Monday, May 11, 2009

Should You Make Aliyah to Save Money?

To save money? Isn't it widely agreed that aliyah and Israel are big money pits, and that the best way to make a million dollars in Israel is to come with two? Not anymore, I guess.
In this Hirhurim post, Gil Student writes about the OU's recent initiative to address the growing tuition crisis. And a crisis it is, with skyrocketing costs and dwindling ranks of those able to pay full freight. The OU has a number of interesting suggestions which I don't want to address. But the discussion in the comments brought up the idea of aliyah as a possible solution to the problem.
A commenter named Eli Parosh writes,
There is, of course, a much more simple solution...
Move to Israel. Tuition and health insurance are much, much cheaper. 170 shekel a month for the top family plan health insurance. 13 shekel for medicines at the pharmacy. My $4,000 tution bill for private school for 4 children is quite funny when compared to its US equivalent and level of learning. In fact, I would venture to say that $30,000 a year here goes further than $200,000 in the U.S. (and that does not even include the ruchnius) Perhaps Hashem is forcing the geulah, and the OU is trying to come up with ways to say a dime with energy efficiency, to prevent it. it looks pretty sad...

This led to the following comment:
I want to add that I think that an Orthodox Jew making Aliyah solely for the purpose of solving the tuition crises is BAD. An Orthodox Jew should make Aliyah for a variety of reasons involving being mekayem mitzvat yishuv haaretz, educating one's children in the most full Jewish Torah environment one can live in today, and many many other reasons. (including solving Shmuly Boteach's lack of readily kosher food and restaurants problem that seems plague American Jewry today according to him....) see Rav Aron Lichtenstein's essay in the recent Orthodox Forum book for a good listing and discussion of the spiritual considerations to take into account.
If solving tuition is the sole raison detre of Aliyah than when the disposable income to tuition costs possibly goes out of whack in Israel people will leave if they haven't absorbed all of the other reasons to live in E"Y.

I really could not disagree more, both practically and ideologically.
From a practical standpoint, making aliyah because of the tuition crisis is really an articulation of values. It means that sending our children to day school is so critical for their well-being, that we're willing to transport ourselves to another country, culture, etc - simply to ensure that they continue to enjoy and benefit from that education. Moreover, for all the challenges and complaints that parents have with schools here, the amazing choice and quality of Jewish education astounds me.
But making aliyah to save money seems like a sound ideological choice as well. A well-known principle in Judaism teaches us that, מתוך שלא לשמה בא לשמה - "out of performance of a commandment not for its own sake, one will come to perform it for its own sake." Put simply, when someone performs a mitzvah for the wrong reason, he will eventually perform that same mitzvah for the right reasons. Of course God would want you to do it for the right reasons. But He'll take what he can get. And if you can't bring yourself to make aliyah out of a Zionistic fervor for the mitzvah of yishuv eretz yisrael, day school tuition will do just fine.
In reality, somehow we've come to think - and allow our children to think as well - that mitzvot have to have meaning and "speak" to us in order to follow them. My wife has discussions all the time with students who tell her that they struggle with some mitzvah or another because they don't "relate" to it, or "get" it. The answer is pretty straightforward: sure, we'd love it if you identified with every mitzvah, and performed each and every one from a position of understanding, love and devotion to God. But that's not realistic. Not every person is going to love every mitzvah. Many are quite hard. They can make life difficult. But that's why we call them mitzvot - commandments. God doesn't ask us to fulfill them if we feel like it and identify with them. He commands us. Our job is to follow His commandments. If we can arrive at the point where we appreciate the beauty of each commandment, all the better. But if not, that in no way absolves us from their observance.
So if you're considering aliyah to save money on your tuition - great! You'll save a boatload of money. Our tuition this past year for three children in grade school and one in nursery was something in the range of 2,000 shekel - $500. (You'll make much less too, but it might just even out in the end.)
But at least you'll be here. And with aliyah, that by far, is the hardest part.