My family is a statistic. We are one of the 544 British families that made Aliyah in 2017. The reason for moving? It was mainly inspired by long standing religious conviction, a sense of doing the right thing and also accepting the historic call to be a part of the incredible story that is taking place here in Israel but also in part response to the deteriorating situation for Jews in Britain/Europe. We emigrated to a beautiful Yishuv (non-agricultural rural community) in the Lower Galilee called Mitzpe Netofa and have not looked back.
I am a statistic. I am a victim of one of the 1,382 anti-Semitic incidents that took place in the UK in 2017. Last October I was travelling back by train from the Jewish Agency for Aliyah when I was attacked outside Westfield Shopping Centre. As I walked from the station into the shopping centre, I was attacked from behind by a young Muslim male, who, taking a run up, barged into me from behind nearly causing me to fall over. He then accosted me for a few minutes while not letting me leave. All I could do at the time was to back off and keep watching his hands for fear of a knife or some weapon. Thank God he eventually backed down and let me walk ahead into the shopping centre. The experience left me very shaken for several reasons: 1) The brazenness of this young Muslim to attack a Jew in broad daylight in such a public area. 2) The lack of assistance or help from those around watching the incident unfold. 3) the reaction of some of my colleagues who were dismissive of my claim that he was Muslim or that this was anything to do with me being visibly Jewish, although for the record most of my colleagues were very supportive. 4) even if Westfield security had come, being unarmed I do not have faith in their ability to have defended me effectively and I do not have the confidence that British police could respond quick enough. This left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable to be a British Jew walking in the streets of London at the end of 2017 – and this was before “Corbyngate” of 2018.
I reported this incident to the police and the CST (Community Security Trust), and I am therefore now included in their statistics. Subsequently, the police interviewed my attacker who said he was running to work and bumped into me (despite him clearly taking a run up and clearly having the ability to easily walk past me instead of barge me). The police asked me if I wanted to pursue it further and I said no. As long as the statistic was recorded as anti-Semitic, I couldn’t expect much more. I refused to allow this to define our Aliyah, but it did reinforce for me the justification for our making Aliyah and the vulnerability of the Jewish community outside of Israel. “Never again” has unfortunately become an empty slogan on the streets of Europe today and it was a reminder that we can only rely on ourselves to truly take protecting Jewish lives seriously.
On November 8th 2017/19 Cheshvan 5778, Parashat Chayei Sara, my family made Aliyah. In the weeks leading up to our Aliyah we read the parsha of Lech Lecha, where God commanded Avraham to leave his home to travel to the Land of Israel, and for the first time in my life this parasha had a real personal meaning for me as I am sure it has done for many other Olim. I had been meaning to write down my thoughts all year but decided to allow the experience of our first year to run its course before committing my thoughts to writing. I hope my insight will perhaps inspire someone out there to consider a similar path, a journey to the unknown, Lech Lecha.
“Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” Bereishit 12:1
Lech Lecha – lit. go to/for yourself. Rashi: For your own benefit and your own good.
Discussions about Aliyah, can tend to focus on some of the negative aspects associated with living in Israel: it’s too hot; the people are rude and pushy; the driving is dangerously aggressive; I don’t think I could fit into the culture; the politicians are all corrupt; Bibi is destroying the country; it will be impossible for me to find work; Israel doesn’t have any close-knit communities; I could never give up my Sundays; Israel doesn’t have Amazon etc. Following such a list of complaints, people usually feel comfortable enough with their conscience to put the matter to sleep. Our Aliyah decision came from a very different starting point.
