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Right Choice? Definitely. Right Reasons? It’s Complicated.

February 3, 2013 – 1:57 pm12 Comments
Jerusalem

Image: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/jerusalem-vista-phil-stone.html

By Ilan Bloch
Last month I began my tenth year in Israel. I made Aliyah in order to stop being part of a minority in a multicultural, yet Christian-rooted, Australia. I wanted to live in my state, with all the trappings of statehood – anthem, flag and state symbol. I wanted to be able to take my destiny into my own hands, to make the news – and not simply read it. I wanted to be part of a Jewish majority, which wielded Jewish power, and created its own history – rather than have it dictated to it by those around it. I even made Aliyah on my birthday, considering my Aliyah to be a new birthday of sorts and not wanting to bother with two celebrations.

Almost a decade later, reflecting on why I am still here, my reasons are somewhat different. There are three key reasons why I live in Israel: Jewish heritage, Hebrew culture and Jewish geography.

I continue to live here because of the choice of synagogues and shiurim (Jewish text study classes) that enrich my Jewish life. The general community in which I live, with institutions like the Hartman Institute, Yakar, Pardes, the Begin Center (which also offers Jewish programming) and Shira Hadasha, provides a Jewish framework which is both intensely Jewish, while at the same time being moderate and deeply humanistic.

I am in Israel because this is the centre of a new modern Hebrew culture. Instead of waiting with bated breath for the next Israeli performer to come to town, here I can see movies like Footnote as soon as they are released, watch Prisoners of War (Hatufim) on a weekly basis, without worrying about Internet streaming or subtitles, enjoy original Hebrew theater, such as Alma Ve’Rut, and walk into any bookstore and buy Asaf Inbari’s Ha’Bayta (which to be honest, I have not managed to finish reading). Here, I am immersed in Hebrew culture each and every day.

Finally, my life here is about Jewish geography – not in the sense of familiar faces but rather in terms of Jewish history. I live up the road from the Temple Mount, the City of David and the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. And I live only a short drive away from Emek Ha’Ela, Bar Kochba caves such as at Hirbet Midras, and even Masada. The cradle of the Jewish people is in my backyard. I love this land.

With that said, being in Israel has given me a greater appreciation for Jewish history and life in the Diaspora. The longer I am here, the prouder I am of my Diaspora roots, and the more I understand the beauty of the heterogenous nature of Diaspora Jewish living during more than two millennia of history. Living here, the idea of Shelilat Ha’Galut (Negation of the Exile) not only seems anachronistic to me – it is downright offensive.

Also, being here has made me more secure in my Jewish identity. Without the fear of assimilation, Christianity and other religions and cultures can now be beautiful phenomena, which I can truly appreciate. Instead of shying away from any connection with things like Christmas, I can now value that which is external to Judaism, recognize its beauty, and not fear it as a threat to my own identity.

Almost ten years on I am still in Israel. Even though my reasons for staying here have changed dramatically since coming, I am still thankful that I made the decision to move here.

Ilan Bloch is the Director of Teaching Israel.  This piece was orignally published here.

 

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12 Comments »

  • Philip Mendes says:

    Good piece Ilan.

  • R B says:

    Hi Ilan,

    As someone who took the opposite step five years ago, and changed his own identity from “Israeli” to “Australian Jew”, I’d like to ask a few questions:

    1. You are not a part of a Jewish minority in a Christian country any more, but now you are minority as a religious person in a mostly secular society, which seems to be hostile towards religious Jews more than the non-Jews in Australia are hostile towards Jews. How do you feel about that?
    2. I understand that you are located at the more moderate, humanistic part of the Orthodox spectrum. How do you feel about being a minority in the Israeli Orthodox society, which become more and more strict, xenophobic and intolerant, in both its political and religious approach (e.g. growing obsession about Tznius, Messianic attitude about the state, and even the reaction to Christmas that you mentioned).
    3. Do you live in an English-speaking, religious bubble – not a big problem if you live in Jerusalem – or do you mingle with Israeli-born friends as well, from different backgrounds?
    4. How do you cope with the almost-impossible cost of living in Israel? After all, this is the main reason for emigration of young Israelis.
    5. How do you cope with the rude, noisy and stressed character of most Israelis, and of life in Israel in general?
    6. Did you have to conscript?

    You describe your life in Israel in a romantic way, which seems to me somehow naive, and ignores the hardships and problems of living there.

  • Ilan Bloch says:

    @ Philip Mendes

    Thank you.

    @ R B

    Thank you for your reponse. I will try and answer your questions:

    1) I do not find hostility against religious Jews in Israel. If anything I imagine there might be many contexts in which a secular Jew might feel discriminated against in Israel. I find hostility directed against Israelis who embrace too much universalism and not enough Jewish particularism (what might be termed by its detractors as a “yefe nefesh” (bleeding-heart liberal) attitude).
    2) I do not define myself as Orthodox but rather as Halachically practising – perhaps for the reasons you wrote about. Just the other day another religious Jew said that “Judaism is the truth and Christianity is just a bunch of made-up stories”. It is difficult for me to hear such things.
    3) Most of my friends are English-speaking olim or Israeli-born children of English-speaking olim. I have both observant and non-observant friends.
    4) The cost of living in Israel is indeed absurd. On the bright side, maybe before I retire I will earn as much in Israel as I earned in Australia before I made Aliyah! (I have no good answer to this question.) I am not sure that this is the main reason for young Israelis leaving Israel though.
    5) I find it difficult to generalise. Life is Israel is dynamic and exciting – in a way that life in Melbourne was not for me. But this dynamism certainly comes with a price.
    6) I made Aliyah when I was 27 years old and was therefore not required to serve in the army. I volunteered for Mishmar Ezrachi (Civil Guard; Neighbourhood Watch with guns) for the first year of my Aliyah.

