In Israel, the past few weeks epitomize the contrasting emotions of sadness and
exhilaration which embody the life of the Jewish people. We experience
profoundly mixed sentiments when, after Passover, we successively commemorate
Holocaust Day, mourn and honor those who sacrificed their lives to defend the
Jewish state on Yom Hazikaron, and switch into rejoicing 24 hours later as we
celebrate the miraculous rebirth of our nationhood on Independence
These events have a particular resonance for those who made aliya
from Western countries, and encourage us to reminisce. I hope I will not bore
readers by sharing personal musings and a retrospective review as to whether my
decision to settle in Israel was vindicated.
I was fortunate to grow up
in Australia, a spectacular country with a magnificent quality of life. My
parents arrived in Melbourne on one of the last boats to leave Belgium on the
eve of the Second World War, and many of my family members perished during the
Shoah. I grew up in a religious Zionist household within a thriving, committed
Jewish community which was enriched by refugees and survivors from the Shoah and
which had a formative impact on my Jewish identity.
After graduating from
university I came to Israel, but my aliya was short-lived because my father
suddenly passed away, obliging me to return to Melbourne and manage the family
Engaged in public Jewish life from my student days, I
ultimately assumed leadership of the Australian Jewish community and a global
Jewish role as one of the senior heads of the World Jewish Congress.
my 20s, I was recruited by the late Shaul Avigur, the principal Israeli
orchestrating the global campaign to free Soviet Jewry. This dominated my life
for many years and involved major international diplomacy including direct
relations with leading Soviet officials as well as refuseniks and
Despite my arrest and expulsion from the Soviet Union,
ironically I was the first Jewish leader invited to return and report on
President Gorbachev’s glasnost revolution. This led to initiating the first
Hebrew song festival and establishing the first Jewish cultural center in Moscow
since the Bolshevik Revolution. Witnessing firsthand the miraculous achievements
of a few hundred courageous Soviet Jews profoundly reinforced my Zionist
My Soviet involvement and subsequent collaboration with Israeli
authorities in establishing diplomatic relations with China and India led to
frequent meetings with Israeli prime ministers and political officials. This
obliged me to visit Israel as often as five or six times a year – no mean feat
considering Australia’s geographical isolation which, prior to direct El Al
flights to the Far East, entailed at least 30 hours of travel, backhauling
Thus, when my children implemented their Zionist
upbringing and began making aliya, my wife and I needed little encouragement to
purchase a Jerusalem apartment and divide our time between Australia and Israel.
We soon concluded that this arrangement was utterly destabilizing, and sold our
home in Australia and made aliya.
This move took place during the
euphoric period when many of us were convinced that nothing could undo the
“irreversible peace process.” But shortly after settling in Jerusalem we found
ourselves at the center of the second intifada.
This was a radical
culture shock and nerve-racking experience, with suicide bombings being a
frequent occurrence, often in close proximity to our home. But we consoled
ourselves that we had made the right decision as we visualized life in Australia
relying on long-distance telephone calls to maintain contact with our children
every time an incident occurred.
Like all olim we endure the
frustrations: bureaucracy continues to irritate me; Israeli drivers are among
the worst and most stressed in the world; and I still desperately miss Sunday as
a day of leisure complementing Shabbat.
I also soon realized that
referring to Israelis and Diaspora Jews as one people was somewhat
simplistic. There are strong ties between Diaspora Jewry and Israel and
yes, Jewish identity is primarily based on Israel, but our lifestyles are
FOR OTHER than the most committed Jews, being Jewish
in the Diaspora is somewhat incidental. Israeli Jews, including those
devoid of traditional values, live in a pulsating Jewish state in which the
Hebrew language, culture and the national holidays create a unique Jewish
lifestyle, which Diaspora Jews can never experience.
It is impossible to
ever become bored in Israel. Travelling on a bus or a train one rarely
sees an Israeli instinctively turn to the back of the newspaper to see the most
recent sports results before catching up on the latest news. The reality is that
Israelis, confronted with the burning issues facing us, cannot appreciate the
relaxed environment of life in the Diaspora.
Additionally, while 18- to
20-year-old Jewish students in the Diaspora are enjoying the best years of their
lives in universities, their Israeli counterparts are serving in the IDF, many
facing life threatening experiences. No Diaspora Jew can appreciate the tension
borne by Israeli parents and families when their sons serve in combat
Thus, when meeting friends with whom we had grown up, we
frequently discover that we no longer share the same world outlook and that our
priorities in life have irrevocably changed.
While not anticipating
imminent mass aliya from Western countries, the exponential growth of anti-
Semitism in Europe will undoubtedly encourage more aliya from those who do not
wish to see their children live in societies that treat them as pariahs.
Undoubtedly, many will settle here and an ever-growing proportion of world Jewry
will be domiciled in Israel.
However, despite assimilation and
anti-Semitism, large numbers of Jews will always remain in the Diaspora,
especially in strong Jewish communities of North America. We must respect them
and encourage them to strengthen their Jewish identity.
remain our most important ally and have frequently made major contributions
toward strengthening our relationships with their host governments. We
Israelis can glean enormous benefit by tapping into the rich range of
intellectual, cultural, economic and political talent they
represent. Indeed, some of them have proven more adept at promoting our
case to the world than our own representatives.
My advice to committed
Jews residing in more enlightened countries like the US, Canada and Australia
who are seriously contemplating aliya – if you can afford to make the move, it
is worth the effort, because nothing can remotely match the fulfillment of
Jewish life experienced by living in Israel.
And in a Jewish state where
children automatically receive a Jewish education, you are far more likely to
maintain Jewish continuity than in the Diaspora where there is no immunity to
the ravages of assimilation and intermarriage.
When my wife and I review
our aliya, we say with considerable pride and satisfaction that we have never,
even momentarily, regretted our decision – notwithstanding the trials and
tribulations we endured like all Israelis, and despite the unanticipated threats
that challenge us today. In fact, as we look back, our sole regret is that we
failed to come much earlier.