Former Mazkir, Samuel Green, writes about his experiences from living in Israel, 10 years after he decided to make aliyah.
The Hebrew word for ‘decade’ (asor) shares a root with the word for ‘wealth’ (osher), and the past 10 years have certainly been rich with experiences. It’s hard to believe that a decade has passed since I became an Israeli citizen. When I made aliyah in 2010, it was the culmination of a lengthy process of thinking and planning that crystalised in 2006 (when I made a public commitment in an election speech to make aliyah within 5 years) and encountered various obstacles and bumps along the way, but in June 2010 I got on a plane at Geneva airport on my way to realise a long-held dream.
My parents had come out to Switzerland to help me pack up (partly because the Jewish Agency had moved my flight forward at a week’s notice but the removal company couldn’t change the date they were coming). I said goodbye to them at check in and made my way through airport security. Much like when I made the move to Geneva, I sat on my own in the airport lounge and for the first time began to be nervous. It was really happening. What if it wasn’t all that I had hoped it to be? Things were great in Switzerland and many people thought I was bonkers for making the move. But by this juncture there was no point worrying, I just had to dive in headfirst, and I did.
And what a remarkable decade it has been. I have changed career three times (maybe more depending on how you count). I have earned three professional qualifications (most notably, getting my taxi driver license!). I have attained a good command of Hebrew, studying in it, working in it, even giving a successful sales presentation to one of Israel’s biggest supermarket chains. More recently, I've been studying Arabic - I'm currently at basic conversational level and hope to take it further.
I’ve moved four times, living with roommates, living on my own, and now living with my family. There’s no doubt that the biggest and most meaningful development has been the opportunity to marry my wife Bat Chen and become a father to our daughter Ella.
I’ve travelled the length of breadth of the country from Metulla to Eilat, from the Jordan valley to the Mediterranean Sea. I’ve soared over famous landmarks in helicopters and squeezed into subterranean archaeological excavations. I’ve spent shabbat in a settlement and smoked nargille in Nablus. I’ve stood on all of Israel’s borders.
I’ve been 3km away from Syria and seen and heard one of the most brutal conflicts of the century unfolding before my eyes. I’ve heard from Jewish and Palestinian peace activists who are trying to build a better future. I’ve had the opportunity to meet Jews, Muslims, Christians, Druze and Baha’i – and all the different sub-segments and streams thereof - in an attempt to understand the complexities of our society.
I never had much to do with the law anywhere I lived but in Israel I’ve called the police and I’ve had the police called on me (my somewhat over-exuberant haflas didn’t always go down well with the neighbours). I’ve threatened to sue and received legal threats. I’ve even appeared in court as a witness where I was somewhat disappointed that instead of getting to swear a fancy oath, the judge just said to me: “you know you need to tell the truth, right?”. Is Israel more litigious or is this just bad luck?
I’ve voted in five national elections, for three different parties, none of which really seem to exist anymore. I believe that democracy in Israel is very much alive, but as with much of the world, it’s a shame that everyone shouts at each other and no one is really listening. I’ve had my fair chance to engage with the process, with opportunities to visit the institutions of the state on multiple occasions and meeting with various parliamentarians, supreme court justices and even the president.
I’ve been part of the biggest protests that Israel has ever seen when at one point 1 in 7 Israelis was pounding the streets demanding social change. I've met with activists from across the political spectrum who are working to try and make this country a better place (they don’t all agree with each other on how, but their passion and determination is inspiring).
I’ve been privileged to get up close and personal with the Start-up Nation, whether through visiting start-ups with tourists, being a co-founder of my own, and now working for a tech company. The skill, hunger, creativity and self-belief of Israel’s many entrepreneurs are remarkable.
I have welcomed over 6000 visitors to Israel from over 50 countries, and had the pleasure of rediscovering this country again and again through their eyes. Visitors from every walk of life – of all ages, faiths, ethnicities, physical capabilities, socio-economic backgrounds, gender identities and political convictions. It’s been a true privilege to see how everyone interacts with this country in their own way, the places that they love, the places that make them uncomfortable, the places where they become emotional.
I’ve been able to bring back my radio show, becoming a professional instead of a volunteer, successfully transitioning to a crowdfunding model where our listeners are the ones who provide the support to make the show happen. I’m proud to showcase Israeli music that I love, and not just what the radio playlists (and therefore PR people) dictate.
I’ve expanded my horizons culturally and culinarily. I’m still not great with spicy food but I can handle it a lot better than when I landed – on occasion, the other option was to go hungry! I’ve been to synagogues belonging to ethnic communities I’d never heard of, learned to daven in different accents and nusachim, discovered wonderful foods, music and customs from different parts of the world, that somehow all arrived here.
I’ve lived the Jewish calendar, being in a country where for the majority of people we share the same sabbath (whether or not we all observe it in the same way), where we celebrate the same holidays. This is one of the things I love most about being here. You really feel the holidays when they come around. And they make sense. At Shavuot you can see the beginnings of the harvest. At Sukkot it doesn’t rain. Purim is mental. I'll never forget the priestly blessing at the kotel during Pesach.
There have been challenging times as well. I’ve been on the dole. I spent two months not leaving my flat because of glandular fever. I qualified as a tour guide in the middle of Protective Edge and no one wanted to hire a novice. I lost two grandparents from long distance. I’ve lived through two wars (conflagrations?) with Gaza where I would spend days on end running to the bomb shelter on hearing air-raid sirens. More recently, tourism has been particularly hard hit by the global pandemic. During these more difficult periods, I’m extremely grateful for the support I’ve received from my Israeli family, from friends, and from my dear wife Bat Chen (and from my Mum who came out to look after me when I was bed-ridden with mono!).
I’ve been frustrated by government bureaucracy, dodgy driving instructors, poor levels of service (and somewhat inexplicable bank fees). I’ve had to learn both how to do and deal with the shitat matzliach. I’ve had near escapes from crazy drivers with a death wish. I’ve had nutty neighbours and a client who turned out to be a fraud. I’ve been a witness to racism and snobbery.
But at the same time I’ve encountered government bureaucrats who’ve gone out their way to help. I’ve had neighbours who became part of our support network, almost family. I’ve made great new friendships and rekindled old ones. I’ve received assistance from strangers and been witness to amazing acts of selfless kindness and generosity.
But there’s no doubt that the most impactful transformation of the past decade has been to form a family, first with Bat Chen and now with Ella. It’s a complete reset of priorities and dreams and has also demanded a steep learning curve. It’s been wonderful at times, challenging at times, but I feel it has given me a powerful motivation and purpose in life. And the fact that both my wife and daughter are native born Israelis means that it has felt like I've really put down roots here.
Reflecting on the past decade, I wonder what conclusions I can draw. I’ve learned so much about Israel, and continue to do so. It’s a truly fascinating place for so many reasons. So many layers of history, of society; such varied landscapes and flora and fauna; a meeting place of religions, ethnicities and cultures; so many political outlooks and challenges; so many interesting people. It’s at once incredibly frustrating and deeply inspiring. It is so far from perfect (show me the country that is) but there are so many people here who want it to be and are working to help us get there.
One challenge for myself looking forward is thinking about how I can contribute more. Since my teens I’ve been involved in community leadership positions and even in Switzerland I continued this to an extent (albeit on a much smaller scale), but here I haven’t. I think it’s a mixture of having a much more intense, and then unpredictable work schedule; not being as aware of how to engage in the third sector; and a focus on family priorities at certain times. I still volunteer with FZY but it’s not on a significant scale and to be honest I’ve missed most of the meetings because of my touring. I hope that I can find my place here to help work more on the things I care about in society.
I suppose the main conclusion is that this is now my home. It is not my exclusive home – I will forever be British and connected to my upbringing in Surbiton. But when I say home, I now think of Israel. Aliyah has been a g