Five years ago, at 22, I made aliyah (emigrated to Israel) from England. I’ve since had a change of heart, so I’m considering yeridah (leaving Israel). When I explain this to Jews living in the diaspora, they tend to react with silence — the surprised, confused, judgmental kind which makes me want to word-vomit my well considered reasons all over them. The truth is, I’m not a strong enough Zionist to remain in a country where:
1. I only speak half a language.
2. My future children will be raised in a foreign environment I’ll never truly understand.
3. My hair will continue to thin from the hard water.
4. I will forever be subject to a capped, meager salary because I’ve no interest in high tech, and therefore have no hope of buying a property anywhere I want to live (Tel Aviv).
5. I’m far away from my immediate family.
But before I even outline my reasons, I already know the counterarguments they’ll come back with because I’ve heard them so many times before:
1. Israeli children are so free and independent!
2. There’s a rise anti-Semitism in Europe!
3. Shower filters are a thing!
And these counterarguments are reasonable. I’m a raving over-thinker and can argue both sides of this debate in my own head very easily — but I don’t need you to. Especially not if you don’t, nor have ever, lived in Israel.
When I made aliyah I became the poster child for my family, community, and beyond — for those who’d always wanted to do it themselves but the timing hadn’t been right, or their career wasn’t transferable, or they had elderly parents to take care of. Those who’d always had that niggling “what if?” which, over time, had turned Israel’s straggly grass into an unnaturally vivid shade of green. So, when someone they knew and loved made the move, they could be proud and feel less guilty or regretful.
I never doubted that this pride was well-intentioned, but it weighed heavily on me. I didn’t want to make aliyah on anyone’s behalf, particularly because the real reason I was moving had little to do with Israel and much to do with my long-distance lover, who was due to enlist in the IDF. The only feasible way to continue our great love affair was for me leave England for Israel and, as an English Literature graduate with no obvious career path (the UK job market was on shpilkes), I thought, “Why not?” So now you know the truth: I’m not only a traitor to Israel, but also to feminism.
I was, however, in good company — five girls and two guys in my 20-person ulpan (Hebrew school) class had uprooted their lives for love, too. The Zionist Dream, ladies and gentlemen.
Motives aside, I grew to love living in Israel. And it wasn’t just because my expectations had been set so very low by a gap year spent in Jerusalem’s seminary-yeshiva scene — not coincidentally a world away from gloriously beach-y, bohemian, godless Tel Aviv where I settled. For a while it seemed that everyone in the White City was young, carefree, and broke. I followed suit — working hard and spending my scant salary on an overpriced, crumbling apartment, bountiful meals at edgy spots around the shuk (market), and drinks at bursting bars where everyone wore flip-flops.
But my bank account, ovaries, and ambition knew that I couldn’t delay adulthood for much longer. And adulting in Israel looked bleak — aside from living in lifelong debt and birthing children who would be sent off to war, I dreaded the unending hustle. For in the land of milk and honey, hustle is stronger than the shekel. You want something? Fight for it. Shout louder. Give it all the chutzpah you’ve got. It’s draining, especially when your Hebrew is shaky. Show me one immigrant who hasn’t cried over Israel’s bureaucracy/citizens/obsession with fax machines, and I’ll show you a herd of red heifers.
You might not recognize my description of Israel. Technology, 24-hour news coverage, and globalization offer us instant access to knowledge our grandparents only dreamed of, so it’s hard to understand that when it comes to knowing a place, there’s no quick, modern fix. It can only be achieved by spending long swathes of time there. If you haven’t lived in Israel for at least two years (I’m being very generous, in reality it’s a lot closer to four, once the honeymoon period has passed and your rose-tinted glasses are grubby), you won’t understand the realities of life as an Israeli. Yes, that still applies if you have a holiday home in Herzilya Pituach/a Mamilla apartment in Jerusalem where you spend every summer.
That’s not to say tourists don’t play an important role in Israel’s survival. The economy really needs people like you to buy fancy apartments and keep places like Moshiko’s afloat, because no locals can afford those properties and we know that the 10-shekel falafel on the corner is infinitely better with shorter lines. The Jewish people need those far away to fantasize about our homeland, gloss over its ineffective, morally dubious government, and just focus on the good stuff — like the watermelon popsicles! Or Hadaya jewelry! Idan Raichel! The Western Wall! It’s seriously good for morale.
I’m not trying to belittle your connection with Israel; I love that you love it and I’m jealous that I’ll never be as starry-eyed. I’m just asking you to have faith in me — trust that my reasons for leaving are well researched, well thought out, and come from experience. Accept that having lived there for five years, I may know a little bit more about the day-to-day realities than you do.
What I know is that Israel is a country — not a dream, not an eden. It’s a real country, and a hard one to live in. To stay, you need to be motivated by a force stronger than practicality. The hustle can be exhausting and a simpler, financially stable life with more vacation days is so very tempting. As is a language that comes effortlessly to your lips, so you can be independent and not have to rely on a translator, or plan every sentence in advance, or come to a stand still at the doctor when you don’t know the word for “glands.” (Seriously, how does one mime “glands”?)
I may return to Israel, I may not. But if I do it will be an informed decision, and until you can understand the ins and outs of that, I politely request that you keep your advice to yourself.
See you on the beach in July? Watermelon popsicles on me.
Header illustration by Fernanda Sanovicz