Balint looks at the way aliyah, and the way people make aliyah, has changed since the 1960's and 1970's.
Aliya from Western countries has never been huge...the "push" immigration (Jews who feel pushed out of their country of origin) has always been more significant than the "pull" aliya (Jews who feel the pull of Israel...not the push of anti-Semitism).
Still, in the 1960s and 1970s, young Jews from English speaking countries did have a greater number of organized aliya options than they do today.
The 'garin' concept was the most popular aliya vehicle of that era. Groups of like-minded young people generally affiliated with a particular Zionist youth movement would plan on moving to Israel together. Generally their initial orientation into Israeli society took place on an existing kibbutz or moshav, where they studied Hebrew in intensive ulpan classes and worked for their keep for periods of six months-one year. But the ideal was for the garinim to gain enough experience to be able to establish their own communal settlements-and some did.
Kibbutz Gezer, just off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, was founded in 1974 by a Habonim-Dror garin of 30 university graduates from North America. Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava was established by North American members of the Young Judaea movement. Back in the 1950s, Kibbutz Lavi, a religious community nestled in the hills overlooking Tiberias, got its start through the initiative of British Bnei Akiva members.
The pioneers who arrived in garins had spent several years of intense preparation as youth movement activists in their native countries before making aliya. Shlichim (emissaries) from Israel trained the young people in everything from agriculture to group process techniques before forwarding their aliya applications to the Jewish Agency.
The demise of the kibbutz coincided with the decline in affiliation with Zionist youth movements, resulting in a rethinking of the group aliya process. The principal of providing a safety net and a familiar social framework for new immigrants still prevails, but has taken on new forms.
Many former kibbutz volunteers bemoan the end of the collective aliya experience-for many, formative friendships that lasted a lifetime were forged in the dining halls and fields of Israel's unique socialist experiment.
When Kibbutz Kfar Blum announced the end of its volunteer program in 2002, Laurie Schechter Rimon, an early Kibbutz Kfar Blum volunteer wrote to her fellow former temporary kibbutzniks: "This brings to a close the end of an era; and I'm sure for a number of us, the end of a dream/fantasy of one day returning to Kfar Blum as an aging volunteer - or sending our children to relive the dream.."
Kibbutz Gezer today is down to about 80-90 members, most of whom work off the kibbutz but still pool their salaries.
David Leichman, 50, and his wife Miri Gold, 52, came to Gezer with Garin Tohu in 1977, and are two of just four members of that original garin of 20 people who are still on the kibbutz.
David is a longtime Jewish educator, who was Young Judaea head for Northern California before he immigrated 25 years ago, and has taught a course on kibbutz for Tel Aviv University's overseas program for 18 years.
He says that kibbutzniks who are stuck in the old models, models that no longer apply to current economic and social realities, are fooling themselves.
Others who started out their lives in Israel as kibbutzniks and moved on, credit their early experiences with their successful aliya: "All in all, I am very happy and proud to have made a very successful aliyah, and much of it has to do with my first impressions and the acceptance and joy in life in Israel that I found at Kfar Blum in the 1970s," says Ruth Broch, now a resident of Kiryat Ata.
Of the 9,200 immigrants who arrived in Israel in the first half of 2003, (a drop of 39 percent as compared to the same period the previous year) barely any were part of any structured group aliya program from western countries. 56 percent, or 5,100 immigrants - came from the former Soviet Union, 500 arrived from Argentina and 1,500 from Ethiopia-leaving only 2050 from France, the UK, Australia, South Africa and the US.
The median age of the immigrants who arrived in the first half of 2003 was 28.3 years, slightly older than the median age of 1960s and 1970s olim. Predominant among today's western olim tend are young couples with small children. Many of them have spent a year or more of their college time in Israel, so their familiarity with the country is greater than their earlier era counterparts. The group aliya concept is less appealing.
But financial incentives can be an enticement to join a group aliya project. The recent success of the Nefesh B'Nefesh program that has succeeded in bringing more than 2,000 North American immigrants to Israel in the past year, is proof that there is still a place for group aliya. Cash grants of up to $20,000 per family make the idea appealing.
Quite an evolution from the veterans of the 1960s peace movement who came en masse to kibbutzim in the late 1960s and early 1970s to create a community based on sexual and economic equality, committed to collectivist principles, Jewish identity, and the redemption of the land through agricultural labor.