The Urgent Problem of Yordim
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The Urgent Problem of Yordim

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The joint coordinating committee of the government and the World Zionist Organization Executive is expected to meet in about two weeks to discuss the continuing problem of yordim — Israelis who emigrate to live permanently abroad.

Although hardly a new phenomenon, it become a matter of some urgency this month with the publication of a report by Shmuel Lahis, Director General of the Jewish Agency, which estimated the number of yordim living in the United States at between 300,000-500,000.

Those figures were promptly assailed by Rafael Kotlowitz, head of the Jewish Agency’s Immigration and Absorption Deportment, as a gross exaggeration, At the WZO Executive’s regular weekly meeting yesterday, Kotlowitz cited reports by the Central Bureau of Statistics that only 337,000 Israelis left the country since the State was founded 32 years ago, including non-Jews; He charged that Lahis report was based on “gossip and slander” and caused considerable damage because it created on atmosphere of pessimism in the country.


Lahis defended his report. He said the estimated number of yordim was based on “responsible and careful consideration.” He prepared the report, at the request of Deputy Premier Simcha Enslich, following a 10-day visit to the U.S. where he talked with a number of expatriate Israelis.

“We should be aware of the fact that young people who were born in the country, among then those who came from the kibbutzim and are considered the best in the country, are among the yordim,” Lahis said.

The occurred of Lchis’ figures was also questioned by the director of the Central’Bureau of Statistics who said the U.S. immigration authorities had informed him that there were only about 100,000 Israelis living in the U.S. He acknowledged, however, that a record. 30,000 Israelis left the country permanently this year compared to fewer than 7000 in each of the two preceding years.


But the dispute over numbers was overshadowed by the divergency of opinion within the WZO Executive over what measures should be taken to induce the yordim to return to Israel of whether they should be written off as “deserters.”

Lahis warned that “Cutting ties with them or boycotting them will cause a great damage and we shall lose them completely.” He repeated his proposals that army veterans be granted special privileges, such as tax exemptions, and that returning Israelis be given the same rights as those extended to new immigrants.

Kotlowitz said “The yordim are not a fall-out of weaklings,” a term once used by the former Premier, Yitzhak Rabin, to describe them, He said “they should not be boycotted but neither should they be given legitimacy.” He suggested that yordim be invited to Independence Day festivities. “We must concentrate on those who wish to return, especially among their children, including organized tours to Israel, ” he said.

Avraham Kotz, head of the Youth and Hechalutz Deportment, proposed direct efforts to educate the children of yordim, noting that the WZO is the only body involved in Jewish education in the diaspora. He charged that Zionist education in the country has failed. He also called for an improved absorption process for new immigrants.

Dr. Yishoel Peled agreed that the care of the yordim problem was the failure of Zionist education. “This generation does not understand the meaning of anti-Semitism and does not understand what Zionism was created to solve,” he declared. “Our children are not aware of the dangers of assimilation and the yordim do not understand the meaning of desertion and weakening the Jewish stand. A yored is a deserter.”

Faye Schenk, head of the WZO’s Organization Department, said the number of yordim was not the issue, but rather how to stop the flow of yordim. She suggested limiting the amount of currency emigrants are allowed to take out of the country.

Akiva Levinsky, WZO Treasurer, said he had opposed Lahis mission because no one could submit a serious report on the basis of a 10-day tour. He said there was a link between aliya and yerida. “We are so eager to receive olim that we have created a situation where it is easy to come and go. Not everybody who comes here for two years is on immigrant,” he said. “A poor country should not do it this way.”

Rdya Yoglom, President of WIZO, chided Kotlowitz for worrying about figures.’ “It hurts if there are only 100,000 yordim,” she said, and proposed the establishment of special Schools in Israel for the children of yordim. Rabbi Yehuda Elinsohn said it was not fair to claim that most of the yordim came from the poverty strata of society. He suggested that any Israeli who lives abroad for 15 years should have his passport revoked.

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