More than eight years have past since I woke up on the floor of my buddy’s Rechavia apartment without a ticket to take me back to England. Not knowing what would be in store in the weeks, months and years that would follow, I climbed the stairs to the roof for a birds eye view of my new hometown. The Knesset glistened in the morning sun, the city was alive and as I took a deep breath of that fresh Jerusalem air, I felt that all my dreams had come true.
Eight years. I remember that morning like it was yesterday, and yet it feels like a lifetime ago.
When I read Sam Ser’s Next Year in Jerusalem! Not likely! last month, the sentiment was all too familiar. You see, the summer we stayed in the US instead of returning home was the same summer that six other families from our social circle made the same choice. I have a great deal of respect for our friends that are still in Israel, perhaps a tinge of jealousy. It’s hard to talk about leaving Israel because at the end of the day we moved away because I gave up.
I am not writing for sympathy, nor am I writing for attention. I am writing because I am sure that I am not the only yored (Israeli expat) that doesn’t know how to feel on Yom Haatzmaut.
There’s nothing to stop me from wearing blue and white, singing hallel (the celebratory prayer service) and hanging a flag from my car, but does this guilty feeling mean I forfeited my right to celebrate?
Yom Haatzmaut is still a chag (festival). I didn’t stop celebrating Chanukah or Purim when we moved away, so why does this chag feel so different?
This year we’re planning to do what Diaspora Jewry does on Israel’s birthday. We will spend the day with friends, grilling in the back yard, eating falafel, hummus, schug and shawarma. We will celebrate through food. I suspect I’ll spend much of the week thinking of the life we left and the life we live now.
I don’t regret my decision to make aliya and at the risk of offending you, I don’t regret our decision to leave either. Eight years ago I could never have imagined a path through Israel that would lead to a life elsewhere but this path introduced me to my wife, gave us two wonderful kids and a life we love.
This Tuesday I will celebrate. Yom Haatzmaut isn’t about me, it’s about all of us. It’s about the modern day State of Israel. The realization of Herzl’s dream. A dream that changed the lives of every Jew in the world, not just those who make it in Israel and by the same token, that celebration will be remarkably thought provoking for many of those who left.