Monday, May 25, 2009

My First Yom Haatzmaut in Israel

Aliyah is not the destination, life is. Living in the land of Israel is the objective
Hannah Zakon
Ynet News 04.29.09, 07:34 / Israel Jewish Scene

I have often heard that the decision to make aliyah is one of the most difficult decisions to make.

I could not disagree with this more. Not because I cannot see the pros and cons or because I think that making aliyah is easy – far from it. But because it never crossed my mind as an active decision. The same way that I do not ‘decide’ to stop at a red traffic light, I just stop.

Aliyah was the same for me. It wasn’t a decision but a natural progression and understanding. Perhaps, not so much an understanding of what it meant to live in Israel – but what it means to not live in Israel.

My first encounter with Israel, unofficially, was at the age of seven. With thanks to the media and the first Iraq war I was able to peek at it through a heavy curtain. To be more exact, an Iron Curtain.

Having been born in Azerbaijan, which was at the time part of the Great Soviet Empire, my encounter was both brief and quiet. During the first Iraq war I would hear my parents speak about Israel, a country that I knew existed but was unaware of its exact importance and relevance to me. My parents spoke about the land of the Jews, our land – but quietly and behind closed doors. This was how I discovered that there was a country that belonged to me and I belonged to it.

Unfortunately, even with the fall of the Soviet Union, my family did not return home. But instead we moved to New Zealand and settled there. New Zealand was the most beautiful and gracious host to me and my family. However, despite its beauty and ease of lifestyle it could never function on a permanent basis. For me, any country other than the land of Israel would be transitional, a stepping stone to my true destination. Not because I did not enjoy living in New Zealand but because there was something missing, a part of me could never be complete.

In 2003, I came to Israel on a Bnei Akiva Olami (World Bnei Akiva) year-long "hachshara" (training) program, where I further cemented my need to be here. However, having gained a vast amount of leadership training and knowledge I first returned to my community in New Zealand to impart all that I had learned. Only after I had given all that I could, I felt ready to fulfill my dream. To bring my body back to where my soul had been waiting.

The soul knows what it wants and doesn’t care about how good the body has it. That is why I never made the decision to make aliyah. It happened because that it what the soul wanted.

To decide to change your place of residence, to become a citizen of a country that is not your birth country is to immigrate. When I moved to New Zealand I immigrated. I changed my passport, my country of residence, stood for a different anthem and so forth. When I moved to Israel I made aliyah. The two are not equitable. I would go as far as to say that it is extremely dangerous to liken the two. To put them on an equal scale is to de-legitimize and to diminish all that it means, physically and spiritually, to make aliyah.

I come from a typical Ashkenazi family. We wandered through Europe, we made timely stops (when allowed); we went from place to place in the hope of building a new house, a new life and perhaps a new reality. My family literally wandered across the world. But, as it turned out, we traveled so far that we came back to where we started. Why? Because where we started was the only place that was right, the only place that we matched and that matched us.

There is something special, aside form the obvious, in making aliyah that those born here can never quite grasp. With the act of making aliyah, we each complete a journey threefold -for ourselves, our families, and our people-. It is mind-blowing to see prophecy realize itself – but to be part of it leaves me speechless.

Life in between 2 extremes
Despite the importance of making aliyah, anyone who says it's easy, has either not done it or was too young to remember. It's not easy; it may be one of the most trying times in ones life. Somehow everything in Israel becomes extreme; the good times are the absolute best you will ever experience. Unfortunately, the bad times are equally some one of the worst that you will endure. However in between these two extremes is life. This is the point of aliyah.

Aliyah is not the destination, life is. Living in the land of Israel is the objective.

Mark Twain once asked us what our secret is. How is it that despite our meager numbers we have stood the test of time? How is it that despite others turning their heads to our suffering, we have survived? How is it that we have outlasted the greatest empires? He, and the world, saw us as the few, as the weak. They measured us by numeric strength. Mr. Twain was missing one piece of crucial information when he wrote his remarks. He saw as individuals; he did not see the rows upon rows of ancestors that stood and still stand behind us. With his question he missed the point; we have survived because we are a 'We' and not an 'I'.

This is the answer that I have found on my journey. But to each oleh, to each Jew, there is a different answer to a different question. The important thing is not so much the answer but the search for it.

There is no where else in the world that a Jew can even begin to pose the right question – let alone begin to answer it.

Hannah Zakon is a World Bnei Akiva Alumna born in Azerbaijan, raised in New Zealand, who made aliyah a few months ago and is celebrating her first Independence Day in Israel

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