One Shabbat afternoon in the early summer after the kids had gone to bed. For probably the first time since having twins a year and half earlier, we finally got back to discussing our life plans. Aliyah had always been our dream and goal but became side-lined over the years due to factors such as career considerations, family, and having children. We always put a time limit on making Aliyah and we were approaching that limit very quickly. It was “now or never” decision-making time. In all previous discussions about where we would make Aliyah to we explored the usual suspects for North West London Jewry: Modiin, Bet Shemesh, Yerushalayim, Yad Binyamin, Raanana; but we soon realised that we were looking for something else. My wife then recalled a special Aliyah programme located in the Lower Galilee, a small mountain-top community, close to the Kinneret and roughly 1.5 hours from central Israel. The programme, a joint initiative of the Jewish Agency and Mitzpe Netofa, offers basic yet comfortable accommodation at highly subsidised rates and a strong support network for adults and children. This is the only programme of its kind in Israel, which is a real shame, as programmes like this could transform Aliyah from the West. We then started discussing the Galilee and Northern region of Israel, my wife took out a tour book she had used when she lead British school groups, and we read about the history of the Galilee, about the Sanhedrin, the Sages of Tzipori. We became excited about living a 20 minute drive from the sweet Kinneret beaches, the lush greenery of the Lavi forest, an hour from the snowy Mount Hermon, the many shaded water hikes in the Golan, and the general outdoors and free lifestyle for the children. By the end of Shabbat the only option was to book a flight for the following week and off my wife went to scout out the land, “the land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land”, (but she didn’t bring back any grapes).
In Lech Lecha God commands Avraham to go (to the Land of Israel). God does not give any rationale behind this command, there is no mention of ideological or religious reasons, just simply that Avraham should go for “himself”, i.e. God is telling him that if he goes, it will be for his own benefit and good. For there, he will become a great nation through his offspring and there, his character will become known throughout the world. In addition to teaching us a psychological insight into what motivated Avraham, there is also a general message: ‘Begin with the end in mind’. Once you can visualise the positive, the good and the benefits of a significant decision, the negative thoughts and challenges, although real, will no longer feel as challenging as before. This can also be seen in the respective reports of the spies. Without doubt all of their fears were valid, but only Yehoshua and Calev had the right perspective and often the right perspective is drowned out by the overbearing noise of negativity. What I realised whilst reading Lech Lecha was that through our focusing on the positive aspects of Aliyah, our journey was made much easier. To turn the Aliyah conversation to the positive, one must focus on why Aliyah is ‘for your own benefit and your own good’.
from your land
Your most basic identity is your shared cultural identity defined by where you were born. I was born in Britain, my culture is British, my manners are British, and my humour is British. To leave ‘your land’ behind would be massively daunting. A person does not lose this identity overnight and may never overcome the feeling of being an outsider or stranger. But as Bnei Avraham, we all need to remember most importantly that we are also Bnei Eretz Yisrael and in Israel we will never be strangers.
from your birthplace
In the original Hebrew this is ‘mi-moladetcha’ which can be interpreted as ‘the one that gave birth to you’. What is the difference between a birthplace and a land? The way I differentiate between the two is to define ‘land’ as the physical place and culture that you belong to, whereas ‘birthplace’ signifies your emotional and familial connection; the house you grew up in, the community you were a part of, the family members you left behind.
On a deeper level, leaving your birth place defined literally as ‘the one that gave birth to you’ signifies the loss of protection and safety that comes from one’s mother. Even though there is no mention of Avraham’s mother in this episode, since his father was still alive when he left, I am assuming that so too was his mother. This is a challenge for any child or parent to let go and make their way in the world on their own.
from your father’s house
This relates to the physical protection that your parents’ house provides you, including the financial safety net of your parents’ assets, as well as their network. The advice, guidance and support in navigating the world of work. It also in some ways a statement of defiance of all that your parents have achieved, choosing to do things differently, to mark out your own path in the world.
This week as we approach Parashat Lech Lecha, I am filled with excitement, I am embarking on my first serious tiyul in Israel, the Yam-el-Yam (sea-to-sea) hike, crossing the width of Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Kinneret. As I walk across this beautiful land, I will be reflecting upon Avraham’s journey and the ideas I have shared above. The challenges that Olim and potential Olim face are in some ways not that different to what Avraham faced in his day. If we focus on the meaning of Lech Lecha, we will be able to rise to any challenges that come our way and have the strength and positive resolve to continue the journey, confident in our knowledge that “the land … is an exceedingly good land”.