Seeking the dream in Israel

Al Jazeera speaks with new migrants who recently arrived in Israel.


    Jewish immigrants from North America arrive at Ben Gurion International [GETTY]

    Since its creation in 1948, over three million Jews from around the world have migrated to Israel and since 1950 have enjoyed the provisions of the Law of Return, which gives any Jew the right to become a citizen. 

    In 2007, there were 18,000 new migrants to Israel, mostly from Western or former Soviet countries. The majority of newcomers are under 35.

    As Israel celebrates 60 years since independence, Al Jazeera asked newly-arrived immigrants why they came to settle in the country.

    Evan Wertheim, 25, migrated from the US ten months ago; lives in Tel Aviv

    It was a life-long goal to come and learn
    Hebrew and live in Israel
    I was born and raised in Atlanta. After college I served in the Americorps Vista programme, and then worked for one year in Miami with an agency that deals with adults with special needs. 

    In February 2007, I was thinking about the next thing I wanted to do with my life. It was a life-long goal to come and learn Hebrew and live in Israel. I looked at my life and said, 'right, if I don't do it now, it's probably not going to happen'.

    I was brought up loving Israel and learning about the history and the culture. I have an aunt and uncle here, so I have a strong personal connection in that way. I first came here when I was 16 and I had such an amazing experience. There is something about the land - I am not unique, but it just grabbed me. I loved it here. 

    One reason for coming is, of course, Zionism. I definitely had a Jewish upbringing and grew up as a member of the Reform movement and I still am a member.

    It had a profound impact on my views on Judaism and Zionism. I would say it is a standard American Jewish upbringing. You know, I went to Sunday school, I went to Hebrew school, did a little youth group stuff. It helped form and solidify my Jewish identity.

    A lot of people say life is easier in the US - but what does that mean? It means you make more money and have more things. I am young now, so it is easier to sit here and say it never really bothered me that I would be making less money here. I just knew I would be happier in Israel, that is pretty much what it comes down to. Part of me is fulfilled.

    I am here for the long run, that is my plan. It took me a while to come to this point, but now I am sure.

    Ofira Ashtamkar, 29, migrated with her sister from Bombay, India, two months ago; lives in Ashkelon

    Israel being the promised land, I always wanted to come here. But it never worked out for a variety of reasons - family issues and other priorities, such as I wanted to complete my education and then I found a job in India.

    In India, the Jewish community is dwindling as most of them have migrated. Since my parents are very Orthodox, it is a very big thing for them that the man I marry be Jewish.

    For me it is also a concern. In India it was difficult to find a good match and for my parents that was their prime concern.

    I have a degree and I am partially trained as a chartered accountant. I was doing well working in India. I was earning well according to Indian standards, so money was not a concern for me in taking the decision to come here.

    Materially, it is more or less the same, but here there are cleaner roads and the transport is better. You feel good and you live a quality life here, compared to India.

    Migrating was always a dream. We studied at Jewish schools so we were always hearing about Israel and the culture there. Since my relatives were here, we heard news from them, but I did not visit until six months ago.

    I came with my mother, I saw the country and thought that maybe I can survive and do well here. That is what made me take the decision.

    I know that only the language is a barrier now - but hopefully in a year or so, maybe ... It is good to be here, although I miss my family, my friends, the country, the food, everything.

    But I think we can manage here in Israel.

    Kirill Belkin, 22, Vladimir, Russia, migrated two months ago; lives in Ashkelon

    I came to Israel also because education
    here is really strong
    I was in Israel one year ago with Taglit [an organisation that gives Jewish young adults free first-time trips to Israel]. We visited the whole place, the Golan Heights, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, all the museums.

    In Tel Aviv, we went to the place where [Israel's first prime minister] David Ben Gurion announced the Jewish state and we listened to his speech. The trip was ten days, but it was really intensive. 

    I walked around and thought, 'why not, this is a really nice country'. So I decided to make aliyah. I know that it will be better for me to be alone, without my friends and family. It will be hard work, a challenge  - that is the reason I came. I really knew I should be here.

    The second reason I came to Israel is that education here is really strong, I think. I would like to go to university and study business management or economics. 

    My father has a degree and I would like to have one, too.

    My father is Jewish, but actually I did not know I was Jewish until I was ten. Maybe he did not tell me because during the 1990s, after the destruction of the Soviet Union, it was not safe for the Jews.

    I started to read a lot of books and watched a lot of films about Jewish people and I am proud of the Jewish people. I discovered another side of life.

    Now I really feel my Jewish self. I am proud of it and that I am here. Maybe I am not a Zionist. I do not think I am Hebrew a lot - just a half. My mother is Russian and I feel that I am a mixture of both.

    Yonathan Ababi, 35, North Shoa, Ethiopia, migrated to Israel almost two years ago; now lives in Jerusalem.

    Coming to Israel was a dream of generations, over thousands of years. Like them, I wanted to do the same. I wanted to be with Jews, in the promised land. I was always dreaming of this and yearning to be in Jerusalem.

    I was a physics teacher in West Ethiopia, and I did not have any financial problems or anything. I was at a good standing as a teacher and I felt good about my work. I just preferred to be in the Holy City (Jerusalem). 

    I lived as a Jew in Ethiopia, but not in a totally overt way. Sometimes it would be difficult to wear a kippa [scullcap] in the street or to keep the mitzvot [Jewish commandments] all the time.

    Most people in Ethiopia are Christian or Muslim and some have a negative perspective of Jews.

    We filled in the forms to migrate to Israel and gathered the whole family, to Addis Ababa because we thought that we would be leaving immediately. That was in 1992 - we waited 14 years. A few months after we applied, we moved back to North Shoa to wait there, and I carried on with my university studies.

    There are people who wait in the Jewish agency camps and around the Israeli embassy for years.

    After you decide to make aliyah [Jewish migration], you feel bad if it does not happen immediately. The Jewish Agency checked why people wanted to leave, who is a Jew and who is not - it is a very thorough check. 

    It could be right, what they did, but it should not have taken so long - especially when people are suffering by just waiting. Every day I hoped they would call me to leave. It is really disappointing, this procedure. 

    I want to get on and get ahead here, but if I do not succeed in that, I will not be disappointed. I have already fulfilled my dream, by coming to Israel.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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