I’m making Aliyah because of Shiri Maimon!

Okay, well that’s only partly the reason... but I’ll get to that later. First some context.
About six months ago, I wrote a piece in the Jerusalem Post titled ‘You Want to do what? Are you mishuganeh?’ In it, I wrote how I had come to Israel on a Jewish Agency / MASA program – in part as an Aliya trial run – and that after my first seven days here, I thought I already knew what my decision would be.
In the six months subsequent, I have met some truly inspiring people from all walks of life, seen places of such beauty that words will not do them justice and been privileged to experience a side of Israel I never thought possible. Collectively, this has only reinforced my love for Israel... and decision to make Aliya.
To begin with, the opportunity to work at the Knesset – the heart and soul of Israel’s democracy and ultimate embodiment of Zionism was an enormous privilege and honour. Most days I’m still at a loss to explain how a (relatively) young Jew from Sydney Australia – with next to nil Hebrew and without actually being Israeli (just minor details) – becomes the Foreign Policy Adviser to a Member of Knesset (Anastassia Michaeli), eats schnitzel and salad with other MKs in the Knesset cafeteria and meets with delegations from Japan while his MK is stuck in traffic - experiences I will cherish always. I once said this was ‘surreal’, only to be told in response ‘not in Israel it’s not’.
Perhaps that is the essence of Israel – where the surreal becomes the real and where the dreams of today turn to reality tomorrow? How else does one explain that Israel has not just survived, but thrived beyond our wildest dream despite the innumerable threats and challenges it has, and continues to face?
I sometimes ask myself where my Zionism stems from. What draws me to this land and these people? The answer though is simple – although I come from Australia, I consider myself first and foremost a Jew and a Zionist and as such, this land and these people are also my land and my people.
When I hear the Hatikva played, I choke up without fail. For someone that can’t speak Hebrew, I know the words by heart. When it’s Yom Hazikaron, I cry although I have been lucky to have not lost any friends or family in defence of the State. And every year on Yom Hatzmaut, I am overwhelmed by an enormous sense of pride and achievement, albeit I am not Israeli.
In Australia, I led a very comfortable life by any stretch of the imagination. I had a great job as lawyer at a prestigious law firm. I was surrounded by family and friends. I could speak the language. And instead of Iran, Syria, Hamas and Co, our biggest enemy was the friendly interstate rugby rivalry.
But it dawned on me while in Israel, that my life in Sydney, as easy as it may be, and as grateful for it as I am, is not enough. I will not be satisfied to be just content. I cannot look at the treasured stone of Jerusalem and picture myself back in Australia, for this – Israel, is the source of my passion, where I belong, where my home is. It is the chance to not just be a passenger in this amazing ride, but to drive the winds of change and shape the future of Israel.
Looking back, there is no shortage of experiences I have had in the past six months that have made me even more resolute to make Israel home. From the surreal beauty of the Old City of Jerusalem to the honey and apples I got served with my drink on Rosh Hashanah at a bar in Tel Aviv. From the soldier on the bus with his rifle and army sack getting up for the old haredi man to the pair of Jewish and Muslim kids sharing a joke in the supermarket. Or from the bamba (peanut butter) with my sushi to the groups like Save A Childs Heart, who treat (without cost) kids with heart defects from around the world (most of which are Palestinian). And to companies like Better Place which are creating ground breaking technology to end our dependence on oil. There are countless more such examples.
Yes, I know Israel is not perfect, but then again who is? But you know what – Israel is perfect for me.
When I explain to my friends Down Under that being in Israel, I feel this overwhelming sense of belonging, of being home – they say “but what do you mean, home is Sydney?” My response is – home is where the heart is. And my heart is well and truly here.
Ok, so back to Shiri and the subject of this article. One morning a few months ago, I couldn’t sleep and randomly came across this You Tube clip of Shiri Maimon singing the Hatikvah during an Israeli soccer match in 2006. The sea of blue and white was unmistakable. Israeli flags flying for all to see. And the words of the Hatikva - ‘the hope’ – our national anthem, piercing. I simply just froze, the silence broken only by the need to wipe the tears rolling from eyes. I was filled with such awe-inspiring pride and the realisation that this is where I belong. This is my place. This is home.
(By Arsen Ostrovsky)