Some of the best moments I have enjoyed the past 11 months in Israel, have involved discussing with friends from all over the world life as Jews in the countries they came from.
During my Career Israel Masa program I found it interesting to hear how broadly Jewish identity can be defined, varying immensely between individuals. I remember talking to one European chick who explained that her dad was Jewish but mum was not, and that where she comes from it is rare to have people her generation with two Jewish parents. A lot of the Americans were the same but it was more due to the high rate of assimilation and interfaith marriage occurring in the United States. Others told me all about the Conservative movement of Judaism and why they followed those customs and rituals instead of the Reform or Orthodox ones. We don't have a strong Conservative sect in Australia.
It was all very eye opening.
I define myself as being a fairly traditional, cultural Jew. I had a Liberal Jewish upbringing and enjoy practicing the religion in so much as having a Passover seder, Shabbat dinner on a Friday, and indulging in all the Jewish foods throughout the year (I am currently eating my bodyweight in doughnuts and latkes for Hannuka).
Ultimately, I see myself as an Australian first and a Jew second and although I have been in Israel for nearly a year, I admit that if Australia needed me I would have been there in a flash.
It's not to say that my heart isn't with Israel but my Zionism only stretches so far.
Last month I read a poignant article in The Jerusalem Post about Hannah Szenes, a poet from Hungary who made aliya pre-World War Two to do her bit as a Zionist. She lived on kibbutzim and toiled the land day and night, fulfilling her heart's desire to live in the Holy Land. She embodied the Zionist spirit and ideologies prevalent in society at the time, worked hard on her Hebrew and became a famous Hebrew-language poet. Her demise was rather unfortunate in her early 20s, being a female paratrooper captured and killed by the Germans during the war, while attempting to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews before they were deported to Nazi concentration camps. Her legacy lives on.
I have friends who have made aliya with similar dreams to that young Hungarian girl’s. Some of my friends have only been to Israel on a Taglit Birthright program and the Masa Career Israel program, yet they have made aliya with the sole purpose of serving in the Israel Defense Forces. In some ways I envy them for the passion and love that they have for the State of Israel, just as I envy those like Hannah Szenes for her perseverance living here during such trying times; but this is not my dream nor do I wish for it to be my forever reality.
My dream was to come back to Israel to reconnect with a part of myself that had drifted away. I returned to the Land of Milk and Honey to rediscover what being a Jew really means to me and figure out where the Holy Land fits into the equation that is my life.
When I arrived I was truly on cloud nine as my cousins in Beit Shemesh often would say. I was so fresh, bubbly and excited to be living in my second homeland. However, my vision was foggy from years of Jewish day-school education in Perth, Western Australia and being in a Socialist Zionist youth movement. It was only through immersing myself in the everyday life here, post-Masa program, that I came to see Israel clearly. It helped that throughout Career Israel we were given the opportunity to meet people from all sides of the political spectrum and make up our minds ourselves regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. But living in Tel Aviv and working as an assistant editor and journalist at The Jerusalem Post has opened my eyes like nothing I could have ever imagined.
I have come to see Israel as the busy, bustling 66-year-old country that she is. A country fraught with political divisiveness, poverty and homelessness but with a social divide that you really have to experience yourself. The haredi world compared to the secular world and the modern Orthodox world. The fact that you cannot dress a certain way in particular religious areas as my experiences in Beit Shemesh have indicated, highlights the social divisiveness within the Jewish state itself.
Stepping away from religion, there are the same issues that exist in Australia on a socio-economic scale - but worse. The cost of living here is high but the salary just does not match. The minimum wage per hour here is 23 shekels which is less than $8 Australian while our equivalent Down Under is 54 shekels or $17 an hour. With high prices of rent, property, vehicles, and restaurants in Tel Aviv alone, It's no wonder so many people have to live on credit in Israel to survive. I don't wish to be one of them.
A British bloke I met a few weeks ago told me that there's nothing wrong with leaving Israel but there is if you haven't given her a go.
I definitely have given life here a chance, but I am an Australian Jew and my country is calling me home.