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Zionism in Action Social Absorption of Religious Olim

The social absorption of religious immigrants in Israel is much smoother and easier than that of the non-religious, says Rabbi Mordechai Kirschblum, associate head of the Jewish Agency-World Zionist Organization Immigration and Absorption Department. The reason, he says, is not that better services and facilities are provided for religious olim than for others. It is that the religious oleh naturally enjoys better communication and relatively closer connections with veteran religious Israelis, mainly through frequent and regular meetings at the synagogues.

Within days of his arrival in Israel, the religious immigrant is out and about looking for a suitable synagogue. At the synagogue, Israelis and newcomers share the same experience, find a common language, and thus grow instantly closer to each other.

The Immigration and Absorption Department has always flatly rejected proposals for setting up special absorption centers for religious olim, says Kirschblum. The department believes that the religious Jew, whether newcomer or veteran Israeli, does not need a special framework of exclusivity to satisfy his spiritual and ritual requirements.

What the religious Jew does need is suitable and adequate physical facilities to enable him to practice and enjoy his faith. Often, such physical facilities are sadly lacking. But Kirschblum’s department, the rabbi says sadly, has no real influence on the religious facilities provided by the governmental or municipal authorities in the suburbs where the olim eventually settle.

EFFORTS TO PROVIDE FACILITIES

While the department does not develop special programs to cater for religious immigrants, because, as Kirschblum believes, they immediately find their place religiously in the general milieu, it does devote a great deal of effort to providing religious facilities for non-religious newcomers.

The department’s religious culture section is constantly putting up religious facilities in absorption centers. The section encourages religious events, such as discussion groups, or Sabbath and festival celebrations. Lecturers are sent out by the center to talk to immigrants on religious themes. Each of the absorption centers has a synagogue, and almost every Saturday there are “Oneg Shabbat” and “Melave Malka” programs. The Israeli religious women’s organizations send packages to the absorption centers on the festivals. The religious culture section issues multi-language books, booklets and pamphlets dealing with religious subjects. It also arranges Bar Mitzvah ceremonies for young immigrants.

Kirschblum stresses that these activities of the religious culture section are strictly voluntary; every immigrant decides for himself whether to join in, and no one is forced to do so. But the impressive and constant presence of religious activity at the absorption centers and at the immigrant housing areas does seem to have its impact. Kirschblum says his religious culture section is permanently faced with demands to increase its activities.

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