Israel is still rough around the edges

Only Israel is a Jewish place but as appealing as this idea might be to the Zionist mind, there is still the daily reality of living here.

By HAROLD BERMAN
February 11, 2009 09:26
4 minute read.

 
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This past August, I transformed a dream into reality. I made aliya. Although my first trip to Israel was just seven years ago, I quickly fell in love with the country, returned several times, and finally, with my family, decided to make the change from visitor to citizen. So it is with some sadness that I read David Teich's recent article ("Why I'm heading back to the US," February 3), in which he describes how his struggles with an impossible and corrupt Israeli mind-set, an unwelcoming hi-tech job market and an unwillingness to accommodate his limited Hebrew skills have given him no choice but to head back to the United States. It is not my purpose to criticize Teich. He, no doubt, has his reasons and has thought about them at length. As a new oleh, however, I know that there is much more to Israel, Israelis and aliya. Like Teich, my aliya did not come without sacrifice. I gave up a successful tenure as a federation executive director in Springfield, Massachusetts, a wonderful community filled with caring people. My wife gave up positions on the music faculties of two Massachusetts colleges. Fortunately, like so many other olim we know, we have found work in our fields. As Teich points out, not everyone achieves this. However, with enough persistence, I believe it is possible for most olim to make it here. There are many employers who are open to hiring olim, and some who even seek out olim, as was the case for both my wife and me. STILL, WHY would I give up a great career path as a Jewish communal leader in the US if Israel is truly such a difficult country as Teich describes? It's simple. This place - and only this place - is our destiny as Jews. Daniel Gordis, in If a Place Can Make You Cry, says it best: "Israel is not just a place - it's a story. And it's not just any story - it's our story, your story, the story of where we've come from, and the story of where we're going. It's a story that our people have been telling for a long time, and we feel a need to be a part of it." The US is a wonderful place. It has taken in millions from around the world and given them freedom and hope, including several generations of my family. It offers opportunities available nowhere else on Earth. But as a Jew, Israel offers me what no other country, including the US, can - to be able to seize the first opportunity we Jews have had in the past 2,000 years to live as Jews in a sovereign Jewish country, and together create a Jewish civilization. Here, I not only get to watch this Jewish story as it unfolds. I get to be part of it. No price can be put on that. In many an American Jewish home, there is a prominently placed picture of the Western Wall or Jerusalem. This picture makes the statement that its owner is connected to the Jewish homeland. It would be unusual, however, to find a corresponding picture in an Israeli home of Teaneck, Boca Raton or even Boro Park. It is not because these aren't wonderful places, brimming with amazing people and Jewish energy. They are. They are places where one can build a good Jewish life. They are places with a lot of Jews. But only Israel is a Jewish place. AS APPEALING as this idea might be to the Zionist mind, there is still the daily reality of living here. One must pay the bills, adjust to a new culture and be separated from family and friends. I confess that I often find it hard to navigate a culture I don't understand. I get frustrated by banks that charge twice the fees and are open half the hours as in the US. I get annoyed every time an Israeli cuts ahead of everyone else in line as if, yes, he really is the most important person in the world. I admit to mild anxiety attacks when the electric bill arrives, and my limited Hebrew sends me running to my neighbor to help me decipher it sometime before they turn off the lights. Much of this is simply the consequence of my having voluntarily become a new immigrant. For that, I remind myself that it is my responsibility, not Israel's, to put in the hard work necessary to adapt to my new environment. And I must be grateful for the many things this country does to help its new immigrants, more than most countries, including the US. The remainder is the consequence of living in a country that is still rough around the edges because it is still developing, still fighting hostile neighbors, still deciding just what its borders should look like and still grappling with its very identity. It is this part, the part that can be the most frustrating, that makes me especially glad I'm here. Only by being here can I directly help shape Israel's story, no matter how modest my contribution might be. The more challenging the country's problems make it to live here, the more I need to be here to be a part of this story, the greatest Jewish story to come along in a few thousand years. The writer is the director of international development for the Feuerstein Center in Jerusalem. He made aliya in August from Springfield, Massachusetts, with his wife and two children.

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