Making aliyah


By Marcus Dysch
March 18, 2010
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There is plenty of talk at the moment about the future of Britain’s Jewish community.

Friday night dinner tables are buzzing with debate on why the community’s younger members are leaving in such numbers [aliyah rates were last year at their highest for 25 years].

People keep asking me how British Jews will survive if robbed of a generation of community leaders.

Non-Jews question why youngsters with fantastic degrees and privileges their grandparents could have only ever dreamed of are leaving for a potentially turbulent, troubled new life in Israel.

I have few concrete answers. There are, of course, many reasons why someone chooses to make aliyah. Each is a personal decision based on the realities of that person’s life.

A friend of mine is making aliyah this Sunday and as part of the moving process has written this piece explaining his decisions to leave Britain behind for Israel.

I think it is an interesting insight into why young British Jews are leaving the country.

Why I am making Aliyah

To the Israel neophyte and the disillusioned Israeli sabra alike, my decision to make Aliyah comes across as nothing short of incomprehensible. Put simply, I have an amazing family, many wonderful friends, and until recently, had a fantastic job. If that wasn’t enough, I live in London, one of the world’s most dynamic, vibrant, and multi-cultural cities.

Indeed I am immensely proud and grateful to have been born in England. Whether it’s watching football on a freezing cold winter night, singing “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” at Twickenham in the spring, or drinking Pimm’s while wandering between the perfectly manicured Wimbledon courts come summer, I am quintessentially English.

From Countdown to Monty Python, from Panorama to Top Gear, and from University Challenge to Match of the Day, there is an endless list of Anglo-isms that I am loathe to leave behind. England has given me a healthy dosage of self-deprecating humour, a love in – equal measure – for afternoon tea, curry, and fish ‘n chips, and a delightful cynicism – tinged with appreciation – for life’s inevitable ironies, mishaps, and twists-of- fate.

What then, could I possibly offer by way of explanation for wanting to leave all this behind? Certainly, to explain why I would ever leave the UK is a challenge in itself, let alone to explain why I would ever move to Israel. For many, Israel is a country that is almost always at war, a country that is divided between seemingly irreconcilable political and religious factions, a country that is losing its way and in so doing, losing the hearts and minds of its people. In this light, the question becomes even more pointed: why on earth do I want to make aliyah?

For me, the answer is simple. I am making Aliyah so that I can live as part of a Jewish majority in the Jewish state. To paraphrase Yair Lapid, for me, Aliyah is living in a place where Hebrew is not only the language used to thank the Creator, but it’s also the language used to swear at lunatic drivers.

It’s where the Bible not only offers religious guidance and covers national history, but also overlaps with today’s geography. King Saul went in search of mules on what is today Highway 443, Jonah the Prophet boarded his ship not too far from what is today a restaurant in Jaffa, and by now the balcony where King David peeped on Bathsheba must have been bought by some oligarch, converted into a luxury apartment, and sold to Abe and Ruth Greenberg of Palm County, Florida.

As a deeply secular Jew raised in a passionately Zionist home, Israel is where I can take for granted that the working week starts on a Sunday and ends on Thursday, it’s where I won’t use up precious vacation days from work because the Jewish holidays are the national holidays, and it’s where my particular brand of secular Judaism can be twisted and turned into a profoundly enriching and fulfilling lifestyle, a lifestyle encapsulated by Tel Aviv.

It might be a stretch to say, but in Israel, merely by waking up each day, going to work, and paying the taxes, I will be fulfilling the dream of Jews who lived and died long before me, the dream that the Jewish people would return to their ancestral homeland.

Of course, there are less ideological factors influencing my decision to make Aliyah. I attended a Jewish primary school, belonged to a Zionist youth movement throughout secondary school, spent a gap year in Israel, became president of the Jewish society as a Cambridge undergraduate, worked in pro-Israel political communications for a year after, and then completed a master’s degree at LSE in which the subject of my dissertation was… yep, you guess it, Israel. If this isn’t a life bio for Aliyah, then I’m not sure what is. As I’ve said to my parents: “How can you be surprised, you’ve only got yourselves to blame.”

Of course, in no way do I anticipate an easy transition. I’ve heard the horror stories of bank/municipal/telephone workers driving new immigrants to despair. And it’s sad yet probably realistic to say, but when it comes to being made to feel welcome by the Israeli public at large, I’ve set low expectations.

Thus without close family in Israel to help me navigate the inevitable difficulties that lie ahead, I am incredibly fortunate to have a network of friends in Israel, not only fellow British olim in whose footsteps I am following, but also native-born Israelis. With their help my post-Aliyah plans are to move to Tel Aviv, rent an apartment with Israelis my own age, and volunteer at a non-profit organisation called Omanoot set up by a friend of mine. Then, once I’ve found my feet and established a routine, I’m determined to find employment in the political-diplomatic field.

As for the challenges Israel faces – the conflict with the Palestinians, the relationship between synagogue and state, the divide between rich and poor, and the question of how to integrate Israel’s non-Jewish population, as well as create a joint identity for people from over seventy different countries – I believe that Israel has the capacity to rise to these challenges and overcome them.

Israel has the capacity to make peace with her Palestinian neighbours, the capacity to overcome divisions between religious and secular, the capacity to bridge the divide between the rich and poor, and the capacity to recapture the imagination of the Israeli people, both Jewish and non Jewish, with a national identity that speaks to all.

