Not just Another Nation

Technically, I am a sabra.  I was born in Israel in 1970 to an Argentinean father and an American mother. Unfortunately, my parents left Israel when I was four months old. From there my life became an odyssey by which time I turned 16 years-old I had been dragged through two different countries, four different cities, three different elementary schools and two different high schools, all in the context of a turbulent marriage ending in divorce.

Nine years ago, at the age of 34, I then dragged myself back to my homeland, Israel, in search of my true home, in search of a sense of belonging.  So, have I found my home? Well, yes and no, but ultimately the answer is a big, unequivocal YES.  Allow me to elucidate.

I must admit, I am very much alone in this country, more alone than I have ever been in my life.  At the age of 44 (still 43 according to the Gregorian calendar), I have yet to find a wife and my closest family and friends remain in the United States. Culturally speaking, I am neither Israeli, American nor Argentinian, I am a combination of all three. As a result, I do not feel that close cultural connection to any group. I often feel like an island onto myself.

In such a situation I could easily give into a quiet despair. But I have not, and I don’t, and I vehemently refuse to do so. So what keeps me going?  An understanding of certain fundamental and very deep truths. In one simple sentence it all adds up to: I am a Jew living in the land of Israel, the third Jewish commonwealth, in the 21st century. Not a single day goes by in which I don’t remind myself what an extraordinary thing that is; what an extraordinary privilege that is.

Many things have changed in this country over the years, specifically I now refer to the national spirit.  I recall my first trip to Israel in the summer of 1984 at the age of 14.  My 10 year-old sister and I were placed on an El Al flight, ultimately bound for Kibbutz Megiddo where my Argentinian uncle who made Aliyah in the 70’s was now living.

The moment the coast line of Israel became visible a classic Israeli song (can’t quite put my finger on which) was played on the airplane loud speaker.  When my 14 year-old eyes took their first glance at the coastline I was hit with an almost inexplicable feeling of pride mixed with nostalgia mixed with longing mixed with . . .  it cannot be put into words for words will not do justice to what I felt at that moment.  I had hooked into a very palpable spirit that pervaded the land at that time.  There literally was a spirit in the air, almost physically present, graspable by the Jewish soul as a radio wave is caught by a radio.  My Jewish soul hooked into the spirit which hovered over the land like a specific radio station is tuned to catch a specific radio frequency.

Israelis I met on that first visit, whether at the Kibbutz or in the nearest city of Afula, by and large repeated the following to me:  “What are you doing in New York, why aren’t you living in Israel?!?”  Religiosity was completely irrelevant.  I was then a secular Jew raised in a fully secular environment.  This spirit of pride, this feeling of being part of something very special transcended society as a whole.  I fell in love with the kibbutz and with Israel.  Just glancing at the Hebrew letters written everywhere (which I could not understand – I was never even Bar Mitzvahed), even those on a simple street sign, filled me with a sense of awe.

Fast forward to February 2005, the date I made Aliyah.  Things were certainly different now.  In an almost full 180 degree turnaround, most Israelis I met had a much different reaction to the idea of moving to this country.  The typical conversation went something like this:  “Where did you make Aliyah from?”, “New York” I would answer.  “New York! What the hell were you thinking!  What can drive you to leave such an awesome place for a sh-t country like this!”.

Not to over-exaggerate, this is not across the board.  Plenty of Israelis gave me the good old “Kol HaKavod!” (good for you).  But to the same degree that in 1984 Israelis encouraged me to leave New York for Israel, Israelis now could not identify with wanting to make such a move — or simply thought I was naive and would inevitably become cynical or jaded.

Well, nine years later, in spite of plenty of reason to have become jaded, I have not, and will not, because every waking day I see the miracle that is our nation within the seemingly mundane.

Our nation faces great challenges, including daunting existential ones.  It is easy to get caught up in fear of the future.  It is easy to get caught up in the mundane drudge and struggle of everyday life and miss the momentous miracle taking place before our very eyes.

Even if it has become more difficult to plug into that special feeling I felt as a 14 year-old when the public spirit of our nation was so much more palpable, we cannot loose sight of THE BIG TRUTH.

If you are a person of faith, a believer, like I am today, the big truth is that we are living and breathing bible prophesy.  Perhaps the most momentous prophesy of them all — the ingathering of the exiles (kibbutz galuyot).  We are literally living in and are active participants of a new chapter of the bible.  Holy books will be written commemorating this time in history just as they were written commemorating the exodus from Egypt or the time of Kings David and Solomon and the construction of the Temple.

If you are not a person of faith, (such as I was as a 14 year-old boy whose Jewish soul was enthralled by the reality of the reconstituted Jewish state), the big truth is that after almost 2,000 years of exile, out of the ashes of the Holocaust, we have returned to our ancestral homeland in contravention to all historical patterns and logic.  Within a period of three short years, our people went from being at the precipice of annihilation to becoming an independent nation with the means to defend itself.  Today Israel has become the world’s Jewish cultural nucleus with more Jews living here than anywhere else on the planet.

Former Knesset member and Irgun and Lehi fighter Geula Cohen has stated that the idea of Holocaust museums drives her crazy.  Not because the Holocaust should not be commemorated, but because it is only half the story.  She stated that every such museum should focus its first half on the Holocaust and the second half on the creation of Israel.  I wholeheartedly agree.  This is especially so important for the thousands (if not millions) of young Jews out there who are so disconnected from the miracle of what is Israel today.

It has become trendy today to try and create excitement and enthusiasm about Israel among disconnected Jews by marketing it as the start up nation.  There is a trend to make Israel “cool”.  That is all fine and dandy.  But frankly, as far as I am concerned, it can be the horse and buggy nation and it will be just as special to me.

It has become an undeniable fact that the future of the Jewish people is here, in Eretz Israel.  Not in America, not in the Ukraine, not in Paris or London, and certainly not in Berlin.  I rather be lonely in the holy land then surrounded by family and friends in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

About the Author
Ran Zev Schijanovich was born in Israel in 1970 to an Argentinian father and American mother, lived in Argentina through age 11, and then moved to New York. He made aliyah in 2005 and served as a combat soldier in Golani from the ages of 36 to 38. Ran is graduate of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law.