBEZ/Odette Yousef)
The tough job market of these last two years has gotten many young people thinking outside the country's borders. In particular, young American Jews are turning to a long-standing immigration program of the Israeli government. It's called “aliyah,” and it means accepting Israeli citizenship and moving to that country.

Couple Kate Holz and Robert Lux are planning to leave for Israel in October. For them, nothing about the process has been organized. Even the stairs leading to their attic apartment is cluttered with stuff. “So when I warned you that this was messy, I mean really messy,” Holz apologized. “It's my way of packing.”

Inside, clothes, shoes and books are everywhere. Also, Holz's ex-husband, who's seated, strumming a ukulele and belting out a tune. Chaos reigns. Somehow, everything has to be packed – into three bags each -- by tonight. But Holz and Lux aren't fazed. Holz says last-minute and spontaneous is their style.

Compared with most people who make this life change, their decision can be called impulsive. Though both Holz and Lux were born Jews, neither is observant. And they've only gone to Israel once. How long?

“Ten days,” replies Lux.

And that was enough to decide to move there?

“I think the first day was enough,” Holz jumps in. “I mean, we fell in love with it immediately. The scenery, the people, the food. Just everything.”

Kate, a server, is 28; Rob, a cook, is 23. According to the Jewish Agency of North America, that's about average for people who choose to emigrate to Israel from North America.

“Once they've visited and seen the opportunities and seen there are other options for them in Israel for higher education, I see an increase in young people going more than anything else,” says Shirah Ozery, director of the Jewish Agency's Midwest office in Skokie.

Ozery's seeing the trend in the Midwest, but it's on par with the rest of the country. Eight years ago, about 2,000 Jews left North America to go to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency of North America. Last year the figure was nearly double that. The Jewish Agency expects the trend to continue.

All these emigrants, though, have to show paperwork to prove they're eligible for aliyah under the Law of Return. The law accepts those whose mother, father, or grandparents were Jewish, or who converted to Judaism by a recognized source.

“Ironically, actually, that was based on the definition of Hitler,” Ozery explains, “which was used to send people to concentration camps.”

The Israeli government and another privately-funded group, Nefesh B'Nefesh, heavily subsidize this emigration. They cover a one-way ticket to Israel, taxi fare from the airport, five months of intensive Hebrew language training, six months of free health care, an income tax reduction, free college tuition. Ozery says all this makes immigrants' new lives in Israel easier, and encourages them to become highly educated and productive.

But Rob Lux and Kate Holz say all this assistance is not just a free ride.

“I have to serve six months, then I'll be a reservist for the rest of my life,” says Lux. He says if he were younger, he'd actually have to serve three years in the Israeli army.

Holz says it's hard to come to terms with Lux's impending military service. But she still has a pleasant picture of a new life as an Israeli.

“It sounds so corny when I say it,” Holz laughs, “but being able to wake up and go walk through the market and get coffee and do a little grocery shopping and cook a little breakfast, go to our Hebrew classes, walk on the beach, go to work...”

Kate and Rob are looking forward to a slower pace of life more than anything, because right now they work crazy hours and barely see each other. But they have at least one more frantic night in the US, packing for their new life in Israel.