Why Come? Why Stay?

Many years ago, in the wee hours of a still dark dawn, I stood on the tarmac with many others to welcome the arriving flights carrying Ethiopian Jews home to Israel. I helped elderly men and women walk down the gang-plank. I carried babies in my arms to the safety awaiting them on the ground. We all cried “shalom shalom. Bruchim ha-ba-im l’Yisrael’… greetings, greetings, welcome to Israel… amidst our many flowing tears of happiness.

The Ethiopian new immigrants were silent and frightened. It had been their first plane trip. It had been their first time out of their native villages. It was a new language. Not black people but only white people were waiting for them. They were happy but traumatized.

The Jewish agency arranged some forms of temporary housing for them. Everything was new. They had not had electricity in their former homes. They did not know how to use a toilet. They had never seen a stove, a refrigerator, a microwave. It was a new world for them. But they came because of centuries of yearning to return to Zion.

Over the years, the young generation and those Ethiopians who were born here, have made remarkable adjustments. They are fluent in Hebrew, serve in our army, have jobs and better homes and in spite of some discrimination against them, they appear to be a happy people living in the land of promise.

When the Russians arrived, I was also on the tarmac to greet them. Many of them spoke halting Hebrew but their tears of joy, their laughter, warmed them and us as they disembarked from the planes. Most of them had good educations, were trained professionals and eager to continue their lives in their new land.

More than forty percent of the Russian arrivals were not halachic Jews nor Jews at all. Many were Christians married to Jews which allowed them the privileges of olim… new immigrants. Over the years, many have been successful in re-establishing careers in medicine, dentistry, engineering and music. They earn good salaries, live in nice homes and have integrated well into Israeli society.

The Ethiopians came to fulfill ancient dreams. The Russians came seeking freedom from former Soviet oppression.

And now the French are coming. I had opportunity to speak with two French professionals, one a medical doctor, an endocrinologist, and the other, a dentist. The first had been living in Raanana for six years and felt out of place. It was not a “warm” community such as his native Marseilles. People were not openly friendly. For the first four years in his new country, he was unable to find work in medicine. At first, his licenses had to be examined. It took one and one-half years for the “examination” to approve them. His Hebrew was sufficient but he could not find a position as an endocrinologist. For the next two years he was able to find a less-than-satisfactory position in a hospital laboratory. And finally, in his sixth year in Israel he obtained a position in a Tel-Aviv suburban hospital. He is happy but he is bitter. Why did I have to leave France to come here, he asks.

The dentist had been practicing in America for twenty-five years and was assured by Nefesh b’Nefesh that he would definitely find work shortly after his arrival. He spoke Hebrew very well. He lived with his daughter and her family in a lovely home in Mod’in. But after more than a year in Israel, he still had no work. “Why in the world did I have to come to Israel? I was doing just fine in America”. And seven months later he packed his bag and returned to the United States.

After a few months, he received a letter offering him a position in a dental clinic not far from his daughter’s home. So he re-packed his bags and returned to Israel. He is working in his profession, earning much less than he earned in America, but is happy here.

Many of the French who are here arrived before the troubles in France began. They were a wealthy group of people who built luxury villas and apartments in Netanya, Herzliya, Ashdod and Ashkelon. They kept to their French-speaking compatriots, spoke little Hebrew, made frequent trips abroad, and enjoyed the good life on the shores of the Mediterranean.

Now we expect a new French arrival. Not out of love of Zion. Not out of a dream to settle in their ancient homeland. But out of fear and desperation due to the rising anti-Semitism in all of France and because of the great tragedy last week in Paris. La ville de lumiere… the great city of lights… was turned into dens of darkness. We have no Eiffel Tower but we do have a tower of love. We have no Louvre but our Israel Museum is a glorious building filled with the history and objects of our ancient people both here and in lands of their dispersion. When you arrive here, you will see a different world. It may take some adjustments to the changes but very quickly you will be one of us and we will love and respect you for joining us.

The attack by radical Muslims was not aimed at Jews this time, but rather at France who they see as their enemy. France defeated the Muslims in Tours in 732. I doubt that France can defeat the Muslims today. They are many, well-armed, well-motivated, with a purpose.They are not located in one place where it is easy to find and destroy them. Radical Islam has become a global epidemic.

But for whatever reason French Jews decide to make Aliyah and to become a part of the Israeli people, we wish them a bienvenue…a warm and hearty welcome home to “la patrie”… the Jewish homeland.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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