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The Unmistakable Pull

Julieta is a Yahel Social Change Fellow volunteering in the Ramat Eliyahu neighborhood of Rishon LeZion.

What forces drive someone to leave their home country to immigrate somewhere else? As the daughter of immigrants, and a first-generation immigrant myself, it’s a question I wrestle with often. Understanding others’ migration patterns has always proven to be an interesting topic for me; and understanding Israel’s migration patterns, specifically, never seemed any different. Immigration works both ways in Israel, with many coming to stay and many leaving to seek lives elsewhere. However, the reasons why people come to Israel have struck me as more and more peculiar as I learn about them. Those reasons why people make aliyah are not as comparable to other immigration stories as I once might have thought.

The term aliyah literally means ascension – in the context of Judaism, it refers to people being called up to the bima (podium) to make the blessing before reading from the Torah. Thus, making aliyah is similarly holy in how people are ascending to holy Jerusalem. The Law of Return determines who is eligible for aliyah. The law was intended to counteract the Nazi’s Nuremberg Law and to offer protection to anyone who would have once been targeted by the Nazi German regime; thus, to qualify as a Jew who can make aliyah, one must have at least one Jewish grandparent. Interestingly, those who are not considered Jewish by Orthodox Jewish Laws (Halakha) can therefore still be granted Israeli citizenship.

The reasons for making aliyah differ on an individual basis. However, the traditional reasoning usually seems to be tied to either religious, Zionist, or safety reasons (safety referring to fleeing a bad situation in one’s home country). Someone will feel some sort of pull back to Zion, to the holy land, a pull so strong that it overpowers their desire for comfort in a country they know, and they upend their life to start anew in Israel.

During Yahel Orientation, we spoke to Ethiopian-Israeli members of the Ramat Eliyahu community, many of whom made Aliyah in the two major waves of aliyot in the 1980s and earlier 1990s. A few commonalities stood out when hearing their stories. All viewed their aliyah as a homecoming, something they had yearned for their entire lives. They also had emigrated due to that yearning rather than because a specific need to evacuate Ethiopia. In many ways, their lives in Ethiopia were quite idyllic — beautiful countryside and tight-knit communities — but the pull to return to Zion was stronger, ultimately choosing to leave and start anew in Israel. Immigration is not what I find novel — it’s this unnameable force that connects diaspora Jews to the Land of Israel so strongly that they uproot their lives.

From the first time I stepped foot in Israel three years ago, people have asked me if plan on making Aaliyah. I always have the same answer; I have no need to leave my home in Canada. It’s only now that I realize that when people ask if I’m making aliyah, they aren’t asking if I want to leave behind Canada, but rather if I feel and identify with that unmistakeable force. While I love Israel, and I am enjoying my extended period of time here and feel extremely connected to my Jewish heritage and to the community I’ve become a part of here, my home is still Toronto. However, as with everything in life, my answer could change. So for now, my answer is no, with an addendum — ask me again in five months.

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