The Israel to which I returned from my time in Winnipeg was not the Israel that I had left behind. If we are already talking openly, neither the Israel that I left, nor that to which I returned, were anything like the Israel to which I made Aliyah. Then again, the Israel to which I made Aliyah was different before my army service than it was after my army service, and different again, to the Israel I knew when Yishai, my eldest, was born. I will explain.
Next year I will have been Israeli for half of my life.
The Oslo Accords were signed on my 18th birthday. I believe this was just a coincidence.
I made Aliya the following summer, quite unintentionally as it happens. Rabin was the Prime Minister, peace with Jordan had been declared, and everything was looking quite optimistic. With all of the celebration in the air, nobody really noticed that many of the tourist attractions that I had visited during my two earlier trips to Israel, and even those that I hiked through during that first year as an Israeli citizen, were being closed off to Jewish visitation, among them the Temple Mount, Shechem, Herodian, Sebastia, etc. Many beautiful, historical sites that had been the connection between me and the history of the land were now off limits - but we were all happy with what the future seemed to hold, so it seemed to matter less.
Six months into my IDF service, Rabin was assassinated. The party seemed to end abruptly. I remember hitching a lift from near Hadera to Bar Ilan University during the following spring, as I was making plan for my release from the army. A young woman stopped for me and I got in. As soon as I did, and she saw a couple of things she had not noticed as I stood on the road side, she became tense. At one point she reached over to get something from her handbag, and I suddenly understood why. These were the facts: I served in an active field unit, I was wearing a kippah, and I was travelling to Bar Ilan University. This is the association she drew: Yigal Amir was an orthodox Jew who had served in an active field unit and had been a student at Bar Ilan University at the time he pulled the trigger. When she moved her bag from the dashboard, she uncovered the "Shalom, Chaver" sticker that lay underneath it.
"You don't feel comfortable with me in your car, do you?" I asked her.
"To be honest," she replied in embarrassment, "no. I know it's wrong. I can't help it."
That was Israel during the post-Rabin years.
In 1999 Shlomit and I got married. After finishing university we moved to a small (40 family) community called Kiryat Netafim in the Ariel corridor. We moved into our new house two weeks before Rosh HaShana 2000. At that point in time it appeared that a final settlement agreement between Israel and the PA that would end the saga of the previous century was imminent. Our house would most likely become prime real estate, 30 minutes away from Tel Aviv, and 450 meters above sea level. Great view and great clean air, what could be better.
During dinner on the eve of Rosh HaShana, with all of Shlomit's family around the table, one of our new neighbours knocked on the door and invited me out for a chat. I was asked to come and sign on an M-16, to take my place in a civil defence rotation, and to be on the alert. We were under the impression that there had been a few sporadic incidents, that the youth in villages throughout Israel were letting off a little steam over the holiday, and that all would be back on track soon. Yishai was born three years later.
Four years and more than 2,000 deaths later - of which I attended the funerals of about 300 with whom I had worked, taught, lived and shared friendship - we accepted the position as Shlichim in Winnipeg and made the move. About a week before we flew to Canada I was working with youth in the communities of Northern Shomron.
Likud Prime Minister Arik Sharon had asked the party whether or not to disengage from Gaza. The proposal was voted down, and he vowed to honour the results of the democratic process.
By the time we returned to Israel Arik Sharon was the Kadima Prime Minister, although there had been no election, and the Gush Katif Bloc and Northern Shomron were empty of Jews, and the imminent peace and quiet was not yet evident.
Two more wars later I find myself living in the central Israeli city of Modiin. 70,000 others live here with me (with plans to grow to 230,000), many of whom, particularly in the Buchman and Kaiser neighbourhoods, are Anglo olim. Closer to home, Yishai (no longer chubby with long hair) is a tall and skinny young man who finishes first grade tomorrow, Adar (conceived in Winnipeg, born in Jerusalem) is now 4 years old and has a very definite opinion about almost everything, and Jordyn has spent most of the six months since her birth smiling happily at the world around her. Shlomit has gone back to work following the best part of a year, pre and post birth, at home.
The truth is that this is Israel.
If you were short-sighted enough to imagine that Israel can be understood by judging the ebb and flow in the short-term, you would probably get the impression that my home is one riddled with uncertainty, victim to the whims of political intrigue and extreme ideological shifts. You may feel that war comes way too often, and perhaps be mistaken into thinking that there may be a "wham-bam" solution to all ills.
I would suggest an alternative paradigm.
I have spent the last seven years watching each of my three children go through pretty much the same series of steps in their growth, my father has spent the last 35 watching me and my brother, and my 97-year-old grandmother (may she live a long and healthy life) still speaks frequently about how her "children" (71 and 67) still haven't fully grown up. In the same way that I would not dream of looking at my four year old critically for the rapid changes in her behaviour and whims, knowing as I do what she had to go through in order to reach this (very cute) stage of her development, and knowing as I do what awaits her as she follows in her brother's footsteps, I would like to ask that we look at the State of Israel as if she were going through something like puberty. We can discuss the pros and cons of various nurturing and education methods at some other point.
Israel is an exciting place to live, sometimes exhaustingly so. I would say that there has not yet been a calm period in her short history, and indeed that every period has been interesting in its own way. During the 16 years since my aliya I have watched a social and political system go through incredible developments. Politics is beginning to be more about economic and social issues than about borders and land. Education and employment are the number one concerns in every public survey, and our system of checks and balances (government, Knesset, supreme court) is about to reach the point of having to redefine its rules of engagement.
I love being part of the future in the making. I share that love with pretty much everyone I meet, all of us who can take a step back from our daily grind of traffic jams and making the mortgage to realise that we have reached the point where our greatest concerns are beating the traffic and getting a raise!
If you watch carefully, really carefully for the next few years, I bet you will see the following: a new generation of leadership emerging that wears suits rather than sandals, Israeli business success creating a viable middle class, an urbanisation movement, investment in transportation and industry infrastructure that will make the periphery of the country thrive independently of Tel Aviv, and much, much more.
I look forward to sharing it with you as it happens. Jonny Cline was the former Shaliach for the now defunct Winnipeg Zionist Initiative. He was born and raised in England.
Rather an odd bloke.
Father of three kids far exceeding the expectation of their gene pool. Husband to a stunner.
Left everything familiar and almost civilized at the tender age of 18 to spend his life working towards a dream, wondering if he'll live to see it realized.