My Heart is in the East
February 10, 2022
Kumu V’naale Tzion: A Historic Movement Brings Lakewood to Eretz Yisrael
Anyone who’s been there knows the feeling. It’s a sense of belonging, the knowledge that you are where you’re supposed to be as you breathe in the holy air, knowing that you’re home, among brothers.
In a chain stretching back to the Churban, hundreds of generations have sacrificed to return to the Holy Land. Today, Rabbi Dovid Kolodetsky and other dedicated volunteers toil to turn dreams into reality for those who are willing to take the leap and follow their hearts to the East.
A vision is born
Rabbi Dovid Kolodetsky, a Lakewood rosh yeshivah and rosh kollel and founder of Kumu V’naale Tzion, has always held a burning desire to live in Eretz Yisrael and help others move there as well.
“According to most poskim, living in Eretz Yisrael is a mitzvah d’Oraysa,” Rabbi Kolodetsky explains. “Tanach is filled with references to the importance of living in Eretz Yisrael. Every Yid loves to be there; everyone knows that is where they belong. “But despite all the benefits of life in Eretz Yisrael, there are many barriers that prevent people from moving there. It is difficult to find appropriate schools for American children. Other hurdles for English speakers include finding jobs and housing and joining a culture that is so different from what they are accustomed to. Many olim feel misplaced as theystruggle to integrate into Israeli society.
“I had an idea that could uproot the trees with the earth: groups of people should move from America together. This way, families would be surrounded by a familiar community and language while living in the Eretz Hakodesh. By bringing many Lakewood residents together to form a community in Eretz Yisrael, we would solve all the issues that immigrantstypically face. We could choose an affordable location, establish an English-speaking school system, and set up parnassah opportunities within the neighborhood.”
Making it happen
“Rav Chaim Kanievsky—who is my aunt’s father—encourages everyone to move to Eretz Yisrael. Five years ago, I asked R’ Chaim if I should create a movement to help people make aliyah, and he encouraged me to do so. After that conversation, an intifada broke out and the plans were put on hold. When I tried to restart the plan two years ago, Covid happened, and once again, the project was paused.”
At that point, Rabbi Menachem Leibowitz stepped in to get the initiative off the ground.
“I always dreamed of moving to Eretz Yisrael,” shares Rabbi Leibowitz, who is now a key member of the Kumu V’naale Tzion project and the man on the ground in Eretz Yisrael. “Rabbi Kolodetsky has been a family friend for many years. When I heard about his idea, I asked if I could get involved.
“‘The initiative is still in the planning stages. I don’t have the manpower or the resources to get it done,’ he told me.
“That’s when I got on board in the effort to make this dream a reality. I started attending meetings, posting ads, and accepting registrations for Kiryas Lakewood.”
Rabbi Kolodetsky flew to Eretz Yisrael, where he conducted meetings with Israeli leaders and officials in the search for a location for the community of olim. “Many of the people I met with were enthusiastic about the idea, but we were looking for something very specific. At first, it seemed that Acco would be the place. Its mayor had agreed to accommodate us, and we were ready to finalize the details, but then we learned that people had bought homes in the area that was supposed to be exclusively Kiryas Lakewood’s. A key component of our plan was the American community, and we didn’t want to sacrifice that aspect, so we dropped Acco as a candidate for Kiryas Lakewood.”
“Then we heard about Ma’aleh Amos,” Rabbi Kolodetsky continues. “It’s a small, forty-year-old community situated in Harei Yehuda. The community of over one hundred chareidi families—thirty percent of whom are American or English speaking—is led by Rabbi Zev Charlop, a well-known Israeli posek and a talmid of Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth zt”l, author of Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah.”
Ma’aleh Amos is a beautiful neighborhood with views of Midbar Yehuda and Yam Hamelach. The yishuv was established by Aish HaTorah in 1981 with the blessing of Rav Elyashiv zt”l. The area has since gone through many changes and is now home to many flavors of chareidim: Americans, Israelis, Russians; Sefardim, Ashkenazim, and chassidim. All 120 families in the community are frum, and they are excited to have so many beautiful families of bnei Torah move from Lakewood to join the community.
