The following was written by my good friend Michael Berezin:
Ten years ago in the fall of 2003 I officially became a citizen of the Modern State of Israel. For me it was merely a formality as I had already been living here since 2001. Since then much has transpired both in my personal life here in Israel and in the lives of my friends who I had met along the way. I was very fortunate right from the start to meet really good people when I arrived in Jerusalem. Quickly, I made friends with like-minded people who had come from America and other English speaking countries. We all had something strong in common, that is, we had all chosen to come to Israel and for that reason there was a sense of kinship in the shared mission of making our experience in Israel both worthwhile and fun.
Oh and fun we had. There were so many parties, camp-outs, trips and crazy memories, but nobody I knew was suffering as a result of their decision to make Aliyah. If anything, we all seemed to be having a great time. Sure there were bureaucratic annoyances, random terror attacks, and less than easy Israelis to deal with from time to time, but despite those challenges many of us were happy and going strong. I think as a group we were determined to focus on the positives. When necessary we would find support in our collective Anglo society, which served to keep the negative forces at bay. It was obvious we were all living in a bubble and it clashed with the value of integration into the larger Israeli world around us. Still, for those of us who wanted Hebrew and the opportunities which came with it, there was nothing standing in the way of the determined. For the rest of us we came to realize that retaining our English-speaking identity was just fine, as long as we were able to make it work both socially and financially.
With the passage of time many of us got married. With rare exception everyone married an English speaker or at the very least a partial Israeli with strong English speaking skills. This is around the time when perspectives began to change. For some of my friends, Israel started to become more of a drag. Not everything was great and sunny anymore. The choice to come here had now been repeatedly introduced to the day to day reality and challenges of Israeli life. Many of my friends had come to Israel with a similar religious based ideology to mine. But the passage of time would chip away at this belief system. Those who stayed in Israel despite that change in ideology migrated to Tel Aviv.
Another change of perspective occurred for my friends who married to girls with American family overseas. Now that they were starting their own family, the importance of being near their family had become a much stronger need and desire. So many left for this reason. The possibility of making more money and having a stronger feeling of material comfort was a bi-product of this choice. At least 6-8 of my close friends left Israel over the course of the last seven years.
My feelings about this have somewhat mellowed out over the years. At first, though, I felt hurt and betrayed. Not personally of course. Its not as if people were leaving to simply get away from me (well maybe one person). It was my belief system and priority of values which was being assailed. How could they just leave? What about the mission? What about the good times? Of course Israel was challenging, but couldn’t they stay and make it work? How was it ever going to get better if the possible positive forces of change were set on abandoning ship?
In time, my feelings would simmer down as they have with other aspects of living here. I guess its all part of the adaptive process. There is much truth to the saying “never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes”. I know that Israel is not always rosy. I also know that I was very lucky in how things unfolded for me here. Which is to say that it did not work out that way for many others. At least the friends who left tried to make it work in Israel, while many people I grew up with didn’t even come here to try. I just wish that the idea of coming here and staying no matter what, had been a more pervasive force than leaving it behind for theoretical greener pastures abroad.
Things are very different for me here in Jerusalem ten years later. I am now married with three kids. I have been very blessed and fortunate in the time I have been here. Now that I am in this new phase of life the challenges are even more apparent. Making enough money, dealing with Israelis and their kids, the schools, cost of living etc. just to name a few. Still I maintain that Israel is first and foremost a value and not simply a choice. A person can choose anything he wants. Where he wants to live, what he wants to do, who he wants to do it with etc. It is all open and available. It is after all, a choice.
A value on the other hand tends to be difficult and can even be a lifelong process. Yet we sacrifice for values because it’s what we believe and what we want deep down. Israel is a value worth struggling for. It doesn’t have to be perceived as a struggle, but if it is, then that’s ok too. The future of the Jewish people will unfold here. It is our destiny, it is our promise, it is our hope. I would like to thank God, my wife and family and all those friends who have made these last ten years the best years of my life. For those not yet here and those who left all I can say is make the effort to come home. The best is yet to come.
Michael Berezin is originally from Brooklyn NY. He is a Fitness Trainer/Therapist based in Jerusalem.
About the Author: Yishai Fleisher is the Contributing Editor and PR manager at the JewishPress.com, and Israel's only English language broadcast radio show host (Galey Yisrael 106.5FM). Yishai is an Israeli Paratrooper, a graduate of Cardozo Law School, and the founder of Kumah ("Arise" in Hebrew), an NGO dedicated to promoting Zionism and strengthening Israel's national character. Yishai is married to Malkah, they have two children, and they live on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
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