A French Jew comes home

By Jonathan Josephs, published by Jewish Agency

Jonathan Josephs, 26, made Aliyah from France last week and participated in the 2012 Jewish Agency Assembly earlier this week in Jerusalem. These are some of his reflections.

My name is Jonathan Josephs, and I’m a 26-year-old British/French jurist and linguist.

Today, I feel honoured to be celebrating my first week as an Israeli citizen. I’m proud to say that I made Aliyah just one week ago, which would have been impossible without the fantastic work of The Jewish Agency.

The most common reaction since my arrival here usually involves one affirmation, one rhetorical question, followed by a more serious interrogatory: “Mazal tov!” “Are you crazy?” and then, “So, tell me, why did you make Aliyah?” I usually answer that last question by saying that I made Aliyah not because of my Zionist ideals—although they are most certainly intact—and not because of the closeness I feel when in Israel. I just hit them with the truth: “Because of the beautiful Israeli women, of course!”??

On a more serious note, it is hard to explain the reasons behind my Aliyah in purely logical and coherent terms. Of course, my love for the land and the people of Israel played an important role in my life-changing decision. But what else? Was it because of the anti-Semitism I experienced in France? Perhaps. Was it because I wanted to quit my job in London and was seeking out a fresh start? Perhaps. Truth be told, I didn’t know exactly why I was seeking to make Aliyah. But I soon came to understand, and with total clarity, why I did so just three days into my life as an Israeli citizen.??

I was walking down Basel Street in Tel Aviv. An old man, proudly sporting a hat fashionable to people his age, was slowly making his way along the pavement. It was extremely hot, and the man was obviously struggling.?He was slowing down, looked a bit dazed, and was sweating profusely. Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a hairdresser emerged from his shop.?“Gever, gever,” he shouted to the old man. The man didn’t respond — he was in his own world, still battling his way down the road. The hairdresser left his shop and ran towards the old man. Now, my Hebrew isn’t perfect, alas, but it didn’t need to be for what I then saw. The hairdresser gently took the old man by the arm, walked him into his shop, sat him down in a chair, and offered him a bottle of water. It is this spirit of family—one large, extended, and undoubtedly meshuggeneh family—which succeeded in removing any lingering doubts I might have had about Aliyah being the right path—indeed, the only path—for me. And the beautiful Israeli women, of course.

It goes without saying that Israel is by no means a perfect place (what is it about you guys shouting to each other on the phone, and the incessant honking of car horns in the streets?). And yes, I still may look at Israel with a youthful enthusiasm that may well dwindle when I have to wait in the heat in the lobby of the Ministry of Education while waiting for my academic degrees to be recognised by the state.

But for the short time I have been in Israel, I have not stopped smiling. I even smile when I see people shouting at each other in the street.?My feeling is that this sense of community—of looking out for one another—simply does not exist elsewhere in the world. When I went to register for my kupat holim (healthcare provider) and they understood that I had just made Aliyah, I suddenly had ten people surrounding me, congratulating me, giving me their numbers, and inviting me round for Shabbat dinner. I’m now booked up for the next 18 Shabbatot. I even had someone asking me to meet their daughter.

In the week since I’ve been here, I’ve received my identity card, registered in a kupat holim, opened a bank account, found a job, and just yesterday signed a lease for an apartment. The weeks leading to my Aliyah were an emotional ride. Saying goodbye to your family is never easy, even though they have promised to visit regularly. Just as well, then, that I have a new family here: the Israeli people. They have been, without exception, supportive, caring, and utterly inspirational in every respect.

Like many Jews growing up in the Diaspora, I attended many Zionist summer camps. I became involved in the movement, and served as a madrich (counselor). At the age of 18, upon my graduation from high school, I decided to go and experience Israel for a year on a Masa Israel program. This was my first time visiting Israel.

The Masa program must have worked, because I soon caught the Israel bug. I wanted more. While at university in England, the skills I learned in the Masa program enabled me to be elected as the president of the Jewish society, and also to become involved in student politics, where I was an advocate for Israel in a university that was a hotbed of anti-Israel activity. After university, I was honoured to become a member of the Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, where I specialise in fighting against online anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial from a legal perspective. I was honoured to give talks in the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Jerusalem, and in the French Ministry of Foreign and European affairs in Paris. Jewish leadership is something I very much enjoy, and I want to continue playing an active part in here in Israel.

The highlights of my Aliyah so far have been both Jewish Agency and social media-related.

When I made the decision to make Aliyah, The Jewish Agency was there for me 100% of the time.?From the early stages right until today, they have been a source of information, assistance, and inspiration, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for the amazing job you do, day in and day out, to help schlep people like me out to Israel.?At every stage of the Aliyah process, The Jewish Agency was always on hand to answer my questions and concerns. From the moment I decided to make Aliyah up until the moment I landed in Israel, there was always someone to help me out — be it in London, Paris, Marseille, or Jerusalem. Their crucial role in bringing Jews such as myself to Israel is one which is vital to the continued prosperity of a vibrant Israeli society, and I’m particularly proud to have been able to play a part in our common heritage. I look forward to playing an active part in Israeli society and hope to maintain close ties with the organisation that brought me here in the first place.

Within days of my Aliyah, I was lucky enough to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference and rub shoulders with President Shimon Peres! The Jewish Agency booth at the conference was fantastic – it was great to finally be able to put a face to the organisation that did so much for me in my Aliyah process. A few days later, I had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Jewish Agency Assembly, where I was honoured to be amongst the leaders of The Jewish Agency and the Jewish world. The debates at the round tables during the Assembly’s Global Jewish Forum were challenging and stimulating, and the lectures were of the highest quality – as one would expect from the most important organisation connecting Jews around the world to Israel.

One of the bedrocks of my integration in Israel so far has been the community of olim and Israelis on Twitter, who have been extremely supportive and friendly throughout my Aliyah process. As soon as I landed in Israel, I knew I already had a group of friends on whom I could rely to be there for me. I was not disappointed. The combination of social networking and Aliyah is extremely important and something of tremendous importance in bringing young Jews from around the world to Israel.

I will continue supporting The Jewish Agency in any way I can and hope to play an active role in the organisation and in the opportunities and challenges that it faces in the years to come.

I really do feel as though I have come home.

July 9, 2012 | Comments »

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