I am not a person who frequents weekend seminars and group events, so it was with
some trepidation that last week I attended a reunion of ex-British olim, mostly,
but not exclusively, who had come to Israel in the 1970s and 1980s and had been
friends and acquaintances in the Bnei Akiva movement in the UK during that
A small group, some 20-plus couples, assembled for a Shabbat at a
hotel in Netanya to revive memories and share experiences of having lived most
of our adult lives in Israel. Being in our late fifties and early sixties, many
are already thinking about impending retirement and beginning to make plans for
It was not as though we were getting together after a period
of total detachment. Most had remained in contact over the years, but this was
an opportunity to relive experiences from almost 40 years ago, to remind
ourselves of what we were like long before we took on responsible jobs, built
houses, educated and married off our own children and, perhaps most
significantly, to reflect on our respective aliya experiences with a mixture of
nostalgia, irony and humor.
Put together by veteran olim Larry and Judy
Freedman, residents of Hashmonaim, the group came together from the width and
breadth of the country.
From Kibbutz Bet Rimon in the north to Pardes
Hanna to Petach Tikva and Hashmonaim in the center of the country, to Jerusalem,
Gush Etzion and south to Metar in the Northern Negev.
The group remained
largely, but not exclusively, homogeneous in its religious Zionist character,
and it was clear that the common characteristics far outweighed the individual
differences which have developed – be they in family lifestyles, political
beliefs, or levels of religious practice – over the
Black-and-white photos of those years long gone, sharing youth
movement experiences at summer camps in the UK, or hachshara experiences on
kibbutzim in Israel, brought a great deal of laughter. Almost all of us had a
lot more hair back then, smaller stomachs and – as we suddenly realized – were
much younger at that time than most of our adult children are today.
stories we regaled each other with, especially reliving the bureaucracies of our
respective aliya experiences, were enough to create a script for an entire
comedy series – and were it not for the fact that the stories were true, an
outsider looking in would have put it all down to farfetched
Beyond the humor and the laughter, a number of common points
were clear to all.
None of us, even for the slightest moment, regretted
our decision to come and live in Israel. We did not have negative experiences
growing up in the UK, and all of us – well educated with good professions – had
the easy option to remain in the countries of our birth.
socialization of the youth movement in which we were active, and the desire to
be part of a much greater Jewish experience, had spurred us on at the time, and
30-40 years down the road, had not dissipated in any way. On the contrary, we
were all convinced that we had had the privilege af bringing up our own children
in a more independent, open and self-confident society than the one in which we
had grown up. Almost without exception, all of our children (and their children)
lived in Israel, and have absolutely no intention to move elsewhere.
laughed at the bureaucracy we had experienced as part of our aliya, when we
finally realized that living and working in the country, raising children and
building a house, was a lot different to spending a year on a kibbutz or at
yeshiva. We were all aware that we had achieved a great deal both professionally
and personally and (without being over self-satisfied) could point to an aliya
success story which is shared by tens of thousands of others who have come from
North America, Western Europe and other free countries of the West.
Friday night discussion the issue of what it meant to be an Israeli, and whether
we as a group of Anglo-Saxon olim felt Israeli, came to the surface. We
concluded that if by being Israeli one means speaking the sophisticated Hebrew
of north Tel Aviv, or reading Hebrew literature and poetry, then we – and
probably 80 percent of the population of this diverse country – were not
Israeli. But none of us felt, in any way, that we were any less Israeli than any
other group in the country and, like most other olim groups, believed we had
brought to the country a broader perspective on the world, a combination of
national identities and customs, which enriched the mosaic experience of
And this has certainly rubbed off on our children
who, most of them having been born and educated here in Israel, carry with them
the experiences and language of their parents and are better prepared to be part
of an Israel which is a player on the global stage and which has still not
entirely escaped from a sense of parochialism and insularity – which no amount
of traveling abroad by Israelis born here can change.
All of us would
recommend, without any hesitation, to those acquaintances, friends and relatives
in the UK to repeat our experience and to come live in Israel.
feelings concerning the changing nature of Western society and the growth of
anti-Semitism in these countries were not uniform – some seeing it as a greater
threat, others (like this writer) arguing that it is overplayed.
reason for our advice to come join us in Israel had little to do with the
threats – real or perceived – that may exist among the Jewish communities of the
free world. Our advice is based on our own positive experience, the feeling
that, whatever we may think about Israeli politics, about the ongoing conflict
with the Palestinians, about the new threats emanating from Iran and elsewhere,
Israel was – and remains – the place to be and to raise our
And, given the positive experience of our own lives and those
of our children, we would strongly recommend that they come now, rather than
wait for retirement when the experience is only half of what it is for people
who create their entire adult lives here.
One only has to look at the
many retirement communities of olim – many of them our parents who are now able
to enjoy being close to their children and grandchildren – in places such as
Netanya, Jerusalem and Ra’anana, to understand their regrets at not having
undertaken the move at a much earlier stage in their lives.
as to whether our aliya was the right decision is not even on the table. It is
an irrelevance, even for those of us critical of specific policies or daily
practices of the society within which we live. The youth movements of the time –
in our own group it was Bnei Akiva and the other religious youth movements, but
it equally applies to the many other movements such as Habonim, Young Judaea and
Hashomer Hatzair to mention but a few – had a much more powerful socialization
effect on us than we could even imagine at the time.
And for that we are
all thankful.The writer is dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social
Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.