Tzvi Olesker, chairman of the Vaad Hanhalah at Ma’aleh Amos, describes the yishuv as a small, tight-knit kehillah, which is unusual for Eretz Yisrael. “The newcomers will develop personal relationships with the people of Ma’aleh Amos; there is communal support and a sense of family here. The adjustment will be easier than normal for the Americans because they are coming as a group. Still,” he cautions, “making aliyah is always a difficult process, and families should not expect it to be simple.”
He sketches out the history of Ma’aleh Amos, named for Amos Hanavi, who was born in the vicinity. “Ma’aleh Amos is filled with groves of olive trees. Tel Tekoa, situated five minutes from the yishuv,was the location of the ancient olive presses used in the times of the Beis Hamikdash. The neis of Chanukah happened because the Jews were waiting for olive oil from Tel Tekoa.”
Rabbi Charlop tells the Voice that 21 years ago, a group of Novardokers from France wanted to form a neighborhood in Gush Etzion near Ma’aleh Amos. They approached R’ Elyashiv and asked if the idea was a good one.
“Why not?” the Gadol responded. “It’s in Eretz Yisrael.”
They mentioned that Gush Etzion is situated past the Palestinian green line; did R’ Elyashiv think that was a problem?
R’ Elyashiv replied that the region is “no more dangerous than Shuk Machane Yehuda.”
Surprised, the people asked if the Rav was aware of Ma’aleh Amos’s location, and R’ Elyashiv gave them exact directions to the area.
“One needs to constantly daven for protection wherever they may be,” Rabbi Charlop explains. “Baruch Hashem, we have never had an instance of violence in Ma’aleh Amos.”
Buying a home can be scary and overwhelming. That’s why Ma’aleh Amos—an area known for its affordable housing—is offering rentals to the Lakewood olim.
Rabbi Leibowitz says, “Unlike most other neighborhoods we’ve considered, purchasing is not required to move to Ma’aleh Amos. The brand-new homes are being offered as rentals, with an option to buy for those who are interested. This way, people don’t have to worry about selling their American homes and purchasing real estate at a time when they are making so many major life decisions.”
Schools and jobs
Ma’aleh Amos has a wonderful cheder and Bais Yaakov in place. The schools operate very similarly to the typical Torah’dig Lakewood institutions, the only substantial difference being the spoken language. Rabbi Leibowitz has been working with teams of mechanchim to develop a school system for the children of Kiryas Lakewood.
“The Ma’aleh Amos schools will accommodate us by providing some special classes with English-speaking teachers and American students within the current school system,” he shares. “The schools are offering a lot of flexibility and support, and we feel unbelievably fortunate to have a solid framework on which to build. We expect the schools to be ready for this undertaking this coming school year, and, depending on how many families choose to move in the summer, we may set up a day camp for the children as well.”
For many families, their children’s education is the main concern that keeps them from making aliyah.
“The truth is that chinuch is always a challenge; every family must develop its own approach to parenting. At Ma’aleh Amos we have a great cheder and Bais Yaakov as well as kindergartens and playgroups for the little ones. Although the beginning may be tough, I think parents will be surprised at how easily their children acclimate to their new surroundings,” Rabbi Charlop predicts.
In regard to jobs, although nothing is finalized yet, numerous American businesses have expressed interest in opening offices in Eretz Yisrael. The leaders of Kumu V’naale Tzion are working to establish a local job market for the olim,an arrangement that would be a win-win for both the businesses and the immigrants.
Already, there is a second location for Kiryas Lakewood in the works, situated in the mountaintop neighborhood of Geva Binyamin. The area, which is located five miles from Yerushalayim, contains a mixed crowd of frum and secular, Americans and Israelis, but a new housing project is reserved specifically for Kiryas Lakewood 2.0.
Unlike Ma’aleh Amos, Geva Binyamin homes are for purchase only. Five-bedroom homes are going for $500,000, with townhouses, duplexes, and private homes on offer.
