Who Would Ever Want to be an Israeli?

February 6, 2011 by Raffe Gold
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As somebody who has lived all his life in Australia, revelling in the physical beauty and stability of one of the world’s most advanced nations, it might seem odd that I would choose to uproot myself from family and friends, to re-settle in a part of the world which has not known a day’s peace in 60 years, which is living under the threat of extinction and which is increasingly considered a bully and monster by the western establishment.


Raffe Gold

Yet that is what I, and thousands of Jewish men and women from all over the world, will be doing this year, next year and into the future.


The best way to describe ‘aliyah’, the term used for someone who migrates to Israel, is to quote the late John F Kennedy: “ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country”. Being an Israeli means having a symbiotic relationship with a living, breathing country… a country that is scarred by war, a country that has experienced Empires and Crusades and sacrifice and sacrilege. One does not go to Israel to pad their resume, to earn money or to find friends in the international community. Israelis remain shunned in many parts of the world and their passports are not be accepted at some customs checkpoints. To be an Israeli is not to be popular but to subscribe to a higher calling; not from God but from ourselves. New immigrants, known locally as ‘Olim’, and natural-born Israelis know that there are many improvements which need to be made within the country. This  will not happen overnight yet when we have faced adversity we have overcome it and when we have faced annihilation we have walked out of the Death Camps proclaiming “we survived”. When we faced the monumental task of reestablishing our homeland after thousands of years of exile, we watched with tears in our eyes as our flag, stained with the blood of our bravest soldiers, flew proudly over the holiest sight in Judaism.

To be an Israeli means accepting that our proudest moments are quickly forgotten yet our mistakes continue to haunt us. It means accepting that there will always be a stigma against us and a double standard that will hangs over our heads. It is accepting a difficult life in difficult conditions yet trying, and sometimes succeeding, to make the most of it. To be an Israeli means fighting and willing to sacrifice your life for what you believe in and watching your children do the same. It means savoring the peace and quiet which can be shattered at a moment’s notice by calls for our extermination, a rocket barrage in the South and worrying political upheaval in the Egyptian street. It means hearing comparisons of Apartheid from many who have no idea what it stands for and it means being subject to unjust and immoral boycotts, divestment and sanctions movement from hypocrites who stop using skin care products yet still use a computer. It means a media who prefer to report a story than report the facts and a public who choose to form an opinion prior to any legitimate investigation. To be an Israeli means to be lectured to by totalitarian dictatorships on the subject of human rights and condemned by Western states whose armies are far more immoral than our own. To be an Israeli means trying to overcome the bias of, as Stalin phrased them, ‘useful idiots’ who perjure us in university lectures and it means having to live minutes from neighbors whose children’s cartoons glorify martyrdom and demand our death thereby ensuring that yet another generation of extremists is raised and that this conflict continues indefinitely.

But to be an Israeli also means coming to grips with our own flaws; our treatment of Palestinians under occupation, the rare loose trigger-fingers of border policemen, the controversial settlements, the status of East Jerusalem and the recent letters by both Rabbis and their wives in regards to the position of Arabs in a country that they rightly live in. As Israelis, we must come to grips with our flaws. They tarnish us in the eyes of the world but we should not try to overcome them for the purpose of public relations or to make ourselves feel good but because they are a blot on our very soul and they ensure that we cannot strive for the country that we know we can be whilst these problems still exist. There have been times when we have failed to safeguard either our Jewish or Democratic principles but the Jewish story has always been one of constant reassessment and improvement.

To be an Israeli means accepting all of this. Accepting the pain and hardship that comes with living in our neighborhood and celebrating our achievements against such adversity. It means looking to the future whilst remembering the past; repeating the phrase ‘never again’ and acting on those words rather than just paying them lip service. To be an Israeli one has to have a thick skin that may seem off-putting but also have a heart of gold.

Who would ever want to be an Israeli?

I do.

Now…I am.

Raffe Gold is a political science graduate who recently became an Israeli citizen. He can be reached at twitter.com/raffeg


5 Responses to “Who Would Ever Want to be an Israeli?”
  1. Steve McCourtie says:

    If your writers (specifically Raffe Gold: “Who Would Ever Want to be an Isreali?”) are going to give JFK credit for the line, “Ask not what your country … ” then you should at least include an asterisk with the following information:
    Researchers attribute the quote to Roman statesman and orator Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero), who used it during a speech in 64 BC; however, some scholars believe Cicero borrowed it from Junvenal (Decimus Junius Junenval), a Roman poet.
    Cicero’s speech was – of course – not in English, so translations vary.
    Others who used similar quotes:
    Captain Felipe Arrellanos (a character in the Walt Disney TV series, “Zorro,” played by George N. Neise) in the episode “Invitation to Death” broadcast during the 1958-1959 season, giving a patriotic speech defending Spain in which he asks “Is this the time for us to be asking, What have you (Spain) done for us? We should be asking what can we do for you?” Was John F. Kennedy paraphrasing/quoting from a “Zorro” scene?!?!?
    Khalil Gibran, a poet and author of Lebanese heritage, who published a work in Boston titled “The New Frontier” in 1925: “Are you a politician asking what your country can do for you or a zealous one asking what you can do for your country? If you are the first, then you are a parasite; if the second, then you are an oasis in a desert.”
    Warren Harding in 1916 at the Republican convention echoed a similar statement: “we must have a citizenship less concerned about what the government can do for it and more anxious about what it can do for the nation.” The line is on display in Harding’s own handwriting at his Marion, Ohio, home.
    Oliver Wendell Holmes stated, “Recall what our country has done for each of us, and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country in return” in an 1884 Memorial Day speech.
    Steve McCourtie
    Lansing, Michigan

  2. Raffe, it is good that you are an Israeli. My hope and prayer is that you will have opportunities to see first hand within places like Bili’n, Nablus and Jenin what life is like for Palestinians. There are many good dialogue groups that can link you up with Palestinians who can give you a sense of what occupation means. Rabbi Arik Asherman and Jeff Halper are a good start. My prayer is that you will be part of the new generation of Israelis that looks to Palestinians as your brothers and sisters who seek to share the land as neighbours, despite the tragic recent past. Shalom Salam Peace.

  3. Richard Joachim says:

    You inspire us, even old people like us. The continuance and growth of Israel and our Jewish Faith and the ancient Covenant, is safe in the hands of the young like yourself.
    Mazel Tov, young man, many Jewish people speak of their ancestors and from whom they are descended, you, young man, are not so much a descendant as an ancestor; one who bravely encounters obstacles and overcomes them.
    G-D Bless you and your descendants.

  4. hilary says:

    I identify with this article and think you have summarised the exact way so many of us olim feel yet we’re unable to word it so beautifully like you did !!! It makes perfect sense and you described it with passion and gave meaning to the word zionism and living in Israel

    Kol Hakavod

  5. Lynne Newington says:

    I’t something you need to do because you need to.
    It’s also part of your spiritual inheritance, not everyone chooses to activate the promptings and that’s alright to.
    Good for you, I hope you find a nice Jewish partner and live happily ever after, well as happy as you can be anyway.
    What mother could ask for anything more for her son.

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