September 2019 marks the 25th Anniversary of my aliyah to Israel from the UK. It is fitting that Rosh Hashanah falls almost exactly between the “English” and the “Hebrew dates. A natural time for reflection of the past and a contemplation of the future. How much more so after the completion of a divisive, yet inconclusive, election campaign in Israel and the enormous difficulties in trying to form a new government to take the country forward. I am by nature an optimist and in looking back over the past 25 years, recall the many enjoyable moments of my professional working life in Israel. From afar what one sees on the television, reads on social media and hears about from third hand sources, rarely begins to cover the reality. I do not belittle the image of divisiveness that burns brightly on our screens, but can only report on what I have experienced at first hand in living “real” life.
My work as a banker, for both local and foreign institutions, has taken me all over Israel from Kfar Vradim to Eilat. I have had business meetings in kibbutz dining halls, luxury hotel lobbies, during bus rides across a desert, pool-side in a millionaire’s villa, deprived inner-city community centres, hi-tech open spaces, at a check-in queue at Ben Gurion Airport, sea-facing office suites and even “regular” homes! My banking colleagues and clients in these meetings have included people from the entire kaleidoscope of Israeli society: Haredi, Modern-Orthodox, Traditional, Non-Religious, Anti-Religious, fellow-Anglos, Russians, French, Ethiopians, North-Africans, Muslim & Christian Arabs, from the political Right through to the Left, Straight and Gay. In the entire last quarter of a century I can confirm that relationships have been formed and maintained, despite any religious, political and social differences. Yes of course there were and are differences of opinion, but we have shared weddings, funerals, bonding-sessions and the rest in a spirit of mutual respect.
I have experienced three-course fine-dining meals at Sephardi shiva houses, seen the “male half” only of Haredi weddings in Bnei Brak, spoken at an Arab Chamber of Commerce seminar in Nazareth and been literally tethered to colleagues or half-drowned with them in team-building exercises! There have been deep and meaningful conversations on every topic and plenty of friendly banter thrown in to the mix along the way. Raised voices lots, physical violence never, heat of the moment words plenty, expressions of regret and apology naturally. But amongst it all we have lived and worked together, invariably joking at the expense of our politicians and their actions, doing our best to live together and not follow the ruptured path their rhetoric might suggest. I have been the richer for the experience and it gives me the confidence to face, G-d-willing, the next 25 years with optimism in the People of Israel.
Thank you, Israel!