“You lived in Miami, why the hell would you move here?!” If I had a shekel for every time I have heard that in the five months since moving to Israel, I would probably be wealthy enough not to care about the insane taxes we pay here. “Rega, Rega, ata meshuga, lo?” Again, if I had a shekel for every time I heard the Hebrew version I wouldn’t complain about the 17% sales (VAT) tax we pay. As patriotic as Israelis are–and this is coming from someone who experienced 23 July 4th’s in America–they truly do not understand why someone would choose to live here instead of the United States of America. But, how can you put words to a longing that is existential, a longing that cannot be described? How can you explain that living here is the culmination of the Zionist dream that started 100 years ago, with teenagers draining swamps and clearing land?
Within a few days of moving to Israel, I was asked, “How do you like it here?” And honestly the answer came within seconds. Only here, I said, can you understand less than 10% of what is going on around you and still feel at home. Is my family here, no, they are back in the States and of course I miss them. Are the best friends I grew up with for 24 years here, no. As good as my Hebrew has gotten, do I still have trouble navigating everyday life, 100%. Is everything I have known here, absolutely not. But, is this “home,” without a doubt. I never lived in a hotbed of antisemitism (Philadelphia and then Boca Raton), but only here do I not think twice about putting on my Magen David necklace before walking outside.
If the daily lines outside of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv (still waiting on the move, Donald) are proof, Israelis desperately want to travel to the US. They want to get a visa to visit the place they only see on TV and in the movies. It is almost hilarious to watch an American college movie with my Israeli friends and answer their questions on the actual US college experience. To be honest, half the time I feel bad because when we were seeing who could drink a beer faster, those 19 year old Israeli kids were guarding the borders, freezing their ass off on the Lebanese border, or sweating their ass off on the Egyptian border. Still, and even by my best friends here (and complete strangers who like to intrude in typical Israeli fashion), once a day, I get asked, why the hell would I move here?
Well Ron, Daniel, Ben, and Ariel, and strangers, it’s because this is home. This is where a Jew is at home. Where if someone is accused of something, not once will the accusation include “dirty Jew,” or, “typical scheming Jew.” It’s because in one Friday, I can walk out of my door and start my day in Jerusalem and visit the Kotel, and then end my Friday at the Tel Aviv Port. In one day, I can visit the most sacred areas that have sustained Jews for 2000 years, and then end it in a city that truly exemplifies the rebirth of the Jewish people. This country is a testament to what Jews, and by extension, nations throughout the globe can do when they are united and determined.
You can’t describe the pull Israel has on Jews from around the world. It is why hundreds of thousands have left everything to live here. It is why Begin and Sharansky braved Siberian exile and gulags. It is why, for 19 years, they braved Arab snipers just to see the Kotel. It is why, everyday, we, the Diaspora Jews who relocated, wake up and thank God we can live here.
All Olim have their own special reasons for moving to, and living in Israel, and it would take an entire book to compile even half of those. Whether for religious, nationalistic, or simply lifestyle reasons, Israel has become home to millions of people not born here, people who chose to live here over America, over Russia, over France, or over one of a hundred countries. What binds these reasons together is a love for the land, a love for the people especially, and a love of country.
Internally, telling myself that in one day I can see the Kotel and the Mediterranean sunset on Frishman Beach is enough. Those two aspects could not embody my Israel more. Spiritual and religious on one side, yet carefree and wild on the other. I wish that was enough to tell my friends, but it isn’t. I wish you could answer “no country is more beautiful–Ain medina yafa yo-ter” but you can’t, as true as it may be. To the Israelis who have never experienced not living in a Jewish country, where the religious holidays are intertwined with State holidays, that is not enough. This is our country, built with Jewish hands, and unfortunately preserved with Jewish blood.
Living here has its unique challenges. Prices are high, salaries are low (why the hell are we only paid once a month), taxes are everywhere and on everything, and we live in a pressure cooker, constantly reminded that a billion Muslims are waiting to invade. Through it all though, this is home. This is where the Jews are at home. This is where every Friday afternoon, the streets are awash in the smell of home cooked chicken, brisket, lamb, and 100 different Moroccan salads. And this is where every Saturday everything is shut down. Herzl’s dream of all Jews moving here may not have come true, but you’d be hardpressed to find someone who would argue that the Founder’s dream of making Israel a special country hasn’t come true.