Going Up, One More Time, Gentlemen Please

On Language

By Philologos

Published November 03, 2010, issue of November 12, 2010.
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Three distinguished readers have sent me four e-mails concerning my October 15 column on the expression “making aliyah.” All make good points.

At Least Three and a Half More Roots:
‘Aliyah.’ like so many things in life, seems overdetermined.
iStockphoto
At Least Three and a Half More Roots: ‘Aliyah.’ like so many things in life, seems overdetermined.

Let’s start with Noyekh Miller, the redoubtable editor of the Yiddish language website Mendele. He e-mailed me twice. The first time was to say:

“You’re right in pointing to the increasing proportion of Orthodox olim to Israel, but I’m afraid you psychologize the switch from ‘going on aliyah’ to ‘making aliyah’ when you should have been paying more attention to how the word ‘make’ is used in the daily lives of these olim and their families. I can think of more than a dozen important events in Orthodox lives that begin with ‘make’: shabbes, kosher, a brokhe [blessing], a misheberakh [prayer said for someone called up to the Torah], etc. But this in itself does not, in my opinion, entirely explain ‘making aliyah.’ The most likely immediate source is ‘Yeshivish’ English, that weird and awkward jargon that I’m sure you’re familiar with. I have been struck by the way in which ‘make’ has been substituted in it for Yiddish zayn. For instance, makriv zayn [“to sacrifice,” from the Hebrew makriv, “sacrificing,” and the Yiddish zayn, “to be”] becomes in Yeshivish ‘to make makriv.’ For these guys, to ‘make aliyah’ is a matter of everyday speech. That they may also be, as you say, more determined to stay in Israel than a previous generation that spoke of ‘going on aliyah’ is probably true, but quite beside the point.”

And in a second e-mail, Mr. Miller adds:

“I think my last note was overly complicated. It has since occurred to me that makhn aliyah, ‘to make aliya,’ is very old in Yiddish. I have a vague recollection that Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav even used it. One way or another, if increasing numbers of olim come from Orthodox backgrounds, the English they speak is increasingly likely to be influenced by Yiddish.”

Sam Weiss, cantor of the Jewish Community Center of Paramus, N.J., does psychologize, but along different lines than my column. He writes:

“Perhaps the expression ‘to make aliyah’ was influenced by such Eastern-European Jewish concepts as ‘making shabbes,’ ‘making hamotsi’ [the blessing over bread], etc. The subconscious goal may have been to invest aliyah with a greater purpose, or even sanctity, than just another relocation trip.”

And from Paul Lawrence Rose, professor of European history and Jewish studies at Pennsylvania State University, comes this:

“Although I dimly recall ‘going on aliyah’ also being used, ‘making aliyah’ was the standard phrase used in the Britain I grew up in as far back as I remember, which is to say, already in the 1950s. It probably came into American usage via British olim using it with Americans in Israel, who then exported it back to the U.S.”

Our four e-mails thus offer three-and-a-half additional explanations of the phrase “to make aliyah.” Mr. Miller comes up with two of these. His first is that Orthodox, English-speaking Jews, particularly in a yeshiva milieu, use the word “make” in contexts where other English speakers do not, often adjunctively with Yiddish-domesticated Hebrew words, “to make aliyah” being an example of this. His second is that “to make aliyah” is a direct translation of a Yiddish expression that goes back at least 200 years, to the time of Nachman of Bratslav.

Cantor Weiss provides an extra half-explanation, since while agreeing with Mr. Miller’s analysis, he detects a possible “subconscious goal” in “to make aliyah.” And finally, Professor Rose believes that we should look to British Jews for the origins of the phrase.

These explanations are not, it must be said, mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they strike one as being complementary. If makhn aliyah is originally a Bratslaver expression, it was coined on the model of makhn shabbes, makhn hamotsi, and the like, and if British Jews were already “making aliyah” in the 1950s, they were presumably under the influence of Yiddish at a time when American Jewish olim who were “going on aliyah” were not. Nor is there any reason why one can’t, while accepting Mr. Miller and Professor Rose’s observations, also invoke psychological reasons for the Yiddish-and-possibly-British-influenced “to make aliyah” having won out in the end over “going on aliyah.”

One more observation needs to be made. This is that while “to make aliyah” may have a strong Yiddish influence, the word “aliyah” itself remains stressed in it, Israeli-style, on its last syllable as “ah-lee-YAH,” rather than on its next-to-last syllable as “ah-LEE-yeh,” as it would be if it were given the Eastern-European Ashkenazi stress that we find in such words as “SHAB-bes,” “ha-MO-tsi,” etc. Perhaps this is because aliyah, even in a Yiddishized context, is linked to Israel. Perhaps, too, it is to distinguish it from an aliya, being called up to say a blessing during the reading of the Torah, which is pronounced “ah-LEE-yeh” by both Yiddish and English-speaking Jews. (In Israeli Hebrew, where it is pronounced “ah-lee-YAH,” it is called aliyah l’torah, “an aliya to the Torah,” to distinguish it from aliyah to Israel.) In language as in life, overdetermination — the existence of multiple causes for a single phenomenon — is often the rule.

Questions for Philologos can be sent to philologos@forward.com


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