Taking the plunge
“Making aliyah has been a dream of ours for the past fifteen years,” says Shmuel, father of a large brood who has registered for the Geva Binyamin project. “We want to raise our children in a land filled with kedushah, a place where our heritage is etched into the stones. We want our children to know Hebrew, to have the tools they need to access the Torah. We have been searching for the right opportunity for so long, and when we saw the ad for Kiryas Lakewood, we knew it was too good of an opportunity to miss. I attended a Kumu V’naale Tzion asifah this summer, where I heard about the unique effort to transplant Torah from Lakewood to Eretz Yisrael. We’re not looking to become Israelis, and with Kiryas Lakewood, we can remain Torah’dig Americans who live in Eretz Yisrael.
“Although Eretz Yisrael lacks some of the luxuries that we have grown accustomed to, Kiryas Lakewood is structured to provide a smooth transition to Israeli life. Eretz Yisrael is the land where eini Hashem are always present; the hashgachah is felt more strongly there than anywhere else in the world. Under the auspices of the great R’ Dovid Kolodetsky, it’s a no-brainer, and we feel privileged to be going along with many chashuve families who have signed up.”
Making a decision of this magnitude is scary; the adjustment can’t possibly be all smooth sailing. When Shmuel and his wife told their children about their plans, the kids had mixed reactions. “Our older children feel a bit ambivalent; they’re nervous about the change and how it will affect them. There is certainly the fear of the unknown; we are pioneers in a brand-new journey. I believe, however, that if the parents have the proper attitude and are well prepared, the transition should go well. We’re all in this for the right reasons; we are sure to see a lot of siyatta d’Shmaya along the way.
Shmuel concludes, “Lately, there has been a huge increase in olim, with chareidim making aliyah en masse. The undercurrent in America is less hospitable than it once was, and the writing is on the wall. Now is the time to go.”
Spreading the word
This summer, Kumu V’naale Tzion held two asifos with the goal of raising awareness about the project and gauging Lakewood residents’ interest levels. The events were attended by over 100 people, who were visibly moved by the speeches that Rabbi Kolodetsky, Rabbi Leibowitz, and other Kumu V’naale Tzion volunteers delivered.
“We received over a hundred calls before and after the events,” Rabbi Leibowitz recalls. “At this point, we have about forty-five families registered for each of the two Kiryas Lakewood locations, and we have started to accept deposits for the Geva Binyamin homes. The Ma’aleh Amos housing project is nearing the end of the planning phase and will soon be accepting deposits as well. The deposit is just five thousand dollars for Geva Binyamin and two months’ rent for Ma’aleh Amos. Once the payments are collected, registration will close and Kiryas Lakewood will move on to the next stage.”
Wanting to settle into life in Eretz Yisrael before the school year started, the Leibowitz family courageously madealiyah this past summer. “We knew that if we didn’t push ourselves, it would never happen, so we picked ourselves up and did it. We are very fortunate to be living here, settling into our home in Ramat Beit Shemesh.”
Like the Leibowitzes, several other families have made aliyahahead of Kiryas Lakewood with plans to join the community as soon as it’s settled.
As Rabbi Charlop puts it, “Kiryas Lakewood is a great opportunity to make the move easily and with as few changes as possible. People are always afraid to be the Nachshon ben Aminadav, to take the first leap into the unknown. But once the first Lakewood families begin to settle in Ma’aleh Amos, many more are sure to follow.”
A dream for the future
Rabbi Leibowitz imparts his vision for the future: “There are so many people who want to leave America, but the challenges of making aliyah seem insurmountable. When settling alongside a group of fellow Americans, with the benefits of group housing and schooling, the impossible suddenly seems possible and exciting. Once Lakewood families begin to arrive, others will recognize how doable it is and join the movement, too.
“One of the preconditions we agreed upon with both Ma’aleh Amos and Geva Binyamin is the opportunity to further grow the community. With siyata d’Shmaya, we have arranged that if another hundred or so families want to enter the Kiryas Lakewood locations within the next few years, the neighborhoods will provide the space and the resources to accommodate them.
“Soon, hundreds of people will be living their dream of raising children in Eretz Yisrael.”