British olim in love with the Zionist dream

By Alex Kasriel, May 27, 2009
Kibbutznik Lynne Porat (second right) and family in Jerusalem. She finds Israeli directness a refreshing contrast to British reserve

Kibbutznik Lynne Porat (second right) and family in Jerusalem. She finds Israeli directness a refreshing contrast to British reserve

Politicians who can’t be trusted, a worsening international reputation and no peace anywhere in sight, Israel seems troubled. What do ordinary citizens think? We asked four emigrants from the UK:

The modern Orthodox Jew

Forty-four-year-old Simon Monk and his wife Nicole moved from Borehamwood, Hertfordshire, to Netanya 14 years ago. Their first child, Gabriella, was a baby when they arrived. Nicole, a teacher, and Simon, a banker and a member of the Netanya City Council, now have four other children.

He says: “Because I work in international banking, there was always the possibility of moving abroad. I’d been to Israel on holiday as my in-laws had an apartment here. One Pesach, I went for a job with the same group I’d been working for in England and was offered it on the spot. We came the following October.

“Having a job certainly made things a lot easier. I had to learn the language and the culture was completely different.

“There’s none of the quiet people on the Tube that you have in London.
“It’s a very child-centred country. Once you have a child you automatically meet people. The ultimate proof of acceptance was getting voted on to Netanya Council for the [right-wing] National Religious Party.

“I’m sceptical that there will be peace breaking out in my lifetime. Usually before elections, the violence gets hyped up — like with the second Lebanon war and Gaza. But everyone pulls together. It’s a phenomenal atmosphere, probably like London during The Blitz. I have been privileged to see that on more than one occasion.

“I think we were right to go into Gaza. No self-respecting country allows its population to be shot at without trying to defend itself. There are no Jews living in the Gaza Strip and no destruction from us whatsoever. There have been eight years of people suffering and the destruction of lives. Hopefully, it gave the Palestinians some pause for thought.

“We feel safe living and working here — we don’t have the kind of social violence you get in Britain, like the stabbings in London. And I seem to have a lucky knack of leaving a place two or three minutes before a bomb goes off.

“But there isn’t a bomb going off every minute. My nephew was studying at the yeshivah where eight kids were killed. When you hear about that, you do get scared.

“My hope is that as many Jews from Britain will make aliyah. We’re seeing this now. There are tremendous benefits. The only regret I have is that I didn’t come earlier. To anyone considering making aliyah, I would say: ‘Do it!’

The Secular Zionist

Fifty-four-year-old Moshe Forman, who writes computer software manuals, came to Israel from Manchester when he was 24 after being involved with youth movement Habonim Dror and growing up in a Zionist family. He spent his gap year in Israel and then went to Leeds University and worked for the Union of Jewish Students before making aliyah. He met his Israeli wife, Lucy, a social worker, in 1987 after being in the country for 10 years. They have two children, Adi, 20 and Ohad, 18.

He says: “It was the natural progression to come out here to live. It was very much based in ideology. At that time I believed that all Jews should live in Israel. I moved originally to Jerusalem where I did an ulpan [Hebrew language course] and after the army, I moved to Tel Aviv and have been there since.

“It was very difficult to adjust even though I was very motivated. Even the most simple things in life suddenly become a challenge, like going to the bank. I found that you had to be very flexible. It was a challenge to get used to the Israeli mentality.

“I have been here 30 years but last week at work I was in a discussion with somebody and I said to the woman: ‘I’m not sure I totally agree with you on this point.’ If I were an Israeli I would have said: ‘I don’t agree with you’. You have to learn to be very direct and assertive.

“Israel has changed incredibly over the years. In the ’70s when I came it was still quite a poor country and most people didn’t have cars. Nobody had electric kettles because the electricity was expensive. It’s developed economically, it’s very technologically advanced and the country’s a lot more efficient. It’s more of a consumer society, and I think that’s a positive thing.

“I don’t believe there’s going to be an end to war in my lifetime, however. In the past I was more optimistic. I would have put myself in the peace camp. In the 1980s I believed very strongly that if you made concessions it would be possible to reach an agreement. This year I voted for Netanyahu.

If someone said to me five years ago that I was going to vote Likud, I would have said they were crazy as I used to vote Meretz. But now I believe it’s naive to make concessions to bring peace.

“I’m pleased that Labour came in as even though I voted Likud, I didn’t want it to be a right-wing government. I still have the basic belief that if it would bring peace and security, I would give up all the territories — even East Jerusalem — but I don’t believe it will happen.

“I believe Israel was 100 per cent right to go into Gaza. When you’re attacked, you have the right to defend yourself. I do not think there was an alternative.”

“A relative of mine, Rafi Mizrachi, was killed in the Beit Lid suicide bomb of 1995. It’s still a very raw wound especially as I had a first-hand experience of conflict because I was in the army.

“My feelings towards Palestinians and Arabs in general is very positive even though my views are quite hard-line regarding security and peace. Before the first intifada it was quite normal to go to different places in the West Bank.

“I make a distinction between the conflict and what I feel about Palestinian and Arab culture in general.”

The kibbutznik

Lynne Porat, 46, has been a librarian at the University of Haifa for the past 20 years and recently gained a doctorate. She moved to Tel Aviv from Hampstead Garden Suburb in London and lives with her Israeli husband, Amit, a GP, and three children, Eitan, 18, Hila, 14, Maayan, 10, on a kibbutz.

