When, at the end of the 19th century, two of my Lithuanian great-grandfathers
emigrated from eastern Europe to Leeds and Edinburgh, respectively, they could
little have dreamed that just over 100 years later they would have well over 100
grandchildren and great-grandchildren living in the sovereign State of
When they died in the 1930s, the Holocaust had not yet taken
place, they were probably still in contact with many of their distant relatives
in eastern Europe, while the idea of an independent Jewish state would have
been, even given their strong Lithuanian anti-Hassidic religious beliefs,
nothing short of Messianic.
And while their many descendants underwent
the classical Jewish immigration process and became successful in almost all
walks of life within a single generation, the majority of them opted to leave
their comfortable lifestyles in the UK and, at various stages, emigrated to
Both among the real pioneers, who came at the time of the
establishment of the state to found a kibbutz in the Galilee (Beit Ha’emek) or
to work as a doctor in the transit camps and then to found the nursing school at
Hadassah Hospital, and the many others that followed in a steady stream
throughout the ensuing decades, there was never a question that living in Israel
was a much more meaningful and fulfilling way of fully expressing their Jewish
Even after two and three generations of living in England,
successfully integrating into the worlds of religion, education, academia,
commerce, business and even public office, never fearing or being affected by
anti-Semitism, living comfortable, middle class lives, part of a proud and
self-confident Jewish community – Israel always beckoned on the
These olim and their many descendants are to be found everywhere
in Israel, from right-wing settlements in the West Bank to left-wing kibbutzim
and urban neighborhoods, in Orthodox and secular communities, in Jerusalem,
Netanya, Rehovot, Petah Tikva, Ra’anana, Efrat, Metar, Kfar Haroeh, the Galilee
and the Negev, with a diversity of lifestyles and opinions which reflects
Israeli society. But they all have one thing in common – they all see Israel as
their “natural” home.
Almost all of the younger “sabra” generations have
opted to stay – indeed, it has never even been a question to consider relocation
elsewhere. Just as their parents’ and grandparents’ generations came here
because of a conscious and positive desire to be part of the Jewish state, not
because of any form of persecution or anti-Semitism, so too the younger
generations see Israel as the only place to live, study, work, serve in the
army, marry and beget their own children. It is, for them, such an obvious
reality that it is not even open to question.
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THAT DOES not mean to say
that we are not critical of the country and the way in which it has developed.
Among the extended ex-British family, arguably the largest single clan (hamula)
residing in Israel today (although there may be challengers to this), there are
right-wingers who believe that the government is surrendering to external
influences and that the entire Land belongs to the Jewish people.
are the left-wingers who believe that the continuation of occupation and the
denial of Palestinian sovereignty will threaten the security and the demography
of the Jewish state in the future. There are the Orthodox who believe that the
state has become too secular, and there are the secular who believe that the
state is slowly being taken over by the religious.
Ashkenazi-Sephardi intermarriage has taken place as our children and
grandchildren meet at school, in the army, at university and in the synagogues,
bringing with it a richness of hybrid customs and traditions. The difference in
backgrounds, traditions, food preferences and family histories becomes a matter
of interest and humor for the younger generations seeking their family genealogy
or comparing different customs around the Passover Seder, rather than a point of
dissension. We have all become part of this amazing Jewish mosaic
gathered here in the State of Israel.
When Israeli colleagues ask me what
made me and my family decide to leave our comfortable homes and lifestyles in
the Diaspora to voluntarily come to live in Israel, we don’t really understand
the question. We tell them that it was part of our Jewish upbringing, that it
was the education we received at home, in school, in the synagogues and in the
Zionist youth movements. It was part of the natural course of things, inherently
part of our Jewish identity and lifestyle, not something special or unique.
Moving to Israel was always an option.
We came as tourists, as students
(university or yeshiva), as kibbutz volunteers, as youth leaders and, at one
point, to stay for good. The fact that we already had relatives here, that we
understood Hebrew, and that England – as compared to the USA or Australia – is
only a four-hour flight away, probably helped. It was one of life’s automatic
choices, always to be considered.
One of the famous Beatles songs (at the
height of their fame as I was growing up as a young child in Britain) is
entitled “when I’m 64.” The lyrics of the first stanza read: “When I get older
losing my hair / Many years from now / Will you still be sending me a valentine
/ Birthday greetings bottle of wine / When I’m 64?” As Israel celebrates its
64th birthday, all of my extended English hamula throughout Israel are still
very much in love with the country of our choice. We suffered the bureaucracy of
the immigration process (Israel loves aliya but doesn’t like olim), wax
nostalgic over British customs and culture, even food (not least marmite), left
behind – although whenever we visit the “old country” we are reminded just how
advanced and progressive is the country we chose to live in over the one we
But even though many of us have lost, or are slowly losing, our
hair, the love at 64 remains as intense as ever. For one day, it seems
irrelevant that the country doesn’t always meet all of our expectations, or that
the policies of this government (or the other one, depending on who is in power)
are wrong. Precisely because we are lovers, because the emotional attachment is
so strong, our disappointment with many aspects of political and social life of
our lover is so intense.
This week we will write our Valentine Cards to
the State of Israel, raise a toast to its continued success and prosperity, and
then get back to the daily struggle, as each sees fit, of making it a better,
more just, more moral, more enlightened place to bequeath to the next
generations.Happy 64th Birthday, Israel The writer is dean of the
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The
views expressed are his alone.
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