The Jewish Chronicle
My sister’s moving to Israel and I’m struggling
MY SCHOOL had a speech day every year. When I was 17, we sixth-formers sat on the stage, just behind the headteacher, while my sister, in the first form, was in the massed ranks of girls below us. I noticed that one of the silver cups on the table had my sister’s name attached. And so, throughout the long afternoon, I attempted to warn her of her unexpected honour, through the medium of raised eyebrows, massive sideeye and subtle (I thought) grimaces. By the time she came up on stage to be presented with the Junior Hockey Cup, I’d embarrassed myself and her in front of the whole school. And now I’m going to do it again.
She was then rather better at hockey than I was — on her first day, her first lesson was PE. “Are you as bad at sport as your sister,” asked the teacher, in mock horror, but as soon as they got out onto the field Deborah soon proved her stick-wielding skill. Now, I feel she’s rather better at most things than I am, especially when it comes to things Jewish. While I comment from the sidelines (my favourite position in hockey was most definitely reserve), she’s in the thick of the action, scoring goals.
And now she’s being transferred to a different league. This month, my sister and her husband — you may know them as Deborah and Jeremy Nathan of Hendon— are making aliyah, joining their younger daughter Eliana. Israel’s gain is our loss. As so often, the most active, involved It’s not necessary to go to a Jewish school to become an active Jewish leader people in Anglo-Jewry are the ones who feel the pull of the Jewish state.
Deborah has been a communal macher since she was a teenager, involved in Jewish Youth Study Group (JYSG), the Association of Jewish Sixth-formers (AJ6), and the Union of Jewish Students. After graduating (with first-class honours, noch), she spent a year as AJ6 fieldworker.
She qualified as an accountant, and could have had a career in the City. Instead, she prioritised family and community, working for Jewish schools and charities. Most recently, she’s been CEO of British Emunah a very active charity that raises money for deprived and disturbed children in Israel.
At home and work, she manages the careful balancing act between the demands of Modern Orthodoxy and feminism with impressive grace. She and Jeremy have been active members of several shuls, and every Shabbat hosted a minyan — comprising far more than ten people — in their living room.
So, why (apart from being an embarrassingly proud older sister) am I telling you this? First, because I think that the departure of two such machers is worth marking. Between them, Deborah and Jeremy must have touched the lives of hundreds of people in our community and beyond. What happens when a community’s top scorers depart? Are the reserves ready and willing to take a more active role?
Second, they prove that it’s not necessary to go to a Jewish school to become active, superinvolved Jewish leaders. In fact, belonging to a small community, as we did, and going to a school with few Jews, can be the catalyst for children and young adults to think about how to strengthen and develop their Jewish identities. Deborah and Jeremy did that through strong youth movements and, later on, being part of UJS and Hillel House. In investing in Jewish schools, has our community made the right choices?
Thirdly — and this is what I remind myself of every day at the moment — Israel is not so far away. There are more flights than there used to be (people make aliyah on EasyJet now) and they are cheaper. There is Skype, and Facetime and Messenger and WhatsApp, to keep us in touch without expensive call charges. Deborah is moving to a new job at Emunah, where she will be liaising with English-speaking groups around the world, and of course, coming back to visit the UK regularly.
It’s fair to guess that many families will end up as scattered as ours. People with experience and understanding of Anglo-Jewry will be based there. How can we keep the links strong? Does the British Jewish community need to look more to Israel for expertise and support?
Aliyah is in fact the logical next step in their Jewish journey. They will join many friends there, and slot easily into a new life. I’ve struggled with this, to be honest, as I don’t have the same close relationship with Israel and feel no desire to follow suit. It’s a real challenge, applauding their joy and courage in following their dreams, while feeling anguish at losing them.
So the next few weeks will be full of goodbyes. Nesiah tova! But do come back and visit soon.