She says: “I didn’t have family here at all and I didn’t come from the kind of family that came here on holiday. But as soon as I arrived I really felt comfortable and at home. I was excited by the intensity of life which was so different from England.

“The hardest thing about adapting is the cultural difference — people interfering, interrupting you, speaking abruptly and making comments that you didn’t ask for. But those same things I also find very attractive as they are so different from the reserved British.
“I can’t get used to the rudeness though. I put myself in situations to avoid it like living on a kibbutz and working in a university, which is like a vacuum. My children are happy and I’m really pleased this is the way I’m bringing them up — the left-wing, less achievement-orientated way.”

“Even though personally I have a lovely life, the country is heading for disaster. Unfortunately Israel has changed for the worse in every respect. It has become a really right-wing, materialistic society.

“And I cannot see peace happening in my lifetime. I wouldn’t have gone into Gaza so quickly. In terms of PR it was totally foolish, but on the other hand no other country in the world would accept being bombarded day in, day out for eight years. I don’t think we should have killed so many people, but when they’re using people as human shields, in hospitals and universities, there are going to be casualties.

“At the recent election I voted tactically — I voted for Kadima, even though in the past I have voted Meretz, which is very left wing. I know a lot of people who did the same, and it worked, because there are now fewer Knesset member from the religious right. Still too many though.
“When Yitzhak Rabin was in power and the Olso Accords were in motion there was a feeling that there was going to be peace, and then Rabin got killed and a lot of hope was gone. Ariel Sharon, who was right-wing, did show promise of making compromises so maybe Bibi, who is also right wing, is going to surprise us. Most of the politicians seem to be too focused on getting their own careers advanced than taking care of the country.

“I have quite a lot of contact with Arabs — more than most Israelis — because I work with a lot of Arab students, but definitely no contact with Palestinians. When we built our house we hired Arab workers but they were from within Israel. I have a cleaner who is Arab, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable having a Palestinian working for me. Everything would seem fine, you don’t feel any tension, but then they’ll put cement in your pipes.

“As far as the security situation goes, I know people who have lost relatives and friends, but I’m not in any danger. I live in a good place in the country, I’m not near any borders. The university I work in is about 30 per cent Arab so it seems unlikely that anyone will put a bomb there, but I may be wrong.

“I still believe Israel is a great place to live and it’s a great place to raise children. When I see my sister-in-law who has to take the kids to school in central London every day by car, I don’t envy her. There’s loads of social pressure and materialism in the UK. Children in Israel are more down to earth. They have no real idea about the conflict. I don’t know at what age it will finally hit them. To anyone considering making aliyah I’d recommend not moving to one of the British enclaves like Ranana.That would delay the integration to Israeli. But come! It’s not what it looks like on the news.”

The Traditional Jew

Mike Jacobs, 40, runs a successful company supplying photo booths. He made aliyah in 1991 from Northwood, north-west London, when he was 21 after completing his degree at Manchester University, having spent his gap year in Israel. It was there that he met his wife, Cheryl, 39, an occupational therapist from Australia, whom he married in 1992. They have four boys — Yoni, 12, Alon, 10, Matan, eight and Ben, four. The family live just north of Tel Aviv.

He says: “My one regret is that I did not do army service. There’s an enormous difference even today between immigrants who have done the full army service and those who haven’t. I do reserve duty.
“We are an enigma in Israeli terms as we keep a kosher home but are not religious. I knew the country well in terms of geography and getting around, but I didn’t have any language at all. I took it slowly and got there eventually, but at graduate seminars and lectures, I couldn’t understand a thing. I nearly called it a day.

“The gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ has grown tremendously. It’s become more polarised religiously as well.

“People are a lot more cynical about the political system. Levels of corruption which 20 years ago would have ruined a political career, no one blinks an eye at now. Having said that, standards of livng have increased dramatically. Just about everybody has mobile phones, computers and internet access. The first time I was here in the early ’80s it was still a developing country. People had to wait years for a telephone line.

“My political stance is pretty much identical to what it was 20 years ago, but I’m more cynical. In many cases the government is corrupt. A two-state solution is where I am and where I have been for decades. Over the years, when I have done army reserve duty or visited the territories, I have become more and more convinced that that is the right thing to do.

“In terms of Gaza, there was no choice. It was a necessity and it was justified. Whether or not it needed to go on for as long as it did, I’m not convinced. But in terms of the operation itself, it was long overdue. I felt the same about the Lebanon war two years ago. I’m critical of the indiscriminate attacks on a civilian population but there’s no doubt about the justification after being shelled day in and day out.

“I want to believe the new government is going to be OK but my expectations are very low. I don’t think it will last that long. Realistically we’ll be back in elections in another two years time which, irrespective of your political opinions, is bad. There will have been about four elections in six years. The system is rotten.

“As far as my relations with the Arabs are concerned, some of my suppliers are Arab Israelis and I have absolutely no problems at all with them. There is no difference working with them than with Jewish Israelis. I have absolutely no contact with Palestinians from the settlements whatsoever. It’s unfortunate but that’s the way it is.

“I feel safer here than I do in London. When I have guests from overseas they often make that comment. Kids go to school by themselves, no one thinks about it. No one thinks about having their mobile phones around their necks [to protect them from being stolen]. It’s a non-issue here. It’s not some paradise — there are problems — but on a day to day level in terms of family life, it’s much safer here than in the UK.

“Having said that, there is the conflict and there have been many attacks within 5km of our home. It’s something you live with.”

Last updated: 4:28pm, June 2 2009