    I hope this answers your questions. If not, please feel free to comment again.

    If you want to share why you decided to change from an Israeli to an Australian Jew, I would be interested to hear.

    Kol tuv

    Ilan

  • Sharon A says:

    Living in Melbourne in terms of material things is certainly easier, living in Israel is a different and special challenge for sure. Kol Hakavod Ilan!

  • Sharon says:

    Fantastic article, your positivity is inspiring. Kol Hakavod

  • Alex says:

    Nice to know that people like you made aliyah and are happy with it.
    I made mine more than 20 years ago, and I am happy to be part of this country. Somehow, what I see around is a different story – people want to leave, for post-doc with an option to stay, for a relocation with an option to stay etc… So, thank you! It was good to read…

  • letters in the age says:

    A very romanticized account but an interesting one.

    Thanks for sharing!!

  • marcelo says:

    I lived in Israel for more that one year form 1989-1990, loved the experience, the country however it was difficult to get a good job to stay. Coming form Argentina it was fantastic to leave in a country where you don’t have to hide or being dicriminated and feel like you are consider like anybody else. However, couldn’t get a job, I work in he financial industry. I always dream an more now that I have two kids to live in Israel, however, I’m worry that because of my intermidiate hebrew language and market, not being able find a job. I would like to know your opinion. Thanks, Marcelo

  • Ilan Bloch says:

    @ marcelo

    Thank you for your comment. With the understanding that I am not an “Aliyah professional” and that you should contact your local Jewish Agency emissary for professional advice I can offer the following thoughts:

    1) All your concerns are legitimate. Notwithstanding that on a macro-economic level Israel is weathering the global financial crisis better than many other economies, it is a difficult market and, even with both partners working full-time, it can be difficult to make ends meet.

    2) I would check out job websites from overseas. Look at israemploy.net (English and Hebrew), janglo.net (English) and shatil.org.il (Hebrew), and see what is available in your area. Seeing whether you can navigate and understand shatil.org.il will be a reasonable indication of your level of Hebrew proficiency for practical, employment purposes. Write to all your Israeli contacts and see whether they know of any jobs on offer in your field. Finally, come on an Aliyah pilot tour – visit communities where you might be interested in settling, set up meetings with industry professionals, and visit schools where your children might study.

    3) If you do come, make sure to do an Ulpan before you start work. It is essential to at least pass level Dalet if you are going to be in a non-English-only speaking workplace.

    4) The decision to actualise your yearning for Israel and move here should not be taken lightly. Aliyah U’Kelitah is incredibly difficult, and is not for everybody. I am happy to discuss this further with you. If you want to, please feel free to contact me directly at director@teachingisrael.com

    Behatzlacha!

    Ilan

  • R B says:

    Hi Ilan,

    Israel is generally full of hatred – it seems that the Israelis enjoy hating each other for ethnic origin and/or level of observance, stepping on each other’s feet, abusing each other and being rude in general. These come from all political and religious directions. And yes, there is hostility of secular towards religious – you can find it in many art works, articles and talk-backs in the Hebrew-speaking media. I recall cases, when I had to double-check that the newspaper I was reading was not the Der Sturmer.

    You wrote that life in Israel is dynamic and exciting – I found it hectic, nervous and stressful. And I was born there and grew up there.

    Re the lack of assimilation – the question is how you define it. It is true that intermarriage are much less common in Israel, although their rate has grown in recent years. I consider assimilation as a process of losing the Jewish identity – whether it is as religion or as culture.
    I think that this type of assimilation is growing among some secular groups in Israel, and I know in person some people there who define themselves explicitly as “Israelis, not Jews”.

    R B

  • Otto Waldmann says:

    Ilan, mate, you are breaking my heart……..
    Before leaving Israel, many years ago, I was called and travelled three hours from my kibbutz near Hadera to a certain misrad in Haifa where in a tiny room an old fellow Romanian asked me to sit down and uttered only a few words in Romanian . He said ” ..go with Hashem to Australia, but do come back…”. That was all….
    I went back some ten years later, got married in Rehovot and came back to Australia. That old man would be now close to 120, still waiting for me……
    My passion for Israel allows me only to read your accounts, Ilan, without any criticism. Yes, Israelis are “at times” quite vulcanic, errupt into the ” ma pitom” mode/mood at the drop of shum davar, nothing, but, have you guys noticed that in small, confined places, usually buses, the indispensible argument over the famous shum davar is not as prevalent as in wider, more open spaces !!! There is something in it and I may come back to see what………

  • Ilan Bloch says:

    @ R B

    I also find Israel hectic, nervous and stressful. This is the price that I pay to live in what I find to be an exciting and dynamic, and Jewishly exciting and dynamic country.

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