Why we had to say farewell to life in Israel

THE old home town looks the same as we step down from the plane...

It's now four weeks since Irene and I bade farewell to our spiritual home and left Israel to return to Manchester - at least for the foreseeable future.

Three years and nine months after making aliya, we find ourselves back in the not-so-sunny climes of the north of England.

Why did we decide to pack up and leave the land of our forefathers? Why did we close this chapter in our lives? Indeed, what prompted us to choose to make the move in the first place?

As committed Zionists, we had always wanted to spend more time in Israel, a country we had visited countless times over the years.

The perfect opportunity presented itself when our daughter Adele, who had become more religious, made aliya in 2007, met her future husband Ori, married the following February and gave birth to our first grandson Eliyahu before the end of the year.

Like all grandparents, we adore our little ones - there are four now - and resolved to stop shlepping there and back every few months and take the plunge ourselves.

In October, 2010, we boarded a Jewish Agency flight to settle in Netanya. So what were the plusses and minuses, the highs and lows of an unforgettable experience?

Broadly speaking, right from the start, Irene was homesick and despite by this time having two grandchildren to visit in Ramat Bet Shemesh, missed familiar faces and places, the shops and the city she had lived in all her life.

She felt cut off in her new environment and despite the best efforts of the wonderful expat community in north Netanya, she failed to come to terms with her new lifestyle.

A particular drawback was that she found it difficult to socialise with people of her age group simply because there were so few.

A large percentage of the residents in our area were long-retired. Many are now in their late eighties and nineties. There were the usual social and fundraising events but it just wasn't enough. From my perspective, the contrast couldn't have been greater. I literally loved every minute of my time there.

I became involved in a number of programmes including teaching English in schools - which Irene also did - delivering parcels to the needy and even improving my table tennis skills at the nearby synagogues two or three times a week.

Looking back, we should have made the effort and gone to ulpan which would have enabled us to get a basic knowledge of Ivrit.

But perhaps foolishly, we opted out and avoided the five-days-a-week instruction with homework on top.

We visited our daughter in Bet Shemesh as often as we could, coped manfully with the notorious Israeli beaurocracy, and experienced the dubious delights of visiting supermarkets where the prices you see are not necessarily those you pay - that's if you can get the checkout lady to serve you.

And then there are the banks. Visit them at your peril, just enjoy the air-conditioning, because when you leave in frustration two hours later you will be much the poorer in more ways than one.

It would be unfair, indeed unbalanced, not to mention the more positive aspects of Israel as we both found them.

We received incredible help and advice right from the off from the Jewish Agency. They encouraged us every step of the way, as did the absorption ministry which provides a tremendous package of benefits for all new olim, including monthly payments, rent allowances and free ulpan lessons.

The Jewish state offers superb medical care for all its citizens and most people join one of the four health insurance companies which provide similar, if not faster, services than their UK private equivalents.

You get a high level of cover for about £30 per couple per month - not bad when you are moving into your sixties or over.

All these benefits are carefully designed to smooth the way for all new immigrants, but you need to have a strong sense of purpose other than just contemplating a change to your current life here to ultimately make this challenge a fulfilling one.

But it's being proud Israelis - which is what we will always be - that means the most. It's still our country, our people, even though we now live abroad.

So, in the end, what brought us back?

Out of the blue, 15 months ago, our daughter and son-in-law announced that they would be returning to Manchester to take up positions as student chaplains for Aish Hatorah at Manchester University.

This stunning and totally unexpected news left us with a difficult decision to make. Should we follow them back straight away, or hope that they would return?

In the event, we stayed on another year, then took the inevitable decision to return to our origins. We had to be close to our grandchildren, especially as our first granddaughter was born last April.

So is it good to touch the green, green grass of home? We'll see.

Lew Fink,

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