Why I am making aliya

The jury is still out on where it is safer to live as a Jew in the 21st century.

By CALEV BENDER
December 20, 2005 00:07
4 minute read.

 
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England has given me a lot: a good liberal enlightened education; a healthy respect for - yet suspicion of - authority; the patience to stand in queues without complaining. I have a fantastic family, wonderful friends and live in a beautiful area. London provides a platform for tolerance and multiculturalism, of respect for differing faiths and opinions, places of culture and entertainment - galleries, cinemas and cafes. It's hosting the Olympics, has little unemployment and offers good social and financial opportunities for young professionals. So why I am leaving this to move to what many people consider a war zone? The issue of safety is perhaps not as clear cut as it may seem. Despite the fact people live a relatively normal life in Israel, there are definitely safer places to be. Things we take for granted in Britain (or did before 7/7) - being safe on public transport, people loving life instead of glorifying death - are not as certain in a place which has experienced suicide bombings in buses, cafes, clubs and university campuses. And no one knows how Israel will deal with the very real existential threat that a nuclear Iran would pose. Yet if you would have told the Anglo-Jewish community a decade ago that synagogues would be burned and cemeteries defaced in the UK they would have been shocked. And no one knows if the slow rise to power and influence of those who thrive on anti-Zionism and Israel-bashing, and the increasing influence of those who see Jewish conspiracies behind every policy they dislike, is a harbinger of things to come. In short, I think the jury is still out on the case of where it is safer to live as a Jew in the 21st century. FOR ME, aliya is more an issue of being in a place where the national holidays are Jewish, the culture is Jewish, a country where even the football commentator on Saturday TV wishes people a Shabbat Shalom (so I'm told.) It's a place where you can walk down Shimon, Levi and Gad streets, pass through the Kings of Judea and the Rabbis of the Middle Ages streets and get to the date of the partition plan via modern Israeli poets and writers streets. Its somewhere where the phrase B'ezrat Hashem - with God's help - can be used by someone eating hametz on Pessah, where you can walk through Jerusalem's Old City and be fulfilling the dreams of a hundred generations, where Israeli phrases conjure up images of Biblical verses; it's a country still finding its feet, an as yet undefined society. And yes of course there are problems. The conflict with the Palestinians, what years of wars and checkpoints have done to Israeli youth, what future withdrawals from the West Bank and probably east Jerusalem will do to an already strained society. The question of the relationship between religion and state, how Shabbat should be celebrated, how a Jewish state deals with the gap between rich and poor and how a halacha written and developed in exile can be relevant to a modern 21st century state. And on top of all of this is the very real issue of how best to integrate the Israeli Arab population and the numerous waves of Jewish immigration from the former Soviet Union, as well as creating a joint identity for people from over 70 different countries who have all found their home in Israel. But when all is said and done, I would rather be in the thick of things then clapping or shouting from the sidelines, to lend my voice (however small) to a cause or idea I believe in, than to be 3,000 miles away complaining. No one knows what the future brings, and if things don't turn out the way I would like, London is a great place to live and raise a family. But for 2,000 years, the Jewish people had a dream that was put into action over a century ago by Zionism, a modern day version of Jewish nationalism. Zionism had a vision - to create a modern liberal state where Jews could be safe, where never again would they be unprotected, a democracy in an area that has never known freedom, a state where the Jewish language and culture (and religion) could develop and flourish. And despite the many successes socially, technologically and democratically, that experiment is not yet over and the battle to shape Israel in the way we want still continues; and the only place where that battle can be fought is from within. Maybe this is all a bit ideological. Maybe it's enough just to say that I am moving to a hot climate, with a beach, friendly people and lots of humus. You earn less, but at least people speak to you on public transport. People may be slightly rude (or more open) but strangers will go out of their way to help if you are ever in trouble. When friends of mine ran out of petrol in the middle of nowhere, a car of strangers drove them for miles to the nearest station and then back. In England, people would either be too indifferent or scared to stop. I am off on 25 December, the first day of hanukka, and I can't wait!

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