In January I began my nineteenth year in Israel. I made Aliyah in order to stop being part of a minority in a multicultural, yet Christian-rooted, Australia. I wanted to live in my state, with all the trappings of statehood – anthem, flag and state symbol. I wanted to be able to take my destiny into my own hands, to make the news – and not simply read it. I wanted to be part of a Jewish majority, which wielded Jewish power, and created its own history – rather than have it dictated to it by those around it. I even made Aliyah on my birthday, considering my Aliyah to be a new birthday of sorts and not wanting to bother with two celebrations.
Almost two decades later, reflecting on why I am still here, my reasons are somewhat different. There are three key reasons why I live in Israel: Jewish heritage, Hebrew culture and Jewish geography.
I continue to live here because of the choice of synagogues and shiurim (Jewish text study classes) which enrich my Jewish life. The general community in which I live, with institutions like the Hartman Institute, Yakar, Pardes, the Begin Center (which also offers Jewish programming), Shira Hadasha, and Beit Shmuel provides a Jewish framework which is both intensely Jewish, while at the same time being moderate and deeply humanistic.
I am in Israel because this is the center of a new modern Hebrew culture. Instead of waiting with bated breath for the next Israeli performer to come to town, here I can see movies like Footnote as soon as they are released, watch Prisoners of War (Hatufim) on a weekly basis, without worrying about Internet streaming or subtitles, enjoy original Hebrew theater, such as Alma Ve’Rut, and walk into any bookstore and buy Asaf Inbari’s Ha’Bayta (which to be honest, I have not managed to finish reading)! Here, I am immersed in Hebrew culture each and every day.
Finally, my life here is about Jewish geography – not in the sense of familiar faces but rather in terms of Jewish history. I live up the road from the Temple Mount, the City of David and the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. And I live only a short drive away from Emek Ha’Ela, Bar Kochba caves such as at Hirbet Midras, and even Masada. The cradle of the Jewish people is in my backyard. I love this land.
With that said, being in Israel has given me a greater appreciation for Jewish history and life in the Diaspora. The longer I am here, the prouder I am of my Diaspora roots, and the more I understand the beauty of the heterogenous nature of Diaspora Jewish living during more than two millennia of history. Living here, the idea of Shelilat Ha’Galut (Negation of the Exile) not only seems anachronistic to me – it is downright offensive.
Also, being here has made me more secure in my Jewish identity. Without the fear of assimilation, Christianity and other religions and cultures can now be beautiful phenomena, which I can truly appreciate. Instead of shying away from any connection with things like Christmas, I can now value that which is external to Judaism, recognize its beauty, and not fear it as a threat to my own identity.
Almost 20 years on I am still in Israel. Even though my reasons for staying here have changed dramatically since coming, I am still thankful that I made the decision to move here.