Is there a place for me in Is­rael?

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Iam a sec­u­lar but tra­di­tional wo­man from Jo­han­nes­burg; I am about to make aliyah with my fam­ily. My hus­band and I go ev­ery week to shul in South Africa; our kids go to Jewish day schools and we kept a lot of the tra­di­tions, al­though we don’t keep kosher. I don’t want to send my children to re­li­gious schools in Is­rael, and we are not sure where we’ll find a com­mu­nity in which we’ll feel com­fort­able. We want to have the ritual and some shul, with­out com­mit­ting to keep­ing Shab­bat. Any ideas where we can find this?

Anx­ious About Aliyah Jo­han­nes­burg

Tzippi Sha-ked:

I lived in South Africa. I get the warmth of that Jewish co­coon where ev­ery­one knows your name, your slang, your kichel recipe; where you can drive to an Ortho­dox shul on Shab­bat and no one ques­tions your choices. Leav­ing fa­mil­iar­ity and com­mu­nal re­li­gious tol­er­ance for the un­known is scary.

There is cer­tainly a place in Is­rael for Jews who move for rea­sons such as Jewish iden­tity, which sounds like the case with you.

In fact, there are plenty of Is­raelis who es­chew re­li­gion, eat pork, com­bine milk with meat, hold a Sab­bath braai and don’t send children to re­li­gious schools. For them, Jewish tra­di­tion has been eclipsed by Zion­ism; yet there’s a place for them.

There are many op­tions for you, from mixed yishu­vim to mixed city neigh­bor­hoods such as Modi’in and Ra’anana. Get in touch with so­cial me­dia groups that pro­file all types of com­mu­ni­ties through­out the country.

I re­mem­ber clearly when in the 1990s Rus­sians left Mother Rus­sia and ar­rived at US shores brim­ming with sto­ries of Jewish re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion. Iron­i­cally, upon ac­cul­tur­at­ing into their new home­land, they of­ten shed their Jewish iden­ti­ties for Amer­i­can as­sim­i­la­tion. For some who make aliyah, that, too, is an op­tion. I know how painful it is to yearn for a sense of be­long­ing. Please be care­ful, as you loosen your South African Jewish skin, that you don’t trade it merely for Is­raeli cit­i­zen­ship. You came from a South African com­mu­nity steeped in Jewish pride and tra­di­tion, and you will find it here, on your terms, yet again.

Danit Shemesh:

It was in the Pico/Robert­son area in Los An­ge­les that we de­cided to be ob­ser­vant, to raise our children ac­cord­ing to Jewish law. While we en­joyed the com­mu­nity for the perks of Shab­bat meals, kosher markets and a va­ri­ety of shi’urim, it lacked some­thing vi­tal. What we missed most was to raise our children in the Land of Is­rael, to breathe the Is­raeli air. The Tal­mud (Bava Ba­tra 158b) says “the air of the Land of Is­rael wisens.” The closer we are to the hub of the world, the Sanc­tu­ary (the King’s court), the more alive we feel. Hence, you find here in Is­rael peo­ple liv­ing pas­sion­ately by their con­vic­tions with a raised bar of proac­tiv­ity, of poignancy, no mat­ter to which sec­tor they be­long.

Some­times this seems like a strat­i­fi­ca­tion of so­cial sec­tors, but there is also mu­tual re­spect for each sec­tor’s in­tegrity. You find that each Jew here in­vokes their free­dom of choice in the most pas­sion­ate way.

Here in Is­rael you will find ev­ery­thing, only in small, bite-size pieces. Even the land­scape has small ver­sions of ev­ery­thing, from hills to canyons. Yet the so­cial spec­trum is big, and there is place for ev­ery­one. As Jews, we can and do co­ex­ist.

We started off in Ra’anana and para­dox­i­cally found it to be too much like Bev­erly Wood. So, we de­cided to take the plunge and en­joy what Is­rael has to offer us and moved to a haredi com­mu­nity. You will live your de­ci­sions and be happy; Is­rael wel­comes you just as you are.

Pam Peled:

Just to­day an ac­quain­tance from Glas­gow texted me; he’d been What­sApped to make a Min­cha minyan on a stormy day. I was cat­a­pulted back into South Africa, where shul was so huge in our lives; the chat­ting on Fri­day nights as we checked out the hats; the stream of sma­hot, the warm, won­der­ful com­mu­nity.

Here in Is­rael, I haven’t found that same feel­ing. Warm and won­der­ful com­mu­ni­ties built around a shul cer­tainly ex­ist in droves, but by and large they cater to re­li­gious con­gre­gants. My own shul-go­ing days have dwin­dled dra­mat­i­cally to hol­i­days and bar mitz­vahs; it’s a pity. I miss the fa­mil­iar songs and prayers, and be­ing part of the “fam­ily.” Of course, any­one can go for a morn­ing daven; ev­ery­one is wel­come at any time. But sec­u­lar life doesn’t re­volve around the sy­n­a­gogue here; maybe a one-day week­end isn’t enough for the beach and a Shabbes brocha.

It’s a crazy para­dox: the sec­u­lar are of­ten “less Jewish” here than abroad from a shul point of view; though life is to­tally cen­tered around Ju­daism and fes­ti­vals, that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily pro­vide the same com­mu­nity com­po­nent.

Yet, iron­i­cally, com­mu­ni­ties very sim­i­lar to those “at home” do ex­ist in Is­rael – the Re­form and Con­ser­va­tive shuls. Check this out be­fore de­cid­ing where to live; there are not a vast num­ber of them, and they’re not en­cour­aged by the re­li­gious es­tab­lish­ment. There you’ll find all that is fa­mil­iar – warm com­mu­nity, com­mu­nal events and car­ing, de­voted but not nec­es­sar­ily de­vout con­gre­gants. Lots of the mem­bers are English-speak­ing – it might be a wel­come home away from home.

Com­ments and ques­tions: 3ladies3la­t­[email protected]

You came from a com­mu­nity steeped in Jewish pride and tra­di­tion, and you will find it here, on your terms, yet again

(Karen/Flickr)

FEEL COM­FORT­ABLE tak­ing a seat at the Is­raeli Shab­bat table, on your terms.

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