Laura Ben-David
Sharing Israel with the world through my lens

Israeli state of mind

First, a disclaimer of sorts. I work at Nefesh B’Nefesh. I made Aliyah with Nefesh B’Nefesh. Sometimes my life and my work overlap. Alright, more than sometimes. I often hold back writing blog posts that relate to NBN, thinking people would assume I have ulterior motives. Even if I don’t, the added bonus is naturally there. Today I decided that’s just too bad.  

This week marks ten years since we made Aliyah on the very first Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. That ground-breaking day has become the beginning of a revolution as thousands more have followed. Hardly the type of immigrant population to blend in subtly with the populace, Anglo Olim, as we are called, tend to bring lots of attention to ourselves. We’re noisy, we get involved and we write lots of articles. Often the discussions veer to the reasons, for and against, living in Israel.

2002 – My ridiculously huge smile was all over the place, including the El Al in-flight magazine… Photo credit: Mike Stocker

Let me make one thing clear: I did not move to Israel because a pros & cons list I may have made on some spreadsheet indicated that I should do so. Rather I moved because I believe that all Jews belong here, and because I could. I’m not going to be disingenuous and say all Jews must make Aliyah tomorrow. Nor will I claim that I would have made the same decision to make Aliyah a hundred years ago. Or even fifty. Or twenty.

Watch to get an inkling of what the NBN Aliyah experience has been like for me.

Let’s face it: Israel has, in a relatively short time, become a highly industrial, progressive, westernized nation. But it is NOT the West. In fact, check your map; we’re smack in the middle of the Middle East. Camels, desert and all. Despite this, the balance of ‘pros’ over ‘cons’ continues to go up dramatically. But those are not the reasons to come, just the perks. Frankly, it’s miraculous that this tiny nation has come as far as it has and is still moving forward at an incredibly rapid pace. But then again, Israel is a land built on a steady diet of miracles…

Lately, we Anglos have gotten a particularly bad rap. We’re snobs, we complain, we whine, we have unrealistic expectations, we want everything our way, and, to top it all off, our accents are terrible. I’ve heard these accusations over and over in blogs and articles and comments on the blogs and articles and so on. I’ve thought about this and my answer is, So what? We’re here aren’t we?

No one promised us a bed of roses. And we didn’t expect one. That’s not why we came. But if we want to make that bed of roses ourselves – or import an American-made one – or whine about the bed we do have, in our lousy accents, why does anyone care? We made a massive, life-changing move that we could never be fully prepared for, and it was the best move I ever made. Does that mean it was easy? That I always knew what to do? That I could just step out of my old life and into this new and different one, seamlessly, without pitfalls and mistakes? Hell no. But really, what life decisions of value truly come easy? It wasn’t easy, but oh so worth it.

In the middle of the flight, there we are discussing changing our names. (Don’t do it, Laura!) Photo credit: Mike Stocker

When I made Aliyah at age 33 I had decided that I was going to go for the whole enchilada and become Israeli. I changed my first name to my Hebrew one. We moved to a community that (then, before the avalanche of Anglos followed us in…) was predominantly Hebrew speaking. I jumped into Ulpan and pushed myself to the highest level possible, even though I was clearly out of my league… What the heck was I thinking? Within weeks of our Aliyah I realized the name-change was a huge mistake; I changed it back as soon as I could. While my Hebrew grammar skills were good, my vocabulary was pathetically weak. Stringing a sentence together was challenging and understanding Israeli street Hebrew was almost impossible. Back then I found myself speaking in English 98% of the time, using Hebrew only when absolutely necessary.

In a very short period of time I realized that I was never going to be a true Israeli the way I’d thought. It bothered me at first. What did the Israelis have that I didn’t? My parents always told me I could be anything I wanted to be. A doctor, a lawyer… why not an Israeli? Was I really that old that my brain couldn’t accept this new way of being? Yeah, I guess it was. After feeling bad for myself a bit, I realized that I had become a true Israeli; I became one 10 years ago, on that Nefesh B’Nefesh flight. In fact, I became Israeli the same way most Israelis did – them, or their parents or grandparents.

We were greeted upon our arrival like celebrities – as all Olim should be. Photo credit: Mike Stocker

Being Israeli is a badge of honor I wear with utter joy and pride. It did not confer upon me any special knowledge or skills, it certainly didn’t help me with the Hebrew language, and it did not help me understand Israeli culture, Israeli politics, or know how to shop in Israeli grocery stores. But that has all come in time; is still coming, in fact.

I may periodically complain or whine. I may even be a bit of a snob. And my Hebrew accent sucks. (Just ask my kids!) But hey, no one’s perfect and no one needs to be. I live in Israel and I love Israel; flaws and all. I have never regretted the move for even a moment. And I would never move back. I accept Israel for all it has to offer, though I may try to change things here and there. And you know what? Israel accepts me.

Unrestrained joy at arriving in Israel as Olim.
Photo credit: Mike Stocker
About the Author
Laura Ben-David is a photographer, public speaker and Israel advocate. Inspired by her Aliyah experience, Laura began writing and never stopped. She is the author of the book, MOVING UP: An Aliyah Journal, a memoir of her move to Israel. She has spoken all over the world about Israel, Aliyah and other topics, often with beautiful photographic presentations. Formerly the head of social media at Nefesh B'Nefesh, Laura is the director of marketing at Shavei Israel as well as a marketing consultant.