Gabi made Aliyah on 24 December 2014, the last day of Chanukah.
He is one of the first people who I made friends with and absolutely the first one
who ate a crocodile and dog in his life.

"I was born born and raised in London and continue a line of British Jews who arrived in the UK as Portuguese immigrants in the late 1700s. I grew up in a family which was unceasingly proud of its Jewish heritage and from an early age was encouraged by my parents to develop a strong bond with Israel, first coming at age 7 and visiting it some 25 times in his 29 years.
Before arriving in Israel I received a BA (Hons) in Management & Psychology from the University of Leeds and an MSc in Real Estate Development & Urban Planning from University College London. I went on to work for the French Investment Bank BNP Paribas in their Real Estate Consultancy business ultimately being admitted to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors in 2011. I later joined my father in our Health & Fitness business, helping to build and run a boutique gymnasium in Hertfordshire and an international training business. Over the past 8 years my family moved to the USA. I was excited to be a part of this journey and join them to build a life in The States. Before doing so, however, I wanted to spend six months living in Israel, a country I had loved for so long and yet had never lived in for longer than a month. Another fact about me is that despite growing up in a traditional but secular family, at 21 I decided to pursue a more observant lifestyle, living for the next 7 years as a part of North West London’s Charedi community. I chose to spend my 6 months, therefore, studying in a Yeshiva in Jerusalem further developing my relationship with Judaism’s ancient texts and using the time to introspect and meditate upon some of life’s greatest questions.

Being in Israel for the duration of ‘Tzuk Eitan’, Israel’s defensive war with Hamas, had a profound an unexpected effect on my identity and life decisions. As I found myself joining the rest of the country running to bomb shelters as thousands of missiles were aimed at Israel’s population centers (which included me) I started to realize that I was connected to the people of Israel in a much deeper way than I had ever previously been conscious of. As I rode the wave of unity that swept the country, I felt more connected than ever before, frantically checking the news of where missiles had hit and cheering in unison with those around me as the Iron Dome once again saved lives, feeling surges of pride at Israel’s ingenuity and crying simultaneously that such devastation was tragically being caused in Gaza by IDF responses. As the war raged on and the increasing death toll in Gaza became apparent I knew that, despite my firm belief that the IDF were acting to neutralize the threat posed to Israel, that the residents of Gaza were dying in the name of Israeli safety and that also included me. The entire war was an emotionally intense experience and yet this was only the beginning.

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I remember the feeling in my stomach as the news was announced that soldiers were to enter Gaza. Everyone was quiet and pensive. The atmosphere was thick. Sadly, before long news reached me of the deaths of young soldiers killed in the fighting. It was immediately painful. When news arrived that a young lone soldier, by the name of Max Steinberg, had been killed in the fighting the Yeshiva, in which I was studying, decided to attend his funeral. The numbers in attendance at Max’s funeral were astonishing to behold. The news eventually estimated there to be over 30,000 people but for me the mass of people was not quantitatively surprising but rather qualitatively. As I stood there waiting in the bright, beating midday sun for the funeral to commence I suddenly became aware that the Israeli people that are so normally divided suddenly seemed undoubtedly unified. Charedi men in black suits and hats stood next to secular women in clothing that reflected the heat of the summer; young, old, all manner of skin tones, soldiers, policemen, doctors, dentists, residents, tourists, Jerusalemites and those that had travelled for many miles. They were all there to say goodbye, together, as one people to Israel’s fallen soldier and son. All shapes and sizes and colours of Israel's marvelous tapestry of expression, all united by their sense of community, their knowledge that deep down, despite out external differences, we are all in this together. I was at once deeply sad and pained at the loss of Max and yet proud and comforted that at least there, at Har Hertzl, at this final resting place of Israel's warrior sons and daughters, we had remembered that we are one people with one heart.

The euologies commenced and one person after another stepped forward to tell of Max. His personality, his uniqueness, his strengths and his vision. How did Max Steinberg, born in LA, find himself on the front lines of this war? MK Dov Lipman told the mourners that Max’s first trip to Israel had only been two years ago, with a Taglit-Birthright trip and that there, in the very place that we had come to mourn his loss, he had seen the grave of a fallen soldier who had come from America to fight for Israel. Max returned to California and told his parents that Israel was beautiful, that he loved its people, that he wanted to emigrate there and that he wanted to voluntarily join the IDF. I felt my mind and my heart start to burn. A lump formed in my throat. Here I was, having already been in the country for three months and having visited tens of times before and I was treating it like just another holiday and there was Max Steinberg who came only once and decided he wanted to join and fight for his country. I started to question my Jewish identity, my relationship to Israel and my very self. More than ever before I felt a part of the Jewish people, a part of their journey and a part of the State of Israel. As I walked through the streets silently, amongst the crowds of mourners, I knew that at age 29, it was time to make a move. Yet, thoughts and dreams are just that. The path to actualizing them is never straight and simple. I began to grapple with the practicalities of my desire to live in Israel. What about a job? What about money? What about my family? What about security? What about moving to the USA? Things started not to make sense. On one Friday night, I was sat with a family of Olim Chadashim from England whom I had grown close to. I shared with them my dilemma, to which they related immediately. They informed me in no uncertain terms that my approach, while seemingly sensible, was unfortunately flawed.

“You can’t ask the question ‘Israel or England, Israel or the USA’” they said, “You can’t compare your life might be like in Chutz L’Aretz to what it might be like here” they told me “because the reality is that in almost all of the categories you are considering, Israel will likely lose… you won’t make as much money here, you won’t be near your family, you won’t have the same career trajectory and you will have to learn a whole new language. If you ask ‘Israel or…’ then Israel will never win. The only question you must ask is” they said “‘Is it Israel?’ and if it is, then that’s the answer you go with and you come here and make it work.” So I asked myself “Is it Israel?” and the answer was “Yes it is”.

A few days later I started the process of Aliyah and eight weeks later I became a fully fledged and proud citizen of the State of Israel. For me, the entire experience of last summer seems surreal and a long time ago yet I am still riding the wave of emotions and passion that caused me to want to live here. In and amongst the frustrations of adapting to a new life in a new country and some of those which are unique to Israel, I still smile every time I walk outside, get on a bus or see life in Israel unfolding before me.

While I no longer define myself as Orthodox, I remain a proud, conscientious and spiritually motivated part of the Jewish people and I am hugely energized by the full range of expression that Israel affords me. I know that I have much work to do to integrate myself into the country fully and I am tackling the first of those obstacles by learning and living in the Jewish Agency’s Ulpan Etzion in Jerusalem. In the afternoons I work with Jewish Interactive, a leading Educational Technology Non-Profit creating accessible, affordable and engaging Judaic Studies for the English speaking world.

What about the future?
My love is people. I love to help them be happier, less stressed, more productive and to have better relationships. I use a variety of insights techniques to do so and I am learning more at the moment. Eventually I want to work with Israelis to find that space beyond circumstances and to help them lead more enriched and peaceful lives".

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