This coming Thursday, I will make aliya, fulfilling the ancient Jewish yearning to return to the land our forefathers, our homeland – the State of Israel.
For me, it has been a long, emotional journey. But as I prepare to leave the comfortable trappings of my life in Australia and New York, to start things anew in Israel at a time of great uncertainty and balagan, I know that I have never been more certain, or confident, of anything in my life.
Before making this decision, I worked as an attorney in Sydney, and for the past year, have been working in New York – focusing on Israel advocacy. In between, I also had the privilege – courtesy of the Jewish Agency and Masa Israel – to work in the Knesset. And throughout, I have, for as long I remember, been involved in just about every Jewish and pro-Israel organization.
I lead, by any stretch of the imagination, a very comfortable existence.
I recall on a trip to Israel, two years ago, a taxi driver in Tel Aviv asking me, “what’s wrong with you,” when I told him I was contemplating aliya. He then proceeded to air a litany of personal grievances, ranging from the security situation, to high gas prices and the fact that his grown children still lived at home. He then asked me, “so what problems do you have in Australia that you want to move?”
Since then, the security situation has become perhaps even more worrisome, while on the domestic front we’ve seen everything from social protests, to demands for more affordable housing and a fairer draft, plus disputes between the religious and secular, Jew versus Jew.
In truth, relatively speaking, Australia is an oasis. The economy is stable, the bus drivers are polite, anti-Semitism is not the problem it is in Europe, and instead of Hamas and Hezbollah, the biggest concern weighing on our minds is the interstate footy rivalry.
Yet, as I replied to my inquisitive taxi driver – Australia is not Israel. Israel is home.
I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity and refuge provided me and my family by Australia when we left the former Soviet Union. Yet, for all my gratitude, it dawned on me that I was missing one crucial element – an emotional attachment that I can only feel in, and for, Israel.
When I hear the “Hatikvah” played, I choke up — without fail. Even though I speak next to no Hebrew, I know the words and what they mean by heart.
Every Yom Hazikaron (Remembrance Day), I cry, even though I’m fortunate to have not lost any friends or family. I know these brave men and women fight in defense of the State of Israel, but I feel as if they are also defending my right to live peacefully as a Jew, wherever I may be.
On Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day), I am overwhelmed by an enormous sense of pride in what Israel has achieved, even though I’m not Israeli.
And when, earlier this month, a terrorist mercilessly took the lives of five Israelis in Bulgaria, my heart ached and I grieved with all of Israel.
I sometimes ask myself where my Zionism and attachment to Israel stem from. What draws me to this land and these people? The answer, though, is simple: Although I come from Australia, I consider myself first and foremost a Jew and a Zionist, and as such, this land and these people are also my land and my people.
Having been involved in a multitude of Jewish and pro-Israel organizations in Sydney and New York, both on a voluntary basis and, in the past few years, professionally, it also occurred to me that I could continue trying to do my bit for Israel from “the outside,” or I could do it from here; that I could either watch history unfold, or be a part of it; that I could either sit on the sidelines, or help effect change from within.
Yes, I feel like I have something to contribute here; but honestly, I feel that Israel has so much more to offer me than I could ever hope to repay: a sense of belonging, of home, of pride, that I cannot find in any other place on earth.
Quite simply, there is nowhere I feel more alive or at home than in Israel. Whether it is the ancient stones of Jerusalem, the vibrancy of Tel Aviv or the majestic Negev – all are singularly entwined with my identity as a Jew and my connection to this land.
And when I close my eyes and think of my future, it is only Israel on my mind and in my heart.
I was asked by a friend recently if making aliya was a dream come true. In truth, in many ways it is. But mostly, it’s just the beginning of my dream.