We’re coming home

It’s been a very long road and a few obstacles are still ahead, but we’re finally returning home.

Some three decades ago, we left for graduate studies abroad. We were recently married, my wife expecting our first child. At the time, we imagined just a few years away from Israel, at most one post-doctoral position. We would soon be back. Then came more children, a post doc, another post-doc, a regular position, one more child, a house, a different house, and it’s now been more than four times longer than we originally envisioned. I guess some would call us yordim, emigrants from Israel. Strange, we never felt that way. Trapped would have been a better description. I will use the gentler term expat. I did learn one thing: galut (the diaspora) is like quicksand. It looks like solid ground but the moment you step on it, it starts to swallow you.

I am not making excuses. I made my fair share of mistakes along the way. The primordial one was valuing my occupation and academic position more than my location. Academics are limited in terms of employment, and Israeli academics have it harder than anyone else. Nearly every university I visited around the world had scores of expat Israeli academics. But I did choose my priorities. No one forced these upon me. The number of Israelis living abroad is staggering. Depending how you count – only Israel-born citizens, only Israelis having lived in Israel, or all Israelis including descendants – the estimates vary between more than a quarter million to more than one million. Regardless, from the point of view of the Zionist enterprise, this is a tragedy. Sometimes I wonder how many of these hundreds of thousands feel the same way we do: surprised. How did so many years passed, how did we spend so much of our lives away from home? Some blame the lack of opportunities, the harshly competitive atmosphere, etc. Others would rather blame themselves. I think it is a combination. One thing is certain, more has to be done to bring the ‘boys’ (and the ‘girls’) back home. Israel rightfully spends tremendous efforts on aliyah. Some effort should also be directed to attract returning Israeli citizens.

We were never disconnected. We always followed the news in Israel, often more than the local news wherever we lived. When we could afford it, and even when we couldn’t, we spent every vacation in Israel. We spent a sabbatical in Israel. We sent the kids to Israel, and when they reached the age, they made aliyah to enlist in the IDF. And as the years passed, the tug at the heart became stronger and stronger.

Finally we are making it back. It’s about time. Thank G-d, an exciting opportunity: I am taking a position at Ariel University. A new university, a young city. It’s not going to be easy. I am returning first, the rest of my family to follow in a little more than a year. Israel has changed, we have changed. But we’ll be facing whatever hardships lay ahead with joy. They are negligible compared to the hardships of earlier generations – our own parents among them – immigrating to Israel.

I will be blogging some of our experiences. My wife will sometimes guest blog from Melbourne. I might comment on politics, religion, Israeli academia, science and culture. I hope this personal testimony helps other expat Israelis answer the pull of home and take the leap.

About the Author
Gilbert Weinstein is an academic who spent almost three decades abroad. In Fall 2013, he will return to Israel to take a position at Ariel University.
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