Why I’m staying

North Americans can’t seem to believe they are not able to live in Israel with the same lifestyle they had in Los Angeles.

By ANDERSON D. HARKOV
October 2, 2013 21:39
Olim arrive in Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh, August 13, 2013.

Nefesh B'Nefesh aliya Aug 2013 370. (photo credit: Sasson Tiram)

 
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Periodically The Jerusalem Post prints columns by North American Jews explaining why they can’t make aliya, or why they could not stay in Israel anymore and are going back. Over a year ago the Post printed a particularly nasty column by a Jewish American in which he angrily described why he was returning to the United States. Over the past month or so two such columns have been printed.

Some of these columns are so absurd one can’t help laughing; like the woman who said Israeli children are too violent, so she was moving back to Connecticut – where children of all races, creeds and colors are mowed down by gun-toting lunatics. We’re not perfect with regard to child safety, but America is the country of Megan’s Law and other aspects of law enforcement that are needed to protect children from those who seek to do them harm. In Israel most children safely walk to school. America is also where it’s common for schools to have policeman stationed in the schools to protect the students from each other, as opposed to in Israel where security is outside the school to deter terrorists.

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However, the common theme in most of these columns is economics.

North Americans can’t seem to believe they are not able to live in Israel with the same lifestyle they had in Los Angeles, Toronto, Teaneck or Woodmere. Imagine, Israel expects American Jews to make it here without kosher Dunkin’ Donuts, 90-percent mortgages and Monday Night Football! I ORIGINALLY wrote (most of) this column a few years ago as a response to those who felt no embarrassment in publicizing their return to the Diaspora, but I never sought to publish it. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I had something interesting to say, but I basically said to myself, “Don’t be such a big shot. The same thing could happen to you.” However, time has passed and I realize that today more than ever I am determined to live in Israel despite all the difficulties.

Even the Rabbis say it is not suppose to be easy to live in Israel (and given the difficulties most of them have in making ends meet, they should know).

In the past, I was frustrated to read reports of friction between the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh and an “analysis” in the Post proclaiming American aliya to be a “zero.” So, though I write about myself, I believe I am representative of many North American olim and how they feel about their own aliya. Allow me to further add that we are not zeros. We are people who, unlike our fellow Jews still living in North America, realized we were Jews first and Americans or Canadians second, and that thus we had to live in the Jewish state. We are haredi (ultra-Orthodox), Orthodox, Masorti, Reform and yes, unabashedly secular, but we all share that same belief.

Let me just briefly add that although I have observed firsthand the professional animosity between the Jewish Agency and Nefesh B’Nefesh, the latter is the best-run Jewish organization in America, along with Birthright.



Before Natan Sharansky’s chairmanship, the Agency was embarrassed because NBN moved aliya form the back burner to the front in the American Jewish community.

NBN has also embarrassed the Agency by providing the customer service needed to accommodate those who are making aliya by choice.

The only way more Jewish Americans will realize they belong in Israel is through exposure (Birthright), Zionist education in Jewish day schools, which Israel should encourage and support, and hasbara, (public diplomacy).

This country has to be proud of itself as the Jewish and democratic state that it is. I addition, I must mention an aspect of aliya that is the proverbial elephant in the room: language. All Israelis, including the government, underestimate the difficulties Americans have in learning to speak, learn and work in Hebrew. There must be a greater emphasis on spoken Hebrew among the American Jewish community and the Israeli government has to restore funding cuts made to Ulpan programs so that those Americans who take the plunge have a better chance at succeeding. This language barrier prevents children who come as teenagers from learning and adults from obtaining reasonable employment.

Besides, Hebrew is part of the beauty of Israel’s culture.

I OFTEN muse to myself that “I love Israel, but I’m not certain Israel loves me.” It’s not easy living in Israel. Those of us who live here know all about the security situation, which in itself makes life here difficult. (It’s ironic that the world minimizes the constant threats to Israel’s security, as if Jews were suppose to live in constant fear, while Jewish Americans, maximize the security issues to provide themselves with another excuse to never visit or consider moving here.) However, for those who do make aliya, it is the economic realities that are more staggering. Inspired by a lifelong love of Israel, and a 21-year-old love of one Israeli in particular, I took the plunge in August 2007, and my wife and I have been treading water ever since.

Perhaps it was bad karma that I immediately had to return to America and be with my former fellow Jewish Americans to resolve some unfinished matters at my last job in the States. So I delayed my move another four months. Before I left friends said to remember my American salary would be cut in half, twice, working in Israel. They were wrong.

Try three times. For years I had affixed to a wall at work in the States an article written by Rivka Rosenwein titled “Mid-Life Aliya,” that made me realize the possibilities. But, as inspiring as that article was, it did not prepare me for the economics of trying to work in English in a country that speaks Hebrew.

A few years ago I was walking with a friend, complaining about the water bill, when he told me a story that reminded me why I’m here. Jerry told me his brother in law had stayed in his house for almost two weeks around Passover. His brother-in-law was very upbeat. Why? Because Barack Obama had been elected president and “that’s good for my business.” When Jerry pointed out that it was not good for Israel, his brother-in-law said, in effect, “Who cares. I live in America and if he improves my life there that is what matters.”

That one little story was what I needed to hear to remind me why I intend to live the rest of my life in Israel, why I hope with the help of God to see my daughters get married and to have grandchildren in Israel, and why I hope to grow old with my wife in Israel. (One of my daughters has already married a wonderful young man!) Because, sometime between the Bushes – the George Bushes, that is – indeed probably at the end of Bill Clinton’s second term, I no longer saw myself as a “Jewish American.” Maybe it was a particular suicide attack, maybe it was 9/11, maybe it was something somebody said. Maybe it was even another wonderful visit to Israel.

Whatever the reason, I woke up one day, and in a transformation that would have made Kafka (a Czech Jew) proud, looked in the mirror and saw – an American Jew.

DON’T GET me wrong: I had always scoured the paper for stories about Israel. But now I barely cared about causes in America I spent my whole life working for.

What mattered to me was what was good for Israel. I wanted to live in a Jewish country, to have my kids raise their kids in a country that loves children, where children can still walk to school, where the yearly calendar is the Jewish calendar, where people actually care about each other. I was tired of hearing American Jews pay lip service to their love for Israel when their credit card statements made it clear they loved Florida a hundred times more.

In the States, Jewish Americans (Orthodox, Conservative and the unaffiliated) kept telling me they never had it so good. “We are so free,” they said, as they watched their daughter leave the house with her non-Jewish boyfriend.

Even worse, I was sickened at the sight of secular Israelis who moved to America, sent their kids to public schools and never joined a synagogue, because only a “frierer,” a sucker, would pay for such things.

Then they married off their children to non-Jews and sulked their way back to synagogue when, too late, they realized their mistake.

Yes, I was tired of living in the Diaspora and tired of living with people still happy to live there. I’m staying in Israel.

Things are tough, and they might even get tougher, but I’m staying. I threw away my career voluntarily because living in Israel was more important to me. My only regret is that I should have done it 10 years earlier. I’m staying unless they throw me out of my home. Obama, the Arabs, the Left, even the European Union – they’re not getting me out of here without a fight. I’m staying because I’m no longer a Jewish American, I am an American... no, actually I’m not that either. I’m staying because I’m an Israeli and I love this crazy country! There, now you have it.

The author is a certified English tutor for Bagrut, Meitsav and Reading Fluency, a qualified guide at Yad Vashem, and a US notary specializing in appellate briefs and legal research in criminal law and procedure.

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