My confidence in Israel may seem misplaced. But let us not forget that for two millennia Jewish people held onto the hope – the hope that was put into action over a century ago by a secular Austrian Jew wandering the streets of Paris – to create a modern liberal democratic state for the Jewish people.

And look at what was achieved.

From the early chalutzim planting their pitchforks into the marshes of what would become Kibbutz Degania, to the iconic image of three battle-weary paratroopers liberating the Western Wall in 1967, to the innovation of Israeli companies today in the fields of agriculture, medicine and technology, a democracy was established in a region of dictators, a state was developed where the Jewish language, culture and religion could flourish.

Remember, a country was born in 1948, and in little over sixty years is now a place where the quality of life for six million Jews and one million Arabs supersedes that of 1.3 billion Chinese, one billion Indians, the whole African continent, and the entire Arab world, with the exception of the Sultan of Brunei.

David Grossman once said: “I am totally secular, and yet in my eyes the establishment and the very existence of the State of Israel is a miracle of sorts that happened to us as a nation – a political, national, human miracle. I do not forget this for a single moment.

Even when many things in the reality of our lives enrage and depress me, even when the miracle is broken down to routine and wretchedness, to corruption and cynicism, even when reality seems like nothing but a poor parody of this miracle, I always remember.”

These words embody the essence of my decision for when all is said and done, I would rather be with my people in the thick of things, than clapping or shouting from the sidelines, rather be a part of the raging debate over my people’s future, than to be 2,000 miles away commenting on it.

I leave on March 21st and cannot wait for this new chapter in my life to begin.

COMMENTS

Jonathan Hoffman

Fri, 03/19/2010 - 07:13

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Kol ha'kavod to your friend and thank you for posting this


Marian Lebor

Sat, 03/20/2010 - 18:13

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B'hatzlacha to your friend who is making aliya tomorrow. I do not regret for one moment my family's decision to leave Britain more than 15 years ago for this amazing country, which can infuriate and inspire at the same time. I hope your friend will find life here equally exciting and fulfilling.


Jonathan Hoffman

Sat, 03/20/2010 - 18:42

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There speaks one who turned his back on Israel ...


moshetzarfati2 (not verified)

Sat, 03/20/2010 - 18:43

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And there speaks one who never even tried it... Enjoy your stay in Israel. Probably one year down the line, you'll be having second thoughts, like most secular immigrants from English-speaking countries when they find what they are up against.


moshetzarfati2 (not verified)

Sat, 03/20/2010 - 21:36

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Here's something that should really turn you into a raging mass of righteous indignation, Jonathan. From the editor of the JC:

I think the settlements are wrong morally, politically and practically, and I would like to see some form of international protectorate over Jerusalem.

That's more extreme than Liberal Judaism, JfJfP and IJW. So where's the indignation, or do the words "buttered", "know what", "side" and "bread" come into play?


Marian Lebor

Sat, 03/20/2010 - 22:22

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Moshe, I don't understand your last comment in relation to this blog.

Regarding your comment before last:
"Probably one year down the line, you'll be having second thoughts, like most secular immigrants from English-speaking countries when they find what they are up against."

MOST secular immigrants. I challenge this. Where's your evidence?

To repeat: I have lived in Israel for more than fifteen years and have yet to have second thoughts. I meet English-speaking immigrants, religious and secular, all the time and, like me, they do not have any regrets.

In fact my only regret is that I didn't make aliyah sooner.


moshetzarfati2 (not verified)

Sun, 03/21/2010 - 02:28

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Marion, out of the 300 or so secular British Jews who emigrate to Israel every year -- out of a total of 600-800, mostly Orthodox -- more than half leave within 12 months. They find that the country isn't quite what they expected; it's too religious and closed-minded, not at all like Hampstead.


Marian Lebor

Sun, 03/21/2010 - 07:10

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Just what are the figures of Hamptead secular Jewry that make aliya and think they are exchanging like for like? What patronising twaddle.


Jonathan Hoffman

Sun, 03/21/2010 - 07:42

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He has a chip on his shoulder - something happened to him in Israel to make him turn his back on it. He has not revealed what it was.


Jonathan Hoffman

Sun, 03/21/2010 - 07:42

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"out of the 300 or so secular British Jews who emigrate to Israel every year -- out of a total of 600-800, mostly Orthodox -- more than half leave within 12 months."

Any evidence for that - or is it just another of your wild defamatory assertions, like the accusation that the ZF was trying to skew the JPR poll?

Time-waster.


moshetzarfati2 (not verified)

Sun, 03/21/2010 - 18:18

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Thanks for reminding us, Jonathan, that the ZF was the first among communal organisations which tried to skew the now totally discredited JPR poll. I'm given to understand that the ZF has representatives on practically all the focus groups relating to the poll. No other organisation has been allowed to infiltrate the poll in that manner. The poll's results, therefore, are bogus.


moshetzarfati2 (not verified)

Sun, 03/21/2010 - 18:21

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Marion, and indeed Jonathan, more than half of the secular Jews from this country who go to Israel return after a year. Just ask the Ministry of Absorption. And anyway, fewer and fewer secular Jews are making Israel their home, since the whole operation has been taken over by the Orthodox and colonialist settler supporting far right Nefesh be'Nefesh.


ASSI

Mon, 12/13/2010 - 17:01

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It is sad that Jews born and brought up in Britain are going back Israel because of the pressures they are facing and the conviction that they will not be able lead the peaceful life that they wish in Britain - the country they were born and brought up in, just because they are Jewish!! With so many making the aliyah, it is evident that there is a discrimination against the Jews living in Britain – a country very much a part of them!!
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