Pondering My Aliyah Choices

When I moved to Israel in 2012, I was full of hope- not just for myself, or my newly adopted country of Israel, but also for America, the country I was leaving behind.

Barack Obama had just won reelection. America seemed to be finally dealing with its history of racism, wealth inequality, sexism, and mass incarceration.

I felt like America didn’t need me anymore. It was bending its arc towards justice.

When I looked at Israel though, its problems seemed much more intractable: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the secular-religious divide; socialism quickly fading towards an individualistic capitalist ethos.

I felt like in Israel I was needed more.

Besides, for so many years, I had watched crisis after crisis unfold in Israel and felt like my heart was there, even if my body wasn’t. I felt physical pain from missing the country and wanting so badly to be there for it in difficult times. I visited Israel during the Second Intifada. I spent a winter break from college volunteering 20 kilometers from the Gaza border during one of the Gaza wars.

So fast forward to 2016.

As the Clinton-Trump election unfolds, it feels like the positions are reversed. America is marching backward. Then Trump wins, and I have 4 years of feeling like my country, America, is in crisis. My country needs me -and I feel physical pain from not being able to be there.

But at this point, I live in Israel for the reason that most Israelis live in Israel: My life is here. My studies and career are here; I know the medical and banking systems; my friends are here; my community is here. Relocating would mean leaving the only real adult life I have ever known, and a large chunk of my support system, and having to completely rebuild it.

And of course, my life partner isn’t American, though he too, is a person who chose Israel as his adopted homeland.

To be honest, the feeling, not that you choose to live in Israel, but that you have to live in Israel, because it’s where you are and where you know how to be, is in some sense the most Zionist of all. It’s that natural feeling of belonging that the founders of Israel dreamed about.

But it’s also a little bit scary. I came here feeling like all my options were open: I could return home to New York anytime I felt like it. I don’t feel that way anymore, even though I do feel that New York will always be my home, both because of my childhood memories and because of people who live there who I hold dear.

But it won’t be home to my children. For them, it will be a foreign city. It will be a novelty to ride the subway. And that makes me a little sad.

When Biden won, I felt like I could breathe again. America would be ok. It had had many detours in its steady march towards progress, and the Trump era had been just that- a detour. Granted, it had been a traumatic detour that would require lots of rebuilding in order to recover from. But it was the aberration, not the trend.

But then tonight, I saw pictures of people with Confederate flags and guns storming the Capital. 

It felt like seeing the Civil War in reverse.

As a Jew, as a daughter of a Brazilian immigrant, it just -you feel your heart leap in your chest.

And once more I felt that burning desire to be in my country in a time of crisis.

But I also felt helplessness. Even if I was there, what could I do?

I want to end this on a happy note, and most of me does believe that on January 20th Biden will become president.

But I am also the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. I know how quickly democracies can turn into fascist regimes -sometimes all it takes is a coup and a couple of days.

About the Author
Shayna Abramson, a part-Brazilian native Manhattanite, studied History and Jewish Studies at Johns Hopkins University before moving to Jerusalem. She has also spent some time studying Torah at the Drisha Institute in Manhattan, and has a passion for soccer and poetry. She is currently pursuing an M.A. in Political Science from Hebrew University, and is a rabbinic fellow at Beit Midrash Har'el.
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