I had an exceedingly easy aliyah experience.  With the right blood and the right surnames, I became a citizen of Israel, with the same rights as any Israeli Jew, in less than a year.  Ironically, my husband’s paperwork was more of a headache than mine; a “katin hozer” (returning minor) and Israeli citizen by birth, he left the country as a child and grew up in the USA.  In order to make aliyah he had to prove that he left Israel prior to the age of 15, had not returned for longer than four months at a time since then (excluding study abroad programs), and that his parents had not resided in Israel since the family left. It was a pain and suffices it to say numerous tax returns from the 90’s were involved.

In my quest to learn Hebrew, I met many other olim (new immigrants) in my ulpan.  While I grew to love those in my class, I learned quickly that ulpan, especially at a mercaz klita (absorption center), is generally not a place for informed, critical political discourse.  Many times I swallowed my anger on hearing my peers tell me that “once I live in Israel for a while, or send my children to the IDF, then I’d drop my ‘politically correct,’ overly sensitive American ways.” These empty comments would occur when I reminded my peers that, for example, the Arabs of Umm al Fahm are citizens of Israel too, or that if they prefer Israel’s law to be based soley on halacha (Jewish law), they are essentially saying they favor a theocratic government, like Iran, to a democratic one.  Yes, I am American, but my issues with Israeli policy, both domestically and internationally, have nothing to do with that upbringing.  In fact, my American Jewish family is far more “moderate” than my husband’s lefty sabra family. Regardless, it’s not like any of my peers could speak from experience anyway- amusingly, the vast majority of them had far less exposure and connections to normal Israeli society than I did; I remember one specific peer, intent on joining the IDF and fighting for Israel, asking what a “kibbutznik” was.

The irony is that so many of these olim, with their extreme patriotism, are seen as strangers in its eyes.  Afterall, the country won’t allow them to marry their “real” Jewish citizens.  Sitting in my ulpan, I remember looking around my class of twenty and taking note that aside from one Argentinean young woman, a few fellow Americans, and a middle aged Persian mother, I was one of the few who, should I need to, could marry in this country and whose children would be seen as Jewish.  Now, I’m not especially religious, I wear pants and drive on Shabbat, yet I am a Jew here, while the man sitting next to me, wearing the kippa, is not because his grandmother wasn’t.  If both of us wanted to join a dati community, I’d be permitted in, he wouldn’t.

I look at him, trying so hard to learn Hebrew, and think his body is good enough for Israel- good enough for the Law of Return, good enough to help tilt the demographics towards the Jewish side, good enough to cast a vote (probably for a right-wing party), and good enough to shed blood for the IDF.  But I’ll tell you what’s not good enough for the State of Israel: his Jewish soul.

To this day, I am baffled how so many are so willing to either submit to invasive, all-consuming conversion classes or accept official status as non-Jewish Israelis, all without a peep of complaint. I even have a Russian friend who writes off the whole needing-to-convert-in-order-to-get-married-thing as annoying “bureaucracy.” I understand that many are just happy to be here, but still, all the more reason to make Israel the best country it can be, in my opinion.

Maybe after a few years of living in a country obsessed with the (in)validity of their blood, they’ll drop their Israel-can-do-no-wrong-shtick. I certainly hope so- cause the whole mess is making my Jewish soul ache.

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