This weekend marks the 25th anniversary of my Aliyah to Israel. On November 29, 1988, I came back here to live (I had studied at Bar Ilan a few years earlier) with my wife and 1 year old daughter to a dream-filled future, fulfilling a personal Zionist mission. Looking back now, it’s hard to believe how fast the years have flown by. It’s hard to believe so much has happened, so much has changed.
Looking back after a quarter of century is a humbling experience. It would be that way no matter where one lived. On a personal level, together with my wife Mindy, we have raised four wonderful children; we have had successful careers; we have lived in different communities; we have experienced great times and sad times. We have much to be thankful for. And we are.
But in the context of looking back on 25 years of life in Israel, it’s something else entirely. When I take stock of what we had when we first came, and where we are today, it’s pretty amazing. The other day, I was in Tel Aviv with some of my kids walking along Dizengoff. This was where I used to go when I was a student. Back in those days, the Agam fountain wasn’t there, nor was the overpass that it is now on. Then, there was a different piece of art in the center of what was a roundabout. Looking at the fountain, I realized that it’s not only the big things such as our family and friends, our community, and careers that have changed so much over the years, but the small things too. And those little things make for powerful memories and milestones as well.
For example, when we first came here, it took a year and a half to get a phone. We would have to walk up a hill more than a kilometer in the town we lived in order to use the one public phone with the Asimonim (coins) that we had to drop into the machine. Then came the big advancement in technology – the Bezeqcard – in which we inserted a credit-card like card into the phone to make the call. In those days, I would wait by a mostly deserted intersection for a ride home, without a mobile phone (they of course didn’t exist). How we survived back then without those things is a good question.
Israel went from a technological backwater to the forefront of global hi-tech. We went from having almost zero communications ability in the late 80’s to the leaders in the world in terms of communications. Now every five year old has a smart phone.
In those days, customer service wasn’t a big thing here either. Store owners were doing you a favor by letting you into their stores to shop. That is changing. Competition and larger international chains and global hi-tech companies that are customer oriented have made a huge difference. We still have a way to go, but we have made big strides.
In the 25 years since we have been here we have lived through quite a lot of hard times: The first Intifada, the Gulf War, the terror attacks of the mid-90’s, the Rabin assassination, the second Intifada, September 11th and its global implications, the second Lebanon War, two major operations in Gaza, thousands upon thousands of missiles from Gaza, countless acts of terror and the threat of a nuclear Iran. We are no closer to peace today than we were in the past and we are no closer to agreement between ourselves as to how that peace should look.
Yet the resilience of the people in this country is incredible. Not only have we survived, we have flourished (as we have done throughout our history in the face of adversity). Our economy has emerged as one of the strongest in the western world, not only growing despite the incredible amount of security challenges but coming through some of the darkest days in the world economy since the great depression. Our IDF is one of the most powerful and yet moral armies in the world (no matter what our enemies may say). I am proud that the IDF has played such an important part of my personal life over these years.
We have seen unbelievable advancements in so many different areas of our lives. Just last week it was announced that our water deficit is down by 90%. That’s partly because of a couple of good winters (this one isn’t that great so far…) but mostly because we finally understood we have an unlimited water supply if we just desalinate it. It took a while, and it should have been done a long time ago (like so many things that we take too long to do), but now this country is water self-sufficient with one of the most advanced water technologies in the world. No small feat for a mostly-desert country. We can say the same about our roads and highways. Why they don’t build six lane highways from the start I don’t know, but eventually they do and over the past ten years the highway infrastructure (starting with highway six) has taken tremendous steps forward.
When we first came here, we used to bring chocolate syrup, coffee, aluminum foil and other assorted products here when we came back on trips from the States. Today, there is almost nothing you can’t get here (well, I still can’t find vanilla syrup) and so many of the top franchises now have opened shop in the country.
I can go on and on about the changes that have taken place here and I’m sure every one of you reading this has their own favorites. But at the end of the day, the greatest changes are the personal ones, those that happen in our families, in our communities.
When we came here, we were immigrants. Today, 25 years later, we still speak with accents, we still get upset when people think we are just off the boat, we still get annoyed when we wait on lines at the supermarket or at the bank and someone cuts the line saying that they were on line before us (though they have been shopping elsewhere for the past half hour…).
But we are veteran Israelis. And our children have grown up in this country. They are growing up as proud Jews in their own country. Today, we don’t need to instill in them the Zionism that we learned in the Jewish schools in North America (and I am truly thankful for that education; I wouldn’t be here now without it.) They have it. They live it. Today, we try to instill in them an appreciation for the culture we left behind, a culture that we are still proud of and one we still surround ourselves in to a large degree (super bowl parties, baseball Sunday nights, you know, those kind of things and here I speak for myself, but you know what I mean…).
It has truly been a great ride and I can look back with satisfaction at the decision we made all those years ago to come on Aliyah. I can’t wait to experience the next 25 years.