Australian Olim: a strong sense of belonging but frustrated with politics

Ittay Flescher asks 13 Australians who have gone to live in Israel what they love and hate about their adopted home, and what they hope for the country as it marks its 75th birthday.

More than 10,000 Australians now call Israel home, with about 200-300 making aliyah every year, according to the Zionist Federation of Australia. Ahead of Israel’s 75th birthday, Moriah Ben David, the Israel Office director for the ZFA, told Plus61J Media, “the more Australian olim I meet, the more I see that they are so diverse: Chabad retirees, Habonim bogrim (leaders), Garin Tzabar (soldiers), young couples, young families. The list goes on and on.”

Reflecting on how they differ from other immigrants to Israel, she added, “Australian olim have a few traits that make them unique: they are resilient, they do not feel entitled, they have a positive attitude and they integrate into Israeli society very fast. Thanks to these traits, they fill very important and senior positions in Israeli society, and they contribute tremendously in shaping the State of Israel in many fields.”

Here are some of their stories.

Philip Searle, 36, made aliyah in 2017, and lives in Tel Aviv

“At times I question if I am living in Israel, or just the bubble of Tel Aviv, which is an incredibly vibrant and diverse city. There are people from all over the world, speaking all languages. It is an energetic city, thriving on activity. It’s a walkable city, with weather that encourages socialising outdoors. It also has some of the best food in the world. Not to mention, it’s a very dog-friendly city, so I really appreciate that I can bring Kelev everywhere I go.     

I often worry about the polarising political situation which causes a lot of distress among the locals. I hope for a calmer political climate in Israel’s 75th year.”

Jacob Sztokman, 53, made aliyah in 1993, and lives in Modi’in

“Basically, I made aliyah to be part of the building of a country as a place for the Jewish people to build a nation that does good for its residents and the world.

I like the people of Israel and all of its diversity. I meet people who care about the society they live in and want to make a difference. With all its issues, Israel to me is a place of caring.      

I find the imposed separation between communities frustrating. There are only seven mixed Arab-Jewish cities in Israel and even then, people stay in their own neighbourhoods. My city of Modiin has almost no Palestinian or Haredi residents. The Haredi town nearby is wholly Haredi, the Arab village wholly Palestinian and the settlement nearby almost all national-religious. In talking and living with others we build bridges and see ourselves in others. Unfortunately, in Israel we like to classify and separate people from each other which, in my opinion, is not a good way to build our country.           

I have lived here for 30 of the 75 years of Israel’s existence. I have seen a lot of growth: technology, infrastructure, building and health. I wish we would tackle social issues between the different segments of society with the same eagerness and passion we do in other areas. We have a lot of potential to be a model country with a wonderful civil society.”

Gila Levitan, 42, made aliyah in 2004, and lives in Tel Aviv.

“I kept on visiting during university, so ultimately I decided to have an adventure and come and try to live here since I felt a special tie to the land.          

I appreciate that being part of the Jewish people means that we are a global community and you can meet people from all over the world here that all have different and unique stories to share. A challenge for me is the usual frustration with Hebrew. Even though I speak fluently, there are still sometimes things I miss out on in slang.      

As we enter our 75th year, perhaps we can all take a deep breath, look around and see everything we have achieved and try to continue to move forward together.”       

      

Peta Jones Pellach, 69, made aliyah in 2010, and lives in Jerusalem

“I made aliyah 13 years ago on Purim (my husband’s birthday). Our entire lives’ trajectory was to return to Israel, where already three out of our four children lived – the fourth was to follow.

We wanted to live in a place where our culture and our values were ‘normal’. We wanted to celebrate our holidays and commemorate our tragedies with our people. We wanted Hebrew to be the language all around us. We wanted to be in the place of our historical roots. We wanted to be part of Jewish history as it moved forward. And if we were to make a difference to anywhere, we wanted our contribution to be to Israel.

Although there are times when we yearn for something more ‘normal’, living in Jerusalem forces me to face all the issues of this country on a daily basis: the Israel-Palestinian issue, the rights of Israeli Arabs, religious versus secular, religious versus Haredi, the status of women and so much more. We are uplifted by Jerusalem and we are drawn down by Jerusalem to face its challenges. I couldn’t live anywhere else.                

What I find most frustrating is that the whole political system is disastrous. The violence in language and behaviour from Jews (whom I expected to have a different set of values) is very distressing. The absence of women from so many spheres of influence means we are not utilising the brilliance so many have so much to offer. The unwillingness to learn from successful democracies frustrates me terribly. Furthermore, a terrible education system means that young people are blind to so much of what I have written above.

 In our 75th year, if we get back to where we were before this latest government, it would be enough for me right now.”

David Borowski, 38, made aliyah in 2010, and lives in the “Democratic Republic of Tel Aviv”

“This country keeps you young. Being Jewish here isn’t reliant on living in a certain suburb or going to synagogue or being observant in any way – it surrounds you. I feel many of us are feeling more disconnected from the country as we take a turn down the path of non-democratic dictatorship. And coffee shouldn’t cost 16 shekels; it just shouldn’t.              

As we enter our 75th year, I hope that we reflect on the hope people had in 1948 to build a country where all Jews can live freely and take a serious look at how deep we’ve sunk over the past decade.”

Naomi Zelwer, 50, made aliyah in 1994, and lives in Jerusalem

I made aliyah because Israel felt like home. Bnei Akiva was a very significant influence in bringing me here. Growing up in Melbourne, I felt more immediate connection to family and friends across generations and that gave me a sense of roots and family and tight-knit community. Now in Jerusalem, where I have been since I was 21, I have a stronger and deeper sense of Jewish culture and history and destiny.

All three of my kids studied or are attending the Sudbury Democratic school, a school that teaches them the values of derech eretz, acceptance, respect and a true democratic process.

I love the daily life of living in a Jewish state, sharing history and culture with the people around me. I love that my kids are Israeli. 

What I find most frustrating is the politics and the violence.

As we begin our 75th year, I hope for peace within our nation, with our neighbours and true democracy.

Janet Belleli Goodvach, 47, made aliyah in 2011, and lives in Tel Mond

“I came here to experience life in Israel and see if we could live the dream of our ancestors to call Israel home. Tel Mond is a gorgeous green area, close to the beach and relatively central. There’s Jewish life, great food and great weather. 

I find the language and culture frustrating at times, wishing I could converse more fluently and be a little pushier.

My wish for Israel in her 75th year is that the disparate groups that make up Israel can work together in harmony.”

Adinah Brown, 40, made aliyah in 2013, and lives in Modiin

“We moved here 10 years ago to make our lives more meaningful and to feel more connected to our community. The pervading sense here is that you’re living and working among people who feel more like family than strangers. Family that drives each other nuts and argues a lot, but still a family in which you can be yourself.

Putting aside the everyday groans of terrible customer service, rudeness and terrible driving, I worry a lot about Israel’s future as both a Jewish and democratic country. It’s taking a major step away from being a free, equal and just society while also militarising to defend its borders. With all this happening, I wonder if it will continue to be a nation of ethics and integrity that is worth fighting for?

I hope (and pray) that Israel’s leaders realise the value of keeping and building on the country’s foundations as a democratic state and pray that Israel acts not out of fear, but from integrity.

As Israel enters her 75th year, I hope to make it a place where the stranger is safe and protected and where the country’s many different groups seek to compromise and make room for each other.”              

             

Ryan Levin, 36, made aliyah in 2011, and lives in Efrat

I moved here from Sydney to feel connected to the historical narrative of the Jewish people in the land of Israel and find a sense of purpose in contributing to its future.

I find meaning today by working at Netzach, a network of Haredi educational institutions (elementary through post-high school) whose mission is to provide its students with an outstanding Haredi education and in parallel work towards a Bagrut (matriculation) certificate, which is a prerequisite for higher education in Israel. I miss not having Sundays off.

My hope for Israel as she enters her 75th year is Jewish unity. When united, we are indivisible and can achieve incredible heights.

Yehiel Grenimann (formally Jon Green), 71, made aliyah in 1973, and lives in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is whereI studied, met my wife and fell in love with the city.

Its physical beauty and special history, incredible landscape and people make me feel engaged in a divine historical drama. It is here that I can have a role in determining the future of the Jewish people and religion in a way that I could not in any other place.

It is often challenging but I love the intensity and passions here and the sense that I am living where the Biblical prophets prophesied and many of the Talmudic sages taught. I still believe that we must realise their moral vision, however difficult that seems to be at present.

I am frustrated by the political corruption, religious intolerance, lack of privacy, the crowded roads and the high cost of living.                  

I hope that Israel survives this current political crisis regarding the Supreme Court, renews the attempt to build coexistence with the Arab-Palestinian population and becomes truly democratic and more tolerant.

Gaby Pell, 51, made aliyah in 2009, and lives in Jerusalem

We moved here to live in a place closer to our families and very much appreciate the feeling of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.

I find the polarisation of society extremely frustrating.         

As Israel enters its 75th year, I hope we can come together, loving our neighbours who are different to us – whether Jews or Arabs – and dealing with our Arab neighbours in a more equitable fashion.

Melanie Landau, 50, moved to Israel in 2012, and lives in Jerusalem

We came 12 years ago for one year. And then we decided to stay. I became a permanent resident last year, but I am not an Israeli citizen. I have travelled between Israel and Palestinian Territories for work without need of a permit and I wanted to maintain that ability. I also wanted my children to have the choice about whether or not they wanted to join the army.

It was also hard for me to accept that I could get citizenship and full rights by virtue of being Jewish and have more rights than Palestinian friends and colleagues who have lived here for their whole lives and their families for generations. At the same time, my children and I have enjoyed many of those rights and privileges.

Something I love about living here is the nature and being in tune with the seasons. At the moment, the wildflowers are blooming. In December, I went to see the bird migration. Every season there is something else to appreciate.             

The cycle of violence between Jews and Palestinians and the ongoing traumatisation of both peoples breaks my heart. In addition, while it is not particular to here, the polarisation about domestic issues is also very painful. It also distracts us from issues that affect everyone and makes us blind to the fuller picture.        

As Israel enters her 75th year, I hope for a lasting, just and secure (for all) arrangements with Palestinians, as well as strengthening of democracy and a loosening and equalising of all forms of inequality.

I also hope to make my contribution by regulating my own nervous system and reactivity and supporting others to do the same through couples and family therapy.

Kelila Slonim, 28, made aliyah in 2017, and lives in Jerusalem

My main motivation was to fulfil a religious ideal and secondary was looking for a community to fit into, a broader social life and an easier place to be frum.

Being able to visit religious and historic sites whenever I want, and the professional opportunities to engage with and influence the global Jewish community is a real gift.

On the other hand, the bureaucracy is a nightmare, the economic standard of living is lower and recently the political situation is terrible.

My hope for the future is a new government. But in all seriousness, more political moderation and stability, a more unified population, both between Jews and Arabs and other minorities and between different Jews and protection of Israel’s civil rights would also be great.