Australia is widely recognised as being one of, if not the most, Zionist Jewish communities in the chutz l’aretz. With strong Jewish and Zionist institutions, vibrant Jewish communal life, and a government that has exhibited bi-partisan support for Israel for decades (with minor hiccups along the way), living as a Zionist in the land down under is… easy. Comfortable. Unchallenging.
But as Zionist as we are, things are probably that bit too good here to make Aliya.
It doesn’t help that the wider Australian community is generally very welcoming of Jews, with many top positions across numerous fields filled by members of the tribe. Living in the most beautiful country in the world is also a disincentive to pack up and go. The quality of life, high incomes, (relatively) incredible public health care and education system, kangaroos – pretty much everything is working for us down here. So it really isn’t a wonder why Australian Jews are not picking up and leaving in droves.
To make Aliya from Australia requires an incredible Zionist drive. A desire to leave what Kanye might call ‘the good life’ to pursue a dream motivated almost purely on ideological grounds. The desire to live out the two thousand-year-old dream to live as free people in our homeland. The desire to be surrounded by our national language on a daily basis. The desire to live in the cities and towns in which our ancestors shaped our Jewish history. The desire to live a life where it is normal to be Jewish, where religious practices aren’t a burden on uni study timetables or work life, but in synch with it. The desire to be in the place where one is best able to contribute to shaping the destiny of our people, where to be Jewish is the rule, not the exception.
I guess that makes me an exception to the Australian Jewish community rule. I began telling my family and friends recently that I am making aliya, date of departure TBA. A mixture of tears, ‘kol hakavods’ and ‘wow mate, that is a big decision – I respect you for that’, may be masking their feelings of incredulity. Maybe some are admiring me for fulfilling a dream that they know will remain unfilled, for them. I hope I am wrong, but I know that based on our aliya stats, I am probably right.
But something happened this past Shabbat that changed some of their attitudes. Five Jews walking home from Shabbat dinner were brutally beaten in an unprovoked, racially motivated attack in Bondi, where the heart of the Jewish community is. The Jewish community here was shocked, disgusted, upset. But suddenly I had people say to me, ‘you must want to make Aliya even more because of this.’ My Facebook news feed came up with links to news stories of the attack, with comments underneath – ‘aliya!’.
Did I feel comforted that people were suddenly feeling my desire to make Aliya and fulfil the Zionist dream because of this despicable event? Vindicated that people now understood me?
Not at all. I was frustrated. If anything this attack had the opposite effect on me. It made me want, if only for a fleeting moment, to stay and strengthen the Jewish community here and make sure we had an even bigger impact on this country. I won’t let those racist bastards drive me out of this country!
It further ingrained a feeling I have had for a long time – that Jewish identity based on victimisation is unhealthy. I will not let others dictate to me what it is to be Jewish. I will not base my self-understanding on other’s hatred of me.
So for those of you who might now think you understand me, have maybe even thought of joining me on the plane – good for you. But I am sorry that it has taken this sort of event to open your eyes. Don’t join me because of a few hooligans who thought it was fun to go for a Shabbas Jew bash. For the past 65 years our people have finally been shaping our own destiny again in our homeland, with our own hands and minds and hearts. Join me in wanting to be a part of that.