When tragedy strikes in Israel, the same questions always arise. What are we doing here? And wouldn’t we be better off back where we came from? The questions come from native Israelis and foreigners alike.
From the brutal terror attack last week, to the murder of Naftali Fraenkel over the summer, and even the tragic loss of Sgt. Max Steinberg and Sgt. Sean Carmelli, two lone soldiers that paid the ultimate price during the subsequent Gaza operation, the answers will always be the same. We came here for a different kind of life, for increased meaning and connection to our shared history and future. Our identity as Olim unites us on a higher level that is difficult for outsiders to understand. It is imperative for us to acknowledge that when we chose Israel as our home, we left one Jewish community and became part of a new one, the Anglo-Israeli community.
In a few years, I will have lived in Israel longer than I ever lived in my native London. My entire adult life and career have been forged in Israel. I went to university, I served in the IDF, I met and married my incredible wife and I carved out my career path; here in the State of Israel. Yet, I am still considered and will always be considered a new immigrant, which is a badge I wear with great pride. My identity as an Israeli-by-choice enables me to look at everything in Israel through optimistic and idealistic eyes. My shared experience with other like- minded immigrants follows me like an unspoken pact which screams, “I’ve got your back, we are in it together, ‘til death do us part”.
Last week, two incredibly different tragedies occurred within our community: the infamous synagogue massacre in Har Nof that left 24 Anglo orphans, and the untimely passing of one of Israel’s greatest international PR professionals, Charley Levine. What connects these two very different tragedies is that all of the deceased came to Israel by choice and wanted to make a difference in their own special way, and that all of them could have done so much more had they been given more time.
While it is easy to overlook this unspoken pact, we must embrace it and work to strengthen each other constantly. Having spent almost two decades in this Land, I often feel that I am in a busy train station with people constantly coming and going. I am reminded of an old Jewish Agency poster that I saw in my youth, back in London, which depicted a dried-up desert thistle with the caption: “We never promised you a rose garden”. Living in Israel is definitely far from rosy, much of the time, for anyone, let alone those that once knew very different lives elsewhere. However, we wouldn’t trade it in for the world.
I came to Israel, as a lone Zionist fresh out of England with a passion to become part of Israel’s unfolding story. Every step of the way has been accompanied by the assistance and good will of other Olim. One such Oleh, was Charley Levine, who enabled me to define my career path in public relations. What inspired me about Charley was not necessarily the fact that he had brought one of the biggest brands in international PR to Israel or even his impressive client list, which included ample world leaders and celebrities. What inspired me was the way in which he forged roots in the Land of Israel, while not giving up on his professional dreams. His ability to take on the world of global communications, while sticking to his personal principles and living his own Zionist dream. Charley taught me that we didn’t have to take second best in Israel, we could be the best and be Israeli. Even while in competing PR firms, Charley’s door and heart was always open to me, because business aside; we were both just two crazy Zionist’s trying to change the world. I am just one of many Olim, who got a push in the right direction from Charley.
Yet, Charley Levine was just one of many Olim who helped me forge my own roots in this Land. Who knows? Without his assistance and nurturing, I may have chosen a very different path and even failed in my own Zionist experiment, because while it may be Herzl, Jabotinsky, HaRav Kook, Ahad Ha’am or simply the Tanach that brought us here, it’s forging roots that keeps us here. The key to success in Israel, as a newcomer, is all about connecting to the Land on a practical level. From education to marriage and mortgages, every step makes us more intertwined in the future of this great state. So next time an Oleh reaches to you for advice or a cup of coffee, don’t forget why you chose to come to this Land and don’t forget that we are in it together.
For the sake of our shared future- Olim Unite!