(It could have been so much easier) Had I Been Jewish…

25 Oct

As mentioned in my previous post we’re pretty fortunate that there even exists a visa that will allow me to live and work here in Israel. No such benefits were ever available to Asya when she was living and working in the UK. But even with the possibility of an Israeli work visa, moving to Israel is no mean task – I neither speak the language nor possess the funds to afford myself the luxury of spending my first 6 months simply attending Hebrew language lessons. Still, I’m already reading the Hebrew alphabet okay, stringing together basic sentences and understanding snippets of conversation here and there. Not bad progress at all, given that I am having to teach myself with aid of a simple text book and audio podcasts.

Then there’s the fact that I’m not Jewish. The whole idea of moving to Israel as a non-Jew is a bit of an oddity in itself, but then so have been so many of my other global wanderings. Unless you’re Jewish, Israel is not a country you would typically relocate to out of choice. Okay, so I’m a bit of an outsider here in that sense. But as neither Asya nor her family move in religious circles the fact that I’m not Jewish has so far meant not one iota; and I don’t think it ever will do. No, the biggest factor so far has been not being able to benefit from the all the rights and privileges that are bestowed upon all newly arrived Jewish immigrants. Let me explain…

As you may well know, the foundation of the state of Israel was based upon numerous waves of Aliyah (the immigration of Jews to Israel). Since 1950, the “Law of Return” has meant that all Jews have the right to migrate to and settle in Israel and gain immediate Israeli citizenship. I can’t speak for previous generations of migrants, but present-day migrants are not only given automatic citizenship but a whole package of integration goodies: a 6 month intensive language course, temporary initial accommodation, employment guidance, tax credits, and well…you name it. In fact, here on the kibbutz there are a handful of South African olim (the name given to newly arrived Jewish migrants), who are all enjoying the securities and benefits given to them by the Israeli state. Do I feel a bit left out? Not really. I wouldn’t ever expect free hand-outs from whatever new country I had chosen to temporarily call home.

However, the other week in Jerusalem, I did feel my first real, albeit fleeting, tinge of apprehension of what I had gotten myself into. For one reason or another we had to pass by the central offices of the Jewish Agency – the Jewish Agency coordinate and promote Jewish immigration to Israel, and more importantly thanks to the Jewish Agency Asya’s parents were asked to work in Buenos Aires and so are the cause of…well you know the rest of that happy story. Anyway, arriving at their offices we could see the entire front yard of the building was full of new Jewish arrivals from abroad, all making Aliyah. So while Asya popped into their offices for a few moments, there I stood alone on the other side of this cornered off yard – tough-looking guards and barriers ensuring that I nor anyone else could crash this invite-only party – looking in on these new arrivals enjoying the red carpet reception laid out for them.

The Jewish Agency

The Jewish Agency

Listening in on the welcoming speech, which, amongst other things implored them all to learn Hebrew as fast as possible, I did ponder how ironic it was that already after a week in Israel I should be standing on the wrong side of the cordons looking in on the “true” new immigrants; once again in a new country and already the feeling of being a bit of an outsider. But that’s alright, I never came here to be an Israeli, living with one is plentiful :). And what with my secular/liberal/pacifist outlook, I can’t say Israel and, in particular, Jerusalem is the perfect match for my personality, outlook on life and so on. But hey…that’s the very reason why coming here encapsulates everything I relish about living abroad. And besides, with Asya by my side, and vice-versa, I think we’re pretty much ready to take on whatever this maddening but rewarding country and society can throw at us.

I’ll keep you posted…

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Posted by on October 25, 2009 in Jewish Life, Life in Israel


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