Sarah Raanan
Mum to 4 kids & piles of laundry

‘What made you move to Israel?’

I don't always get into how I came to be aware of my Jewishness as a child in the UK, or that here, I never need explain
My old school, JFS in Camden Town. (courtesy)

I grew up in a village in London called New Barnet.

I went to the local primary school there.

I played out on the streets with my neighbours until it was dark.

I swapped stickers with them, caught lady birds with them, ate salt and vinegar crisps with them, made up dance routines with them and joined in with their local “BMX stunt bike” club at the end of my street.

As far as I was concerned, my friends and I were the same: we watched the same TV shows, bought the same magazines, ate the same sweets, laughed at the same knock-knock jokes.

With time, I came to understand that we weren’t the same.

I sat out on school assembly “hymn time” with the other Jewish kids in my school and one other girl who was a Jehovah’s Witness.

I didn’t have ham or Pepperami in my packed lunches (I brought homemade goulash in a thermos.)

When I wrote an essay for a school project, I wrote about going to “shul” (synagogue) on Saturday and the teacher outlined the word in red and said, “What is this?!”

Then one day, my friend Miki who lived next door to me, who I spent hours playing with, making up dances with, having sleepovers and midnight feasts with, found out that I was Jewish.

I didn’t know that she didn’t know. And I didn’t know that it would make any difference — until she threw a note over our fence.

I opened it up. “F*ck off you dirty Jew” she had written. I’ll never forget the feelings I felt reading that — angry, scared, lonely, and ashamed.

And so my experience of antisemitism began, at the ripe old age of 11.

I learned to hide my Star of David necklace inside my shirt in public

I learned not to tell people that I was Jewish, and when I started at my Jewish secondary school in Camden Town, I learned that I had so much more to learn.

I learned that the two neighbouring schools, Chichester and Holloway, had a favorite pastime at lunch break called “Jump the fence & beat up some Jews.” One girl had her throat slit with a piece of wire one lunch break.

I learned that people you have never met before in your life will want to follow you back from school and pull flick knives on you.

I learned that during the winter months when it gets dark early, you need to leave school in groups and run to the train station as fast as possible.

I learned to watch out for snowballs because the kids throwing them were filling them with rocks.

And I learned that some people hold the belief that “Hitler should have finished the job” and that I should “f*ck off back where I came from.”

And still, at 21 years old, when I left the UK for good and finally went back where I came from, it was still not okay.

It is still not okay in the eyes of the world.  F*cking off back to where I came from is apparently not okay.

If you look up the list of expulsions and exoduses of Jews on Wikipedia, it stretches as far back as 733 BCE when we were first kicked out of Israel (then known as “Samaria”) by the Assyrian Empire.

And if you look up the expulsion of the Jews from Israel about 2,000 years ago, you’ll see they were dispersed to every country on earth, known as the Jewish Diaspora.

And millions of us, through the ages, have been trying to get back here ever since.

When I was looking into all the countries that Jews have been expelled from, I learned that the number 109 is a white supremacist numeric shorthand for an antisemitic claim that Jews have been expelled from 109 different countries.

This has also led to the use of the number 110 by white supremacists, the idea being that the United States should be the next, 110th place to expel the Jews.

So when I was told to  f*ck off back where I came from, did they mean one of these 109 places that has expelled us? Or do they have something else in mind?

Sometimes, I’ll have a networking Zoom call with someone who isn’t Jewish and doesn’t really understand what I’m doing here.

They will innocently ask me “What made you move to Israel?” and I honestly don’t know how to reply.

Often the discussion will progress to me telling them that Jews make up a mere 0.2% of the population and have literally ONE country that they know they cannot be kicked out of ever again. That percentage always shocks people (“I had no idea there were so few of you”).

Sometimes I’ll tell them the stories of growing up and experiencing antisemitism. And I’ll get these shocked responses of “This happened in England?? I had no idea!”

And sometimes I’ll explain that the family history that we have traced so far shows that we have been expelled from Germany, Poland, Russia, and Lithuania and who know where before then.

But that it all began here. In the one, tiny land where the Jewish race all began.

I have no other land.

And I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Even in a time of war; especially in a time of war.

What other country in the world ends up being thrust into a war and has an immediate, frantic influx of citizens trying desperately to get home so that they can go defend their country and their people?

Here is my home; here, I don’t have to hide my Jewishness or be ashamed. Here, I don’t have to explain at all.

And today we celebrate 27 years of living here, in this miraculous, magical unicorn of a country that is like nowhere else on earth. Happy “aliyahversary” to us.

אין לי ארץ אחרת

גם אם אדמתי בוערת

רק מילה בעברית חודרת

אל עורקיי, אל נשמתי

בגוף כואב, בלב רעב

כאן הוא ביתי

About the Author
My name is Sarah Raanan & I’m a business coach & a content creator. I'm a dreamer, an introvert, an artist, a great listener, tech geek, writer, book-worm, movie maven, challah-baker, travel addict, lover of good cars and podcasts. I can be quite shy to start off but once you get me going we will never be stuck for conversation. Unless you want to discuss maths and running. Then I'm out.
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