I came on aliya 10 years ago today and my only regret is not having arrived sooner.
Ten years ago I disembarked from an El Al plane which arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport from London. While seemingly alone in a foreign land, in reality I was taking the first physical steps of a long-awaited return to my ancestral home. Even the pre-Nefesh B’Nefesh excessive bureaucracy at the airport could not dampen my feeling of exhilaration at the significance of the moment.
That moment was the culmination of an attachment that was inculcated in me at home from a very young age. Even though I was born and bred in London, my parents always ensured that Israel was always central to my upbringing, whether through regular visits, learning about its remarkable history or having our refrigerators packed full of delicious Israeli food.
However, actually moving was not a subject to which I gave too much serious attention. When people asked me if I was considering aliya, my response would invariably be: “Maybe at some point, but not now,” a refrain I still hear regularly from some of my friends in the Diaspora.
It was only after spending time here on a non-tourist visit that my perception of the country evolved from the superficial holiday destination and consanguine heritage to a real and vibrant state.
I REALIZED that my personal attachment to Israel could not be satisfied with solidarity marches, placing money in the blue-and-white charity box or holidaying in Herzliya once a year.
I began to feel a pull to this land on many levels. Although I am an observant Jew, I would still not describe myself solely as a “religious Zionist,” because that only describes part of my ideology. I am at the same time a secular Zionist, a religious Zionist and a deep adherent of practical Zionism. In short, I am a proud Zionist without appellation and with all the connotations that term conjures up.
I deeply believe in the miraculous journey and spiritual mission of Israel, but the words of my father that my generation does not know what it is like to be a Jew in the world without Israel preoccupy me.
To live as a free and sovereign people in our land is not something we should ever take for granted, new immigrant or sabra alike. I often wake up in the morning and look out over the beautiful Judean Hills and wonder how much my ancestors would have sacrificed just to experience this for one day.
I don’t wear rose-tinted glasses; I see all the challenges the country faces and possible areas of improvement.
However, the glass is most certainly not merely half-full, but bursting to the point of resting on its viscosity.
Over the years I have sadly seen many of my friends from ulpan, the army and social circle return to their countries of origin. Personally, I have loved every second of my life here. My only regret remains not having arrived sooner.
TEN YEARS later, I still feel the same way; my enthusiasm has not diminished one iota. In fact, for me this has become more than just a fulfillment of personal Zionism; it is a place where I met my wife and built a family and home. It is a place where, regardless of the fact that I will always be seen by some as an oleh or Anglo, I feel completely Israeli.
I don’t pretend to have the secret of a successful aliya and absorption, since every person and every story is different. However, I can suggest that all new immigrants should take time to contemplate the quintessential uniqueness of this country and the honor we have to live here.
Whether it is celebrating Jerusalem Day in a sea of blue-and-white flags in the shadow of the Temple Mount, joining an impromptu rave party of 250,000 people when Maccabi Tel Aviv won the EuroLeague, camping under the desert sky in the Negev or being invited into the homes and hearts of complete strangers, living here is an experience like no other. Familial events aside, these are just a very small sampling of some of my most memorable moments from the last 10 wonderful years.
My humble suggestion for prospective immigrants is to get to know the real Israel. One may have visited the Kotel, swam in the Dead Sea, skied the Hermon and enjoyed all the other fantastic landmarks , but until you have seen the real Israel it is unlikely that the greatness of this country will be fully grasped.
However, it is not a matter of what Israel has to offer us, its prospective and actual immigrants, which remains of consequence. It is more what we as immigrants have to offer this country that makes life here so rewarding and fulfilling.
The writer is an adviser to the foreign minister.
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