On this, the eleventh anniversary of my aliya from the UK, I like to think back over my years in Israel as I do on every anniversary. Thankfully, the majority of my memories are good ones, and I’ve been blessed with a wonderful wife and two young sons and a job defending Israel that I treat almost like a holy mission.
There are the snapshots in my mind from my first years here: the moment the tears welled up in my eyes as I saw the Israeli coastline from the El Al plane window, the feelings of achievement renting my first apartment or buying a new car, and the amazing friends from all over the globe that I made during my ulpan — even if the Hebrew I learned hasn’t stuck in quite the same way.
But even if my recollections of little over a decade ago are fresh in my mind, other people seem to have short memories, particularly when it comes to contextualizing where Israel finds itself today compared with back then.
At the time that I established a new life in my homeland, the so-called second intifada was raging, and Israel was in the depths of an economic recession. Despite the good times and the adventure that came with creating a new life for myself, I cannot forget the moments of intense sadness and despair, particularly living in the maelstrom that was Jerusalem.
The attempt to convince my mother on the phone that the sirens in the background were coming from live television coverage of a suicide bombing, when the reality was that I was trying to extricate myself from the actual scene of a terror attack in downtown Jerusalem.
The two weeks following the incident, during which the slightest noise of a door slamming or the thud of a garbage bin lid was enough to make my heart skip a beat.
Or the morning when I was woken by the bed shaking from a dull boom that turned out to be a car bomb detonating at the junction only one block away.
The anger I felt after Emek Refaim’s Café Hillel was targeted for destruction by a suicide bomber only 24 hours after my last visit there, killing amongst others, a truly inspirational doctor and his daughter, who was due to be married the next day.
The tears I shed watching the live coverage from Café Moment in Rehavia, which was devastated by another suicide bombing that wiped out the lives of young Israelis, who, like me at the time, frequented this social hangout. Even now, when I hear a Depeche Mode track playing on the radio, I am reminded of the dominant soundtrack that used to play in the background as I chatted with friends late into the night in the café overlooked by the apartment of my girlfriend at the time.
The trip to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital to visit a friend who was seriously wounded by a suicide bomber while shopping for rogalach in the Mahane Yehuda market. Some of the shrapnel still remains in her body to this day. Another friend who survived a bus bombing unharmed after being blown out of the back window of the bus, never to speak of the incident again.
Besides the terror, there were the months of unemployment and the futility of searching for jobs that simply did not exist for a new immigrant with little Hebrew. The only saving grace was the opportunity to watch the entire DVD box set of “24” in those spare, yet sometimes depressing hours in the middle of the day.
It makes me appreciate all the more the Israel that I live in today. An Israel with a thriving economy and a cutting-edge hi-tech industry. But most of all, an Israel where, for the time being at least, I don’t have to worry that my next bus journey could be my last or think about where I am physically sitting in a café or restaurant, or even whether to risk going to the café or restaurant altogether.
Today, I cannot ignore the suffering of my fellow countrymen subjected to regular volleys of rockets from Gaza; the dysfunctional political system’ the tensions between different sectors of the population, particularly over the burden of military service; and the multitude of social welfare issues that have brought thousands on to the streets in protest.
But the next time you read about the stagnating “peace process” or the effects of the security barrier and checkpoints on Palestinian freedom of movement, ask yourself whether you would want to go back to the Israel that I arrived in those 11 years ago.
For all my euphoria at the time, I know what I’d choose.