‘Ausraelis’ balance a love affair with two countries

SHAHAR BURLA asks Israelis who immigrated to Australia what drew them here and how they feel about the country they left for a new life Down Under.

Nikki Eylon

Nikki Eylon, 49, born in Jerusalem, lives in Malvern East, Melbourne. She is the manager of a technology company, married with three children

Nikki was a professional swimming coach. In 1999 she hosted Russian swimming champion Alexander Popov while he was visiting Israel. “Before the Sydney Olympics in 2000, Popov invited me to come and see the Australian swim team preparing at the AIS in Canberra. It felt like a leap in time.

My husband, also a swimming coach, and I fell in love with the sports culture of Australia, and eventually, we decided to immigrate here. We were a young family. After years of intense living in Israel, we looked for a more relaxed lifestyle. 

“My favourite memory of Israel is from seven years ago. I joined an Israeli start-up in its early stage. We managed to raise funds (some from Australia), and I arrived for the first time at our new office in the heart of Tel Aviv. I sat on the rooftop; it was a hot sunny day, and I felt the mesmerising vibe of an Israeli startup at its best.   

“Israel is one of the world’s miracles. In 75 years, it has achieved more than other countries have managed in hundreds of years. Sadly, in the last few months, the extreme right-wing has been trying to change the judicial system, threatening the democratic future of the country.”

Leanne Juter

Leanne Juter, 21, born in Ramat Hasharon, lives in Sydney’s northern suburbs with her partner. Student and Hatzofim (Israeli scouts) branch coordinator

“I left Israel nearly 10 years ago with my family. My parents wanted us to experience a different culture, and the stars must have aligned to find ourselves in one of the prettiest places on earth.

“Funnily enough, my favourite memory of Israel was actually at the Board of Jewish Education Year 10 Israel trip after four years of living in Australia. One Friday night we went to the Kotel and even though I consider myself a secular person, the near-religious experience of standing in a circle with at least 50 women from different backgrounds, singing and humming the same songs, barely knowing the person they are hugging to their side, is my favourite memory. 

“I think Israel is a beautiful place, both through its physical wonders and the cultural melting pot. I see Israel as a place to visit and see my family’s home. With my current work at Hatzofim, I feel that Israel is an inseparable part of me, a feeling of home and ease. I will always strive to defend Israel and educate our younger generation to love it. 

Michal Carmel

Michal Carmel, 41, born in Kiryat Bialik, lives in Melbourne, engaged, owns and operates an events space

“I moved to Australia at the end of 2013, I’m a very curious person. I was fascinated by the idea of living in a different country. It was no surprise when I chose Australia, I fell in love with Melbourne straight away. 

“My favourite memory of Israel is the special feeling of Friday afternoon, when everything becomes quiet and peaceful, listening to (popular radio station) Galgalatz and having a nap before the (very short) weekend kicks off. 

“Israel is a special and magical place; it always will be. Unfortunately, these days it’s in a very complicated place. I hope things will get better soon, I can’t wait to visit my family again and show my partner this amazing, beautiful country.” 

Shai Thaler and his wifer Dina

SHAI THALER, 72, born in Switzerland and wandered before reaching Israel, lives in Sylvania, Sydney. Recently retired, married with three children

“I left Israel in 1988 to move to Adelaide to join family. My favourite memories of Israel are too many to count. Today I see Israel with much sadness and anxiety, especially because I have a son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren there.”

Ghil’ad Zuckermann

Ghil’ad Zuckermann, 51, born in Tel Aviv, lives in Adelaide, Professor of Endangered Languages at the University of Adelaide, married with three children

“I left Israel in 1996, following then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, to pursue doctoral studies at Oxford. I met Rabin in 1987 in Eilat, when he was defence minister and I was elected “mayor” during the Day of Youth in Power. I was only 16, but convened a very long meeting between Rabin, Eilat businessmen and IDF navy officers.

“The fact that Rabin was assassinated by a fellow Jew who was not insane but rather an ideologue, made me predict that eventually Israel would be divided into at least three states: Israel for cultural Jews like me, Judea for Jews believing in a halachic state, and Palestine.

“My favourite memory of Israel? When I was 15, I was elected chairperson of the Eilat branch of Noar Lenoar B’nai B’rith Youth Organisation and volunteered in 1985-1987 at Yoseftal Hospital in Eilat. I sang every Friday to the patients. There was a special atmosphere in our group, which also included Keren Avratz (a famous Israeli singer professionally known as Karolina). We all felt that we were raising the morale of the hospitalised people, some of them severely ill.

“I love Israel and enjoy immensely my relatively long annual visits there. The Israeli language, cuisine, music and sense of humour make me feel happy. I appreciate the vibe of Tel Aviv, the beauty of Jerusalem, watsu treatment at Eilat’s dolphin reef, the Baháʼí gardens in Haifa, drinking an espresso at Bereshit Hotel, Mitspe Ramon, observing flocks of grey cranes at Agamon Hakhula …

“Politically, however, Israel makes me sad.”

Michal Weiss

MICHAL WEISS, born in Ashdod, lives in Newtown, Sydney. Head of product for a company, married

“I never planned to leave Israel and migrate to Australia. Initially, my family’s three-month business trip sparked a desire to explore this wonderful country more deeply. Each time our stay ended new reasons emerged for prolonging our stay. I fell in love with Australia and its way of life.

“As a family of avid travellers, my parents always sought new destinations to explore in Israel. Of all the places we visited in Israel, my favourite memory was our first trip to the Dead Sea. I remember my dad driving through the winding descent, explaining that we were heading towards the lowest point on earth. I was wedged between my brothers, gazing out the window in amazement at the breathtaking view of the desert.

“Admittedly, dipping into the Dead Sea for the first time isn’t what most children expect, and I wasn’t a fan initially. But I couldn’t resist the chance to float in the sea’s buoyant saltwater.

“From a distance, it can be challenging to grasp the current situation in Israel.  It appears that Israel is facing challenging questions about its fundamental values, which unite its diverse population. However, despite these challenges, I remain optimistic and hope that Israel’s leaders will find the right path towards creating a better future for the country.”

Amit Kafe

AMIT KAFE, 20, born in Tel Aviv, lives in Melbourne, student

“I left Israel at the age of five, in 2007. I was told by my parents that the decision was to provide the children with more opportunities and a more comfortable and sustainable lifestyle.

“My favourite memory of Israel is the time I spent at the 2022 summer camp leading my chanichim (campers) alongside the rest of my group during my shnat sherut (a year-long volunteer program before joining the army). While it was very challenging, the whole experience was memorable as it was the last event that we organised and executed as a komuna. This made me cherish it even more.

“I will always view Israel as my first home. Every time I go back it just feels natural, as if I am where I am supposed to be. I see Israel as place where any Jewish person can go and be accepted for who they are. It is a beautiful county with beautiful people and a warm culture unlike anywhere else in the world.”

Roy Halberstadt

ROY HALBERSTADT, 20, born Kfar Saba, lives in Sydney, student, works part-time at Board of Jewish Education, single

“I left Israel in 2007 when I was five because my parents wanted to. “My favourite memory is the food and all the family and friends I had before I left.

“As I’ve grown up, I realise that it is a very problematic country. It’s always going to be my homeland and I have visited a lot since I left and will continue to do so in the future because I really do love what the country has to offer in terms of culture, food, people and beauty.

“But all the politics and conflict are a lot to deal with, which has a pretty negative affect on the way I view the country sometimes.” 

Illustration: Avi Katz