It is no secret that the vast majority of Jews who make Aliyah by choice are orthodox. I have also noticed that Baalei Teshuva are a well represented subgroup among Olim. Of course, neither of these observations should be surprising. As orthodox Jews we know that our religious existence is incomplete while not living and serving G-d in our homeland. As Baalei Teshuva the process of Aliyah has much in common with our Teshuva process.
Like becoming frum, making Aliyah requires one to turn his life upside down and to make enormous changes based on, what is essentially, a leap of faith. Certainly, people can and will list dozens of tangible benefits as dividends of both of these endeavors. While some of these dividends may accrue to us, in the long run we know that we are doing these things simply because we believe that they are the right thing to do.
The search for truth that brings many Baalei Teshuva to Yidishkeit does not end when they become observant. Many BTs get “hooked” with a good kumsitz, torah codes, or rationalist explanations for the mitzvos. Once inside we come to understand that the bottom line is that we do what do because we believe that G-d gave us the Torah and its divine message is beyond our attempts to rationally explain it. This realization is what allows us to weather the many challenges we face. (Such as high tuition bills!)
Aliyah then becomes just an extension of this truth seeking. Similarly, one may get hooked into Aliyah with a visit to Israel or a Nefesh B’Nefesh video, but a successful Oleh knows he is living in Israel because it is an integral part of the Jewish package and not because it’s good for the kids or because the climate is better.
I believe another motivating factor is that Baalei Teshuva are more sensitive to inconsistencies and hypocrisy within Judaism. We are more likely to be able to observe our religion from an objective vantage point because we are not “hindered” by an ancestral pattern of behavior. Whether in Modern Orthodoxy or Chareidism we are able to see a huge disconnect when it comes to the mitzvah of Yishuv Haaretz.
The dissonance within Modern Orthodoxy is wide open for the world to see. One of the cornerstones of Modern Orthodoxy is religious Zionism. This ideology flows through its schools, shuls, and social organizations. We wonder how one can so surely believe that the founding of the modern state of Israel was a cataclysmic religious event, maybe even pre-messianic according to some, and yet remain comfortably complacent in his self-described Galus. I once heard a wonderfully apt description of an American religious Zionist as someone who is proud when his friend’s child makes Aliyah!
The disconnect in the Chareidi world, while certainly more subtle, may be even more fundamental. Chareidim pride themselves on being meticulous in mitzvah observance. They laud the concept of going beyond the letter of the law and attempt to find the hand of G-d wherever possible. A tsunami in a far corner of the world is cause for great mussar and spiritual introspection. Yet, the religious tsunami that caused millions of Jews to return to their homeland, uplifted a generation of Jews after the Holocaust, was certainly a catalyst for the modern Baal Teshuva movement, and made Eretz Yisroel once again the Torah center of the world is often met with no more than a spiritual shrug by these very same people. While striving for the Nth degree of observance in the most detailed mitzvah, they may uncharacteristically hide behind heterim and excuses when it comes to the proverbial white elephant of Yishuv Haaretz.
Much of the success of the Baal Teshuva movement in the U.S. can be attributed to the fact that it has never been easier to be an orthodox Jew. Kashrus is a breeze, there are comfortable, well-established communities representing the full spectrum of Hashkafos, there are virtually no barriers to employment in a wide range of fields and overt anti-Semitism is negligible. Of course it is not easy, as we have seen people discuss here in this blog, but one would be hard pressed to find a time and place that was easier.
Likewise, in all of Jewish history it has never been easier to move to Eretz Yisroel. Again, I did not say easy, just easier. A simple comparison of the process of Aliyah and the opportunities in Israel of today versus any other time makes this quite evident.
As I meet and talk to more Olim it becomes evident that, whether they are FFB or not, they all have the mindset of Baalei Teshuva.