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Special Interview Aliya: Time to Stop Talking and Start Doing, Says Stanley Sloane

It is not common to hear from a leading American Jewish giver and fund-raiser a hard sell “pitch” for aliya. That kind of talk has traditionally been left to the “organized Zionist” leadership, while the United Jewish Appeal men have quietly gotten on with the job of raising the funds to pay for whole areas of social and educational endeavor which the Israel government itself simply cannot afford to cover.

But things are changing, said Stanley Sloane of New Jersey, one of the UJA’s 15 national chairmen and a shrewd and sophisticated observer of the trends of Jewish history. It was Pinhas Sapir, who, as chairman of the World Zionist Organization, first called for the challenge of aliya to be transferred from the sole “jurisdiction of Israel” into the hands and responsibility of diaspora communities themselves.

Some moves in that direction have already been made. But first, of course, the need for the change has to percolate through to the awareness and conviction of the diaspora leadership–and particularly of the American Jewish leaders, Sloane observed. This, he believes, is what is in fact happening at this present time and he saw convincing evidence of it at the Jewish Agency Assembly held here last week.

“We Americans came away with the conclusion that it’s up to us to get involved in aliya…to exhort our fellow citizens…and to act in a practical way to turn exhortation into realization…” he said. The Zionist proponents of aliya, urging others to go but not showing the example themselves, have been positively detrimental to aliya, Sloane said, referring to the leaders of the various large American Zionist organizations.

ALIYA POTENTIAL AMONG U.S. JEWS

His own recommendation–it is still in the form of general, personal thoughts that have been running through his mind–is for the American Jewish leadership to “identify the people who are the potential for aliya” and to encourage them, materially and morally, to make the move to Israel. The aliya potential, Sloane observed, is among the estimated two million urban American Jews. About one-half of these are elderly, but the others are the obvious reservoir for an initial mass movement of American olim to Israel.

These urban Jews, usually in the middle or lower-middle income brackets, are struggling constantly to make a living, and at the same time face worsening problems of ecology and quality of life. Eventually–and for most of them within the next decade–the need to make a physical relocation will become pressing. Their options as they see them are to hop over to a nearby neighborhood, moving piecemeal away from negative social influences, or to make the more difficult move to suburbia, where life is more expensive.

The task facing American Jewry, Sloane stated with conviction, is to persuade these young urban Jewish families, many of them only loosely affiliated with organized Jewry, that they have a third option: Israel.

Part of this persuasion must be in the form of material arrangements–efficiently made and adequately explained–for their settlement and absorption in Israel. A moderate success–say in the realm of two percent annually–would mean 20,000 American Jews to Israel each year. And that would be just a start.

HOW TO CATALYZE ALIYA PROCESS

As throughout Jewish history, migration movements are begun by the economically weak–but the more affluent quickly catch on and follow suit, Sloane observed. This was the case when mass Eastern European Jewish immigration hit America. First it was the poor–but the more affluent quickly followed.

Thus, Sloane observed, the successful absorption of a substantial number of urban American Jews in Israel would certainly catalyze an aliya process among young suburban Jewish families–who would come in even greater numbers and would need much less in the way of material aid and support. The aliya of say half a million Jews from America to Israel, Sloane said, far from weakening the U.S. Jewish community, would actually strengthen it.

‘STEP UP THE GIVING’

Sloane is similarly bold and sweeping when he surveys the UJA’s current situation. “The time has come, in terms of Jewish need, for American Jewry to step up the giving,” he said firmly. “We have come up in a relatively short time from fifty-million to five hundred million dollars a year….Now we must state our aim: one billion dollars a year…and having stated it, we must strive to attain it.”

The aim must be achieved within “a few years”–and it can be achieved, Sloane is convinced, if UJA broadens its front. “Frank Lautenberg (UJA general chairman) was right when he spoke of UJA giving as ‘self-taxation. I want to add to that the need for tax reform.” Sloane said. “We have to reach more people–while at the same time maintaining the level of intensity of our operations.”

He estimated that UJA reaches presently just less than half of all American Jews, But only half of them give “responsibly,” he said. “We must get up to fifty percent responsible giving among all American Jews,” Sloane asserted. He did not quantify “responsibility” in dollars and cents terms.

DESCRIBES METHOD OF SOLICITATION

As a national chairman, and an able fund-raiser, Sloane is called upon by national UJA on the average of once a fortnight to fly off to some other town–it can be anywhere in the U.S.–and make a major solicitation. When Pinhas Sapir was Finance Minister and later the chairman of the Jewish Agency he would often take Sloane with him on his whirlwind fund-raising missions which could last three or four hectic days.

His own method, Sloane said, is to work towards a moment of intense, almost anguished silence during the soliciting conversation. This is the moment, he knows, when the man he is visiting is digging deep into his own soul and circumstances, coming to terms with his various conflicting considerations: Jewishness, family needs, business commitments. Sloane and other top fund-raisers can help–often by citing their own personal gifts and office is by way of example–but ultimately each man must make this decision himself, he said.

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