Israel via Iran, Syria, Kuwait & Moscow. The story of David the “Wandering Jew”
By: David Reid
I was born in the US but always felt out of place there, so as soon as I received sufficient academic qualifications, I headed out, working, studying, traveling, not having any base for longer than my job contract or study period.
Along the way I met my future wife, but it took a few years of international chess-like moves as both of us moved from country to country, sometimes crossing in the same one, until we married in Turkey. We continued to wander together, but eventually we decided that we needed a bit more stability. I had lived in my wife’s home country of Russia, and this did not seem to be the place for me any more than the US. We had both visited Israel before, and found the prospect of living there inviting. We knew that under the Law of Return, we could get citizenship. We made the decision to apply for Aliyah while we were in India, and were told that we would have to apply from Moscow. We flew to Moscow, and were told that, if all the papers were in order, this would take about a month. Fine! We stayed with my wife’s family in Samara, another Russian city, and traveled to Moscow to present the documents. Although my wife experienced as much antisemitism in Russia as any Jew, she is not listed as a Jew because her father, not her mother, was Jewish. I am also not Jewish. However, this did not create problems. What confounded the consular officer in Moscow was that she had no idea what to do with an American passport. She wasn’t even sure that she was authorized to put a stamp in it. She was very nice, but explained that our case was unique in the history of the consulate: an American with no known Jewish ancestry applying for Aliyah in Moscow. She had to send our papers to Tel Aviv for advice. We went back to Samara to wait. One day in our place in Samara, the phone rang, and my wife answered it.
“Hello, this is the Department of Foreign Affairs in Tel Aviv. Could we speak to (…my wife…)”
My wife: “Let me turn off the borscht…….”
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Then followed half an hour of questions as to why she wanted to make Aliyah. They then asked to speak to me, and another half-hour conversation followed. They asked me why I wanted to make Aliyah, including the infamous “But you could go live in America!” But the first hint as to why they called me was when they asked me why I had been so long in Iran, Kuwait, Syria … They also asked me why I wanted to come to a country at war. (This was during the 2006 war with Lebanon.) Putting these two questions together could give a hint as to their suspicions, but these were made clearer when they called our references in Israel. These friends knew us well, and since they work for a company requiring top security clearance, this clinched it. Our friends contacted us right after and told us how they were amused by the implicit question whether I might be a spy.
So, my application was finally given approval after four months. At the airport, we stood out. The “Sochnut” (Jewish Agency) that was helping the Russians making Aliyah, were extremely generous with luggage allowance. Those making Aliyah on that flight brought so much luggage with them that I wondered whether the plane would get off the ground. My wife and I, with our relatively modest possessions, each one with a backpack , bought special for the occasion, and small suitcases, were a relief for the security at the airport.
Most new immigrants to Israel have, besides the typical problems with the language and employment, also a bit of culture shock, as they adapt to Israel. For my wife and me, a life of wandering had eliminated any chance of such culture shock.