Growing up I would dream of Israel, my grandmother’s land; the land which I had been taught through song, prayer and tale was my true home. I clearly remember the excitement when friends or family would return from a trip, eager to hear the stories of this land while opening cans of Holy Land Air and munching on chocolate covered orange skins – they tasted disgusting, but were wonderful in what they represented. Being poor we had other priorities, and so I never experienced Israel for myself until later in life, it was a land I idealized though, and one I dreamed of. I was ten when my grandmother died, and the stories of her homeland and childhood stopped, but I had other reinforcing forces.
Coming from an iconic seat of Orthodox Judaism in New York and attending a Zionistic focused day school one could understand the indoctrination of Israel into little minds. The school replaced the pride I would get from hearing her stories, focusing on the land where Jews can be safe, live in freedom and write our own destinies. My synagogue and community, a less interpretative and more adherent religious environment, would instill the mystique and intrigue of this ancient biblical land with tales of divine protection and glory.
To be true to myself and you, I don’t think I believed I would leave America to move here. Like so many American Jews, it was wonderful knowing it existed and it was a place that allowed me to dream, but I never truly faced the question; never truly gave it a thought. I had a connection to the country sure, yet I did not have a reason. November 4, 1995 was the day I got it. While engaged, my wife and I spoke often of Aliyah, her mother was born here and she loved the land from her own experiences and connections. Her family which I met during the years we dated reinforced my own devotion, they turned the ideal into the real for me and put faces in my dreams.
We were married a few months when Rabin was assassinated. We were not religious and I was working as Chef when I heard it on the radio. That night, as we switched between Peter Jennings and Bernard Shaw watching half a nation grieve and the other half not-grieve so much, our future was clear. In the years to come we prepared, we were fruitful and multiplied and when the opportunity arose, we came here six strong to contribute to the destiny of our people. Now, there are many who had done the same, who’s stories are similar to ours and who shared the same dreams. Coming from Manhattan, we thought about how different a lifestyle it would be and accepted that. Coming from New York, we thought we were prepared to for the bureaucracy and political corruption, and accepted it when we realized how entrenched it is here. Coming from America, we thought we understood the political and social climate, and to this day are blown away at how much we took for granted the land from which we left with all her freedoms, personal boundaries and general civility. For me, it comes down to one word, Integrity. Israel as a country has none it seems and it is this from which my daily internal struggle emanates.
Israel is a country with no formal constitution. Our judicial system relies on laws established not for Israel, but for Ottoman and British Mandate Palestine and we suffer because of it. Our politicians and institutions are brazenly corrupt, flaunting their lack of focus on real issues and lack of true concern for the welfare of their citizenry daily. Our society is openly racist and ethnocentric to a dangerous degree and our government Ministers normalize that unfortunate truth. In business, the deck is stacked against almost everyone who wants to open a business serving the Israeli population, it is no wonder so many hi-tech companies flee the minute they can, they don’t have to rely on the Israeli market alone and they often abandon it. The cost of living in Israel is inexplicable and unconscionable, the amount of taxes paid by the employed is compounded by a flat sales tax in the high teens on everything, a tax that punishes poor and rich alike, there is no fairness in the revenue system and no true consideration for the working poor who make up most of the country. The average salary is embarrassing for a country that touts the economic credentials Israel does, and as fortunate as we have been the burden is still heavy as we try to live respectable and enriched lives.
Today, we find ourselves witnessing an election season for the second time this year and all we are talking about are labels of Right and Left. The politicians are playing games, don’t they all? you might ask. We have become complacent; we have become sheep ignoring the wolves who have replaced our herders. We don’t demand changing the multiple systems that are in desperate need of overhaul, starting with the political and working our way down to the bureaucratical and then civil. Many immigrants know the value of a simple driver’s license, and we all feel exploited and violated after experiencing that process here, but no one talks about it. No one talks about it because we have become unfamiliar with what it is like to have someone to talk to.
The truth is, we have no representatives to share our concerns with, we have parties not people, and we have only one issue we make every election about, security. Do you feel secure here? I know I don’t and I am not speaking of annihilation from Iran, Hezbollah or Hamas nor am I referring to physical safety in any way. I am speaking of emotional stability due to the blind eye the country of my dreams filled with the people of my heart have turned to the violation of ethical and moral codes we once knew. The same codes we lived by and survived with through the millennia. The same codes we should have established our own laws with and cemented them in our foundation. We have lost our integrity as a nation. We do not care. We are here, living a dream, and ignoring the reality of that life.
I am not leaving this country; it is not a consideration. Like everyone who can, I get out when I need to and recharge. I came here for a reason, by choice and I have let my young ideological-self down by conforming. I have fooled myself into believing that I gave this nation my children to serve proudly, and that was my part. We all immigrated here because we all were taught that this land, this country just being here was the dream fulfilled, and we are all wrong. The dream is to build a better country. The dream is to be that shining light amongst the stars for the world to see. The dream is to be a Free, and to be a Fair and a Just nation. We have a long way to go, and if we are to ever get there, we must rise up with one voice and stop dreaming – but work hard to make these lofty goals real. We will never be great until we do and if we do not, the day will come where will no longer have the opportunity and the two-thousand-year struggle will resume. It has happened before and we are proving we have learned nothing from that lesson.
We must demand more from our leaders and we must demand more from ourselves. We owe it to our ancestors who instilled our love of this land and we owe it to our descendants to ensure they can share that experience.