My whole life I knew I was Jewish. I don’t remember telling people as a kid, I didn’t exactly know what that meant, as we only seemed to do anything about it around Passover, which we always celebrated, it was my favorite night of the year growing up. Occasionally Rosh Hashanah was observed, with Apples dipped in Honey, and when i was a little older I remember my mum explaining about Yom Kippur too. It didn’t massively impact who I was, or what I believed, I just knew it was a part of the fabric of who I am.
I remember as young as 8 or 9 years old being told to go back to ‘Jew Land’ by a boy at school, whose parents interestingly were refugees from Nigeria…. So clearly other people knew I was Jewish too, and sometimes didn’t like it.
It was really when I was 13-14 that I took on a deeper meaning of what being Jewish meant, when I had to do a family history project for school. This was when I learned all the atrocities my grandparents went through in the Holocaust, and just how many members of our family were killed. I realized that this identity was a part of something that defined me, even if the religious aspect of it was completely lost on me.
My best friend at school was an Orthodox Jew and I tried to understand some of her traditions, when I stayed over at her house, it was always me who messed up the dairy knives by putting them in the meat drawer, or washed my bolognese plate up in the milk sink, I didn’t get it at all! But she did teach me something – that even though we came from opposite ends of the Jewish spectrum, we were the same. It was actually this same friend who gave me the final push I needed when deciding to make Aliyah 10 years later. “We are Jewish” she said. “Our call is to live in Israel, we should be there”. She also made Aliyah.
It was with excitement, a toddler and a baby that we arrived in Israel to make this incredible place our new home several years ago. We’d been here many times before and loved it, so weren’t worried about adjusting to the culture or the language. We threw ourselves into life here, found an apartment, set up our bills, taxes and put our roots down.
The religious aspect of Judasim hadn’t ever played a part of our lives, I identified as a Jew in my ethnicity, as part of our history, and knew my family paid a dear price for it during WW2. I visited a Rabbi, before we left the UK, who assured me that I was Jewish and I therefore applied as a Jew in my own right. So imagine our surprise when we were told that our Aliyah application had been denied.
It seems that they had found out (illegally!) that I’d had a Mikvah (baptism), that We’d married in a church, and that my parents had married in a church. This somehow meant we were no longer Jewish. We explained that In the UK, the place is what makes a wedding official, and we simply hired a church, but were married under a Huppa and included many Jewish traditions in our wedding, as we did Indian to honor my Husbands heritage. To no avail. We were denied.
To say that I had an identity crisis would be an understatement! I had gone from feeling in no way Jewish, to really identifying as Jew and being proud of it, to be being told I wasn’t the right brand of Jew to be accepted to live in the State of Israel! At this point we got legal help. It turns out, if I apply as a non Jew, and as the granddaughter of a Jew, I would still have the right to get citizenship here. So we tried again, and appealed the decision with an amended application for Aliyah.
Then began the wait. We paid higher taxes, an absurd amount for Health Care, we had no ID, which makes everything more complicated, and we had no visa, which meant we couldn’t leave the country for several years. It also meant that when baby number 3 came along, we could not have the baby at a hospital without paying the National Insurance costs, which were astronomical! Deadline after deadline passed, interviews came and went, and the Ministry of Interior was passed from Shas hands to Likud hands. We were over joyed at this! Finally, some potential for a wider definition of a Jew! But it didn’t seem to affect anything. Then we heard from them with their final proposition. Temporary residency, resulting in a probable granting of Permanent residency after that.
Technically this gives us virtually all the same rights as a New Immigrant. We get the ID, the Health Care, the taxes are adjusted and we can live as anyone else can. So why didn’t we feel like this was a victory? Why were we still gutted? We’ve been given the ability to live here, most likely forever, we get all the same rights, more or less, and we can come and go as we please! So why the disappointment?
There are several reasons. Firstly, it is the audacity that ‘they’ think they can use the Holocaust as a means to get Jewish sympathies, to move people to come here, and probably to get aid. But when the family of a survivor arrives on their doorstep and wants to be counted as a citizen, it suddenly counts for nothing. It makes me livid that the Ministry of Interior can on one hand use the definitions of a Jew which were given at the time of the Holocaust, and say that the Holocaust was a defining moment in the recreation of the State of Israel, but when push comes to shove, they won’t accept the granddaughter of a survivor, who’s grandfathers name is in Yad Vashem (The Holocaust Memorial Museum).
Secondly, It’s the sheer mind games they have played. They have never given me a reason to reject my application on the grounds of my grandmother. I understand that they can’t get their heads around a Jew (by ethnicity, NOT by religion!) getting married in a church. But where is the grounds of dismissing a perfectly acceptable application on the grounds of a grandparent? It’s the desire for the upper hand, the final word, which drove me crazy. They know they can’t deny me, but they don’t want to succumb, so they will offer me as little as they possibly can, knowing they’ve worn us out, so we probably won’t take them to court. What difference does it make to them? Permanent Resident? Citizen?
Thirdly, this process has caused me to question my identity a thousand times. Am I Jewish? Am I just mistaken to identify here? I seem to be on the same page as most of the friends we’ve made here, they don’t seem to question if I’m Jewish. I don’t understand! What right does ANY nation, government, person have to tell someone they are NOT what they believe themselves to be? I am a Jew. I am not religious. But I am still a Jew. Just the same as the majority of this country. I have come to see the dark and dirty side of Religious-led Politics, and I have come to the conclusion that your politics and religion should not mix. Israel has a call on it to seek justice, love mercy, and act humbly. I did not experience any of these things in my journey to become Israeli.
Justice was most certainly not served, there was no compassion, no understanding, and no willingness to see that every European Jew is going to have it’s own unique story, many of which will include conversions, mixed marriages, abandoning religion and many other heartbreaking attempts to hide their identity! That doesn’t change their identity, is merely requires more compassion. Not punishment. That’s part of the beauty of the Jewish story.
There was no mercy. In it’s place was deception, manipulation, disrespect and a lot of rejection where there should have been honor, a welcome and a celebration.
There was no humility. In it’s place was a pig headed stubbornness that I wasn’t what I know I am, that I’m hiding something, that my family, for some reason, doesn’t qualify to live here. Offense was taken, and given, rather than an assumption that anyone who wants to live here must have reason to. It’s not easy! Why would any young couple with 2 babies move to this volatile part of the world and set up home? Purely because they want to live in a place that accepts God’s call on it, that accepts them for who they are, and because they identify with those around them. Quite simply, they’re home.
The process that the Ministry of Interior put my family through was a unique time, an impossible time of challenge after challenge. We felt like we were in a battle, constantly, with ourselves, with the Ministry of Interior and with life here. We had no choice but to see it through, and I am so glad that we did. We know who we are. I know my identity, and no one can tell me otherwise. I know my family history, and what that makes me.
Yes, I’m disappointed that we won’t get the blue passports. Yes, I’m disappointed that we won’t be recognized to be Jewish. Yes, I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to vote for our next Prime Minister. But mostly, I’m disappointed that this miraculous country, which is called to be set apart, to have compassion, to love others, to honor others, to look after its own, and to seek justice, has chosen to reject its own. It’s chosen to deny the basic human right of an ethnic identity to be as valid as a religious one. And I for one, think that is the greatest failure of all.