July 30 marks 20 years since my wife, two daughters and I moved to Israel from Cleveland. The children were 5 and 6 years old at the time. Now they are in their 20s. I’ve never regretted the move.
I left a great job as Cleveland regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, and my wife was wonderfully situated as a lawyer at a local law firm, Hahn, Loeser & Parks. But since my first visit to Israel in my teens, I had always had the sense that living in Israel would provide added meaning and purpose to my life.
After getting married and after having kids, my wife rightfully said that we should either make the move or shelve the idea and settle into our life in Cleveland, a city both of us really love. We arrived as new immigrants on July 30, 1999. The Zionist in me told myself that we had come home. But we still had to adjust to a language and culture to make it feel like home. The shift became easier once we realized the American way of doing things wasn’t the only way.
By most objective measures, we have thrived in Israel, but you make a move like that for emotional reasons, not for objective ones, motivated by Israel’s importance to the Jewish people. In most respects, Israel has developed magnificently in the time that we have been here and has provided us with a high quality of life in just about every way.
Tel Aviv in particular has become an amazingly vibrant city over the past 20 years. It’s beloved by foreign visitors and Israelis alike, for its beaches and urban vitality, its cultural life and amazing restaurant scene.
When she was a teenager, my younger daughter and I had a discussion about why Israelis have a longer average life expectancy than Americans. A healthier diet and lifestyle and universal health care are probably the main reasons, but my daughter suggested that it was because Israelis have Tel Aviv –so they’re happier. She is now in medical school at Technion in Haifa, so maybe one day she can research her theory.
Our older daughter has just finished a legal apprenticeship with a justice at the Israeli Supreme Court and will begin practicing law with a major Tel Aviv-area firm in the fall. My wife is working in the legal department at an Israeli pharmaceutical firm.
I found a new career in journalism as a member of the editorial staff at the English edition of the Haaretz, a newspaper whose editorial line is generally consistent with my left-of-center views. If I have one major disappointment, it is the political turn that the country has taken. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has squandered every possible opportunity for peace.
He is also attempting to undermine the rule of law and is pitting the country’s citizens against one another for political gain. If that sounds familiar, there is a guy living in the White House who is his political soulmate. But moving to Israel also gave me the privilege of voting in elections here, and I am hoping that Netanyahu will be ousted from office in September’s vote.
When we arrived in the country, there were hopes for peace with the Palestinians and I certainly believed that 20 years later, in 2019, peace would be a well-entrenched reality, with a Palestinian state established alongside Israel. But if I have been disillusioned by Israel’s current political leadership, I haven’t been turned off to the Zionist dream that brought me here. It’s been well worth it.
Cliff Savren is a former Clevelander who covers the Middle East for the Cleveland Jewish News from Ra’anana, Israel.