"I'll give you six months," said a close relative the day before I packed my life into two rucksacks and schlepped them 2,000 miles from Britain. A decade on, I'm still here, and proud to be an olah vatika (veteran immigrant).

Even within Israel the concept of Aliyah for Zionism's sake is often an alien one. Young Israelis in particular cannot understand why someone from an evidently prosperous country, with a culture-rich and progressive society and which is relatively terrorism free, would choose to throw it all over, leave their family and friends and move to a country so riddled with internal problems and violence.

My motivation can be summed up in one word. Zionism. In recent decades Zionism has become a dirty word in the world. It has been used as an insulting and disrespectful collective noun for the Jewish people, shorthand for the State of Israel within the context of its conflict with the Palestinians and even a synonym for the settlement movement.

It is time to reclaim the word as an expression of pride. Zionism is what has driven and will drive past, present and future Jews around the world to move to a miniscule spot of land in a war-torn region.

Their need to belong to Israel is not always appreciated by the existing populace. On a crowded Tel Aviv bus when I objected to an armpit in my face, I was told to go back to America. Native Israelis laugh at my British accent, reply to my fluent Hebrew in appalling English but would nonetheless kill for my EU passport.

Ironically, I found it is the Israeli working class, beset as it is by economic hardship, which seems the most accepting and understanding of my decision. Their pride in the homeland is real, joyous and unrelenting.

Israel is where I belong. This is where Jews belong, whether they live here, visit or simply feel a spiritual connection to the place. It is the embodiment of thousands of years of aspiration, through pogroms, persecution and genocide.

Not that I was the victim of any real anti-Semitism in my life in Britain, but there are always ominous undertones. My local synagogue in Manchester, like many, has a private security company on patrol for the High Holidays, and my Jewish primary school has a barbed wire fence. Yet there is nothing akin to what forced my great grandparents from Eastern Europe or what led my Austrian relatives to their deaths in the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

I may well be a product of my environment in Britain - Jewish youth movement, Jewish education, Jewish home - and there are many things that disturb, scare and sadden me about Israel, such as its inability to reconcile to the reality of our Palestinian neighbors, its capricious attitude to war and the religious intolerance from secular and religious Jews alike. But here I am.

This is my tenth Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha'atzmaut as an Israeli. It's been frequently tough, sometimes lonely, occasionally frightening, but never a cause for regret.

I am always in Rabin Square for the siren for the dead, and for the dancing for the living. I am a Zionist, and I am proud. This is my country and I love it. Here I will remain.

 

Sara Miller is the editor of Haaretz.com