• Name:  Anaël M.
  • Age: 23
  • Originally from: Paris
  • Now lives in: Nahlaot
  • Aliyah year: 2015
  • Studies: Political sciences and philosophy

Anaