The one-million immigrant shtick 

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

You can’t say that Ariel Sharon lacks vision. He even has pince-nez glasses to sharpen his vision. (The spectacles, by the way, were named after Pince-Nez, a Labor Party prince now known as Pines-Paz.)

Okay, Sharon’s vision for Lebanon didn’t work out so well, and he seems to be backtracking on his vision of Jewish settlement in the territories, but he’s now focusing on another grand plan that would make Theodor Herzl proud: Sharon wants to bring a million Jewish immigrants to Israel during the coming years. The problem is that the main pool of potential Jewish immigrants is in the United States and few American Jews have shown much interest in moving to Zion. (Actually, most of them think that Zion is part of The Matrix or a national park in Utah.)

Sharon has considered several ways to tackle this issue. (He actually played offensive tackle for the Kfar Malal Maulers when he was younger.) First, he considered the historic precedents. The State of Israel absorbed over a million immigrants during its first decade and again in the early 1990s. What was the secret? The first wave of immigration was mainly from the Arab world, where things got pretty sticky for the Jews after Israel was established. The second big wave came after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when economic times were pretty sticky.

“Aha,” Sharon thought. The shtick it to make things sticky for the Jews and then they won’t stick where they are. He called up the Mossad and asked about the feasibility of providing sticks to all of the Jews in America. But they told him, politely, where he could stick this plan.

Without an angry Arab majority or failed communist system to pry American Jews from their comfortable lives, Sharon was at his wit’s end. He was about to turn around and go back to the other end of his wit, but then he decided to look into his heart, which he remembered was located somewhere above his stomach.

Heart and wits, heart and wits, he thought. But he found no solution. Just when he was about to give up, the telephone rang. “Hello, I’m Jake Heartwits” said the enthusiastic voice on the phone. “But my Jewish friends call be Leibowitz.” During the ensuing conversation, Jake Leibowitz revealed himself to be a true visionary with an answer to Sharon’s quandary.

Leibowitz, himself a recent immigrant to Israel from Brooklyn, has designed the Eden Hills community southwest of Jerusalem that he advertises as “a modern paradise on ancient lands.” He assured Haaretz this week that “American Jews will happily come here because we will give them better living conditions, spirituality and history. They will bring their money with them.”

Leibowitz sounds like the type who could sell ice to the Eskimos, or ice cream to Ofra Strauss. “It’s so simple, so logical,” he enthused about his Eden Hills plan during an interview with Razi Barkai this week on Army Radio. “It was just a deal waiting to happen.”

The “smart homes” in Eden Hills will incorporate the very latest technologies, Leibowitz explains, including advanced energy and recycling systems. The company’s Web site acknowledges that Leibowitz was not the first one to think of offering state-of-the-art construction as a way to attract Diaspora Jews to the Holy Land. The site quotes Herzl in “The Jewish State” (1896): "... we shall give a home to our people. And we shall give it, not by dragging them ruthlessly out of their sustaining soil, but rather by transplanting them carefully to a better ground... Indeed, we shall build in a bolder and more stately style than was ever adopted before, for we now possess means which men never yet possessed."

Sharon was thrilled with Leibowitz’s idea and took out his calculator. “Hmm, let’s say that about 1,000 housing units are built at Eden Hills, with about 4.5 people per home. This means 4,500 American Jews moving to this new paradise. 1,000,000 minus 4,500 leaves just 995,500 Jews (or about 221 more Eden Hills) to realize my vision.”

Sharon called in his closest circle of advisors to work out a plan of action. Everything was ready to go until someone suggested that Sharon turn his Sycamore Ranch into an Eden Hills community. This would be a Ben-Gurion-like gesture, the advisor said, recalling how Israel’s first prime minister set a personal example by settling in a kibbutz in the Negev.

I’ll have to ask my boys Gilad and Omri, Sharon replied. He then reached for his pince-nez glasses and the advisors understood that he was already looking for a new vision.

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