Simon Wilder

Flight into Israel

As a Jew, the city where I grew up and have always lived feels less and less comfortable

Flight into Israel
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I’ve always lived in London. I grew up near Baker Street and went to school in Camden. Even when I was at college in Kent, I lived in Islington and commuted. Five years ago I moved to Belsize Park and I’ve been here, the nicest place I’ve lived, ever since. I didn’t mean to stay — I was going to see the world, but my father died and my mother said she needed me to be close. She said it with a tremor in her voice, so I stayed.

London is in my heart and in my blood, but the wind has changed, like it did for Mary Poppins, and I think it’s going to blow me out of the city, all the way to Tel Aviv.

The referendum result didn’t make me decide to leave, but it was a penny on the scales. This no longer feels like home. I may spend too much time on Twitter, but the things people say about Jews and Israel there make me tremble. They feel safe in their hatred, and, scarier still, probably are.

There’s a train of thought among right-thinking people in London at the moment that Israel is culpable; that it is responsible for all the ills of the Palestinians, all the woes of the Middle East. If it weren’t for Israel, they say, the world would be a better place. If you go to a dinner party you can hear things that wouldn’t have sounded unfamiliar in 1930s Germany. They say they’re just ‘anti-Zionist’ but to be anti-Zionist is to be anti-Semitic. No one is anti- any other country. No one questions, say, Iran’s right to exist.

I’ve voted Labour in the past, but these days people in the Labour party all too often say things about Jews having big noses, or controlling the media, or somehow engineering the attack on the World Trade Center. Israel is behind Isis, they say. At demonstrations people hold up placards that say Hitler was right. Those words, exactly. Much of Labour barely raises an eyebrow.

If only those people who wish ill on Israel, on Jews, could know what it’s like to hear their hatred — to live in London and hear that Jews are the puppet-masters of the world, that Israel only helps in disaster zones to harvest organs. My father would have known. He spent time in the 1940s in Nazi concentration camps, because he was Jewish. His parents and sister were murdered for the same reason. My father would feel the same dread chill, and know — first-hand — where all this blame and hatred of Jews leads. If you think I exaggerate, then tell me; where do you think it leads? It may be only the first ugly murmur, from stupid people, but it won’t end there.

I’ve been to Tel Aviv four times in five years, and it seems to me a place of positive things: hope, investment in the future, strength and patience and humour. This is why I’m thinking of moving.

A large section of the city was designed by European émigrés who had studied at the Bauhaus in the 1930s. The lucky architects who managed to leave Germany in time, of course. The buildings are rarely more than three or four storeys and often have curved balconies. These are lovely streets to walk along, not least because of the exotic trees planted close together, casting cool shadows.

For many years there was a drive to plant trees in the country. I remember, as a child, shaking tins for ‘Trees for Israel’. Is there a better symbol of looking towards the future?

I had an appointment on Monday with Israeli immigration. I’m still spinning from discovering all the ways they are generous to people wishing to move there. Israel is as pro-immigration as Britain seems anti-. They provide language lessons and pay for your flight. There are concessions and rebates for years. They hand you, I swear, a new mobile phone SIM card when you arrive at Ben Gurion airport, and there will be a taxi waiting to take you to your new home. There is a public holiday in celebration of immigrants.

All it takes is some form-filling, a £50 fee, passport photos, a birth certificate and evidence that I’m Jewish. Membership of a synagogue will do, but I don’t have that. There was some rabbinical detective work: the names on my birth certificate were cross-matched to the names on my parents’ ketubah, their marriage contract. The rabbi writes a short letter and you have the proof. At the first meeting my immigration officer, Moran, asked if I’m Messianic. I am not. It would be an immovable obstacle if I were, it turns out. The whole business can be done in six weeks, if you’re more prepared and organised than I am.

I’ve started the process. I’ve jumped into the water and the current is pulling me away from London to Tel Aviv. The water is warm. I’m letting it happen.

Simon Wilder is an art director, photographer and writer. He blogs at