One year ago today, I packed my entire life into two suitcases and a carry-on bag and boarded a Nefesh B’Nefesh / Jewish Agency El-Al flight from JFK Airport. Destination: Home. I was making Aliyah!
Today, as I reflect on my ‘Aliyahversary’, I look back at the past 12 months, which have been filled with incredible memories, from exploring the natural breathtaking beauty of this country, to being here in a time of war, to participating in elections and finding love, to meeting new friends and laying the foundation for my future.
In short, with each passing day, I am reaffirmed that this was quite simply the best decision of my life.
Although I made Aliyah from New York, where I had been working in international law and Israel advocacy at the United Nations, I grew up in Sydney Australia.
In many ways, Australia was a relative oasis compared to Israel. A strong economy, no problems with anti-Semitism, polite bus drivers and orderly queues, and where instead of Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, the biggest concern weighing on our collective minds was the interstate footy rivalry.
I led, by any stretch of the imagination, a very comfortable existence, including as a lawyer at a large global law firm.
But then again, Australia, for all its boundless opportunities and ease of life, was not Israel and I was missing one crucial element – an emotional attachment to the land of Israel that, for me, could only be fulfilled in the Jewish State.
It is not that I ever felt out of place in Australia, it is just that in Israel, I have at last found a place where I truly belong.
Looking back at the past 12 months of my Aliyah and absorption, I feel truly blessed.
For starters, I was able to fulfil a life-long dream of finally being able to vote in elections here; of participating in the democratic process by having a direct say on the future of the State of Israel. I was no longer a bystander, I was part of the change, and the future.
I have also been fortunate to have found a job with a terrific organization, The Israeli-Jewish Congress, in which I am able to continue my Israel advocacy, while working to help bridge and strengthen relations between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, especially in Europe.
Although I live in Tel Aviv, whose vibrancy of life and endless cultural offerings never cease to amaze, I have also taken every opportunity to explore the vast natural beauty and history of this incredible land and people.
I have also had the opportunity to make some amazing new friends; some fellow olim like me, others ‘sabras’, but all very quickly like family.
And when I travelled for the first time overseas after making Aliyah, and was asked where I was from, to proudly say “I am from Israel.”
Ok, so not every day has been perfect. There have also been challenges and frustrations. But that is expected when you are starting a new life. Perseverance, optimism and the right attitude are necessary. You come without this and odds are you won’t be here too long before you’re packing your bags again.
Many people are also forewarned of nightmare stories of much dreaded visits to government offices, like Misrad Hapnim (Ministry of Interior). But let’s be fair: going to the Department of Motor Vehicles in New York, the Tax Office in Sydney or opening a bank account in London is no picnic either. At the very least, here my bank manager offered to arrange a shiduch, while the officer at the Misrad Hapnim asked if I wanted to share her baklava while I waited to receive some document (true story)!
Making an effort to learn the language and go to Ulpan is another must. Without this, you run the risk of staying in an ‘anglo bubble’, while never fully integrating into Israeli society and having all your problems exacerbated tenfold.
My only regret is that I did not make Aliyah sooner so that I could join the IDF. But alas, there is no shortage of opportunities here for those seeking to contribute and put back into the society that gives us in return so much infinitely more.
Last November, barely 3 months after I made Aliyah, war broke out with Hamas in Gaza, during the Operation ‘Pillar of Defence’. At one point, as I was moving from one bomb shelter to another, I was asked: “don’t you regret making aliyah now?” My reply was simple: “I have never been more certain of anything in my life. This is my country and my people. Just as we grieve and fight together, we also rejoice and celebrate together. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else now.”
In these 12 months, my most memorable experience was undoubtedly the 48 hour period of Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut, the first time I did so as an Israeli. Only by being here, I think one can truly appreciate the sacrifices made by so many to ensure that we can live as a free people in the Jewish State of Israel.