The blogosphere has been a-flutter, or is that a-chatter, with many Olim, both veteran and new, offering varying opinions in reaction to the controversial “Why live here”(Ariel Beery) blog post. Many have passionately made their case on reasons why we either choose to stay in Israel or go back to our countries of origin. After reading the blog I thought it would be remiss of me not to offer a response.
Beery’s article reminded me of a poster I once saw in the offices of the Aliyah department in South Africa. The byline of the rather attractive advert read as follows “We don’t promise you a rose garden” and I think as far as descriptions or expectations of Aliyah are concerned, this is quite apt. Making the decision to commit aliyah, is not easy. It is fraught with anxiety, doubts and second guessing. You have to commit yourself to the process 100% even though sometimes you feel like you should rather be committed to an institution rather than a country! While it is advisable to do a lot of research, you can only prepare so much for the inevitable.
We South Africans have a saying, “Aliyah is not for sissies”. And it is true – if you are expecting to uproot your life in one country and just change venues, think again. At the outset you must understand that you are changing virtually EVERYTHING that is familiar in your life. Israel is a tough country and is not for everyone, we can understand that. For those who have made aliyah and have decided to return to their countries of origin, we respect their decision and understand that it is deeply personal. I do believe that one cannot blame the departure of Olim as a failure of the state. The rationale is different for everyone who chooses to return – the same as those who choose to make Israel their home.
Aliyah is tough on many levels, we all know this when we sign up for it. Let’s examine the reality – property is expensive, salaries are not as good as some countries and the cost of living is high. Let’s also examine the fact that Israel is a relatively young country that has moved from a socialist democracy to capitalism. This is no longer a socialist kibbutz nation but a competitive and enterprising start up nation. Comparing Israel or any other country to the USA is unrealistic. I understand that for the purposes of the aforementioned article it is the most logical point of departure and I can only make comparisons with South Africa. And having said that, I am proud of the mark my fellow countrymen have made on this country. Anyone heard of Stanley Fischer? Well, he hails from our neck of the woods as do many Israeli success stories. Nearly all Diaspora communities can share their Olim success stories and long may this continue.
At a time when many countries are either facing impending recession or are clawing their way out of one, Israel boasts a robust economy with very low unemployment rates. In fact, the unemployment levels in Israel are at the lowest they have been in over 30 years. Israel is a hub of creative energy and intellectual know how. You could be forgiven for thinking you are on a giant university campus. This country boasts a large percentage of citizens who hold a variety of degrees and more than their fair share of pioneering chutzpah. Okay, so sometimes it is just plain chutzpah but to some it can be daunting. Sometimes one has to decide, to I let this competitive environment intimidate me or do I simply up my game and learn to compete with some of the best. I can wax lyrical and quote statistics about Israel’s legendary achievements but how does it help the average oleh/ah?
So here is the dirt on aliyah the way I see it and I invite you to jump in and opine. The best advice I can give potential Olim as someone who has gone through the baptism of fire is that you almost have to divorce ideology from the reality of daily living. Fulfilling the Zionist dream is the added bonus. While there are organisations in place to help, they may only be able to advise or point you in the right direction. The rest is up to you. Israel is the land of milk and honey but this costs money and requires effort. No other country apart from Israel accepts immigrants with the processes place to help them learn the lingua franca of the state or offer stipends, however big or small to help you integrate.
There are no perfect solutions but apportioning blame and complaining is not going to solve anything. After all, nobody promised us a rose garden.