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Making Aliyah

Balagan, chaos, laughing hearts, helpful hands: A young German woman shares her personal story of why she calls Jerusalem her home now…

vvvita / shuterstock.com

vvvita / shuterstock.com

Balagan. This was one of the first Hebrew words I learned in Israel. A very important word, it translates roughly as “chaos” – a rather apt description for the spirit of the country. Back in Germany, the summer sky was a chaotic tangle of thunder and lightning. Here, the rocket app on my smartphone flashed its hourly updates. In and of itself, that would not be newsworthy. But that night brought some 70 rocket attacks: daycares and residential buildings were hit; soldiers were injured. After 24 hours, a momentary quiet returned to the border at Gaza. Apart from the newspaper headlines, day-to-day life in Israel seemed much as always. Chaos is Israel’s everyday normality. The Jewish state may be celebrating its 70th birthday, but tensions are high. Many Israelis believe there will soon be war. The last war, after all, was already four years ago.
During that night, my phone was illuminated time and time again by messages from my family and friends. They wanted to know if I was all right. If I wanted to return home. What most of them don’t understand is that Israel is now my home. Not just since that moment seven months ago, when I made Aliyah, became an immigrant, and began proudly showing everyone my new passport. Rather, since the moment I first looked out of the window while landing, and was overcome by the warm and comforting feeling of returning home. Just five days later, after gaining a brief impression of the country and its people, and drawing in that chaos with every breath, I decided to make Aliyah. No one I was traveling with believed my decision. But about a year and a half later, I won the bet – and 50 euros.
The question I have been asked most, by Germans and Israelis alike, since I packed my four suitcases in November and boarded the aircraft, is: “Why?” Why did I leave a well-paying job, a beautiful apartment, my family and friends, to come here and embark on the process of building a new life in a country gripped by a wearying and seemingly never-ending conflict?

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Because Israel provides me with a Jewish home and life, far away from synagogues that are under police protection, from snack-bar owners and taxi drivers who spit out the words “dirty Jewish money.” Far away from a place that elected the far-right AfD to the Bundestag – a party headed by a man who just compared the Nazi dictatorship to “bird shit”. From a place where musicians shamelessly rap about the emaciated bodies of Holocaust victims – and are then honored with a major music award. And far away from a capital city in which, yet again, a young person was threatened and attacked in public because he was listening to music by Omer Adam – music that I listen to at full volume every day, much to the delight of my neighbors.

Defending our homeland

Even beyond that, there is the country itself. It’s a small country that can be crossed by car in less than seven hours – on a drive that, at some times of the year, would have you packing both your bikini and your ski gear. A country that welcomes thousands of immigrants from all over the world every year. A country that has now grown to some 8.8 million people, where a carton of raspberries costs the equivalent of ten euros, but which will never run short of cheap and tasty falafel. A country where orthodox Jews study Torah while large gay pride parades take to the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. A country of startups that is ever on the move and a leader in the field of medical research. A country that shrugs its shoulders at the idea of customer service. Maybe that will have improved somewhat by next year’s Eurovision Song Contest – but even if it doesn’t, the laughing hearts, helpful hands, and strong shoulders of this country will do enough to make up for that. All this under bright blue skies, to the accompaniment of a soundtrack that blends honking horns, loud voices, the rush of the ocean, and the thwack of the ball hitting the paddle as people enjoy the national pastime, matkot. Balagan – there it is again, that word that you learn as soon as you arrive. As you begin to learn more about this country, you learn not to take everything so seriously.
Of course, Israel is not perfect. There are tensions between Jews of different national backgrounds and different levels of observance. Tensions with Palestinians are ongoing. On top of that, political scandals, the ever-rising cost of living, and constant threat are faced by the only democracy in this part of the world. This is also a hot topic in the international media, which time and time again twists reality in favor of attention-grabbing headlines – while obdurately refusing to comprehend the conflict itself. Refusing to understand that we are not the ones doing the attacking, but the ones who are constantly forced to defend our homeland and homes.
A functional, growing, vibrant, democratic home. All this in just 70 years. It is truly remarkable. What are 70 years, after all? Measured against a human lifespan, it is a venerable age. But measured against history, 70 years are nothing but the blink of an eye. A brief moment. A breath. Israel is still in its infancy, but has managed to accomplish so much, even as it continues to press forward. That is probably one of the greatest strengths of this young country: its steadfastness, its refusal to give up. Day in, and day out.
For Israel’s 100th birthday, our only real wish can be the hope for peace. But even after such a short amount of time in this country, it is already becoming clear that this hope is both innocent and naïve. So we must content ourselves with hoping that over the next 30 years, the Jewish state will continue to grow and thrive at this breathless pace. By that time, I will have spent more of my life in Israel than in Germany, and I hope that I will look back at a life as vibrant as the country I am living in.■
Sarah Fantl is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivor and film director Thomas Fantl. Following the completion of her training as a journalist at the Axel Springer Academy, she worked as an editor in Berlin until she decided to pack her bags and immigrate to Israel seven months ago. She now works as a freelance reporter in Jerusalem and is writing her first book on her family history

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