Carolyn Steinman

The Right of Return?

Having immigrated to Australia, I am no stranger to adjusting to a different way of life and understanding the process and challenges of crossing the border into another sovereign state.

The time it takes for example for the ear to adjust to understanding the language you could swear you have actually been speaking your entire life! Some Aussies “flap”. A linguistic concept explaining how an “s” can sound like a “d”.

“Dave’s here to mow the grass” says my father during a pre-Covid visit.  Just to clarify it’s a meter by meter patch Sydneysiders call a lawn! “No Dad, it’s Steve!” Puzzled expression: “No, I definitely heard Dave”. That accent is still a challenge, to be honest.

So when we announced our pending plans for aliyah, the horror stories from Olim began. The difficulties we will surely face, the bureaucracy, the unfriendly and unhelpful people we are likely to meet. Of course Australian customer service is world class?!

Upon opening an aliyah portal one has to provide a letter from a rabbi attesting to one’s Jewish status. My letter instantly passed scrutiny.  I dismissed the stories about the notorious Israeli bureaucracy. Not so fast. So far we have submitted three letters from three different rabbis attesting to the fact my husband is a born Jew, born of parents who were born Jews. The first letter I was sure would cut it. The rabbi wrote the letter on a letterhead which attests to the fact he is a Tzohar rabbi (he married us in “chul” and our daughter and son-in-law in Israel) and he is the rabbi of Ramat Gan. Rejected. We needed a letter from “chul”. Dutifully the next rabbi attested to my husband’s Jewishness citing his parents ketubah. Rejected. So the third rabbi gave it a try. Not only did he cite the ketubah , but attested to the parents being born Jews and named them! Accepted. Yes, had all these details being requested been on the website we would have avoided the hassle. But at least I know I married a Jew! And in retrospect our children, who have had to prove their Jewishness to make aliyah years ago, are also Jewish. Still, this is hardly a horror story!

Yes I know, the bureaucracy will only kick in when we land I hear you say from the other side. Just wait!

I am sure there will be challenges when we get “home”. But, through the decision to make aliyah, and being walked through the process by a very warm and helpful Aliyah Shaliach, Michael, I realised something. The right to return is not so much a right, but a privilege.  When we change our mindset the goal of the journey changes. Aliyah comes with responsibility. With the expectation of commitment and gratitude. (Thank you Michael!)

Avraham and Sarah embodied this responsibility to their people when they left behind all they had known. The chalutzim who returned decades before the idea of a modern state was born, and those who followed, committed themselves to building the country we are waltzing into.

Idealistic? I am. And I like to think I am retuning riding on the shoulders of the giants who went before me. However, like them I need to asses my commitment. What am I going to contribute? What will I build for our people’s future?

And every day I need to remember gratitude. To all those Israelis who have been born in the land, served our country and provided security. All those Israelis who work and pay taxes so we olim can receive benefits and support.  Like the opportunity of thousands of hours to learn our language. Free. No small thing in my Australian experience! 

Actually Australia should consider the ulpan system for immigrants – English speakers included!

About the Author
Carolyn was born in South Africa, lived in Australia and has now realised her dream of making Aliyah. She has taught in schools and university across two continents and four cities. Carolyn, now officially Gavriella, blogs her journey and it’s quirky and profound moments, from one side of the Yarden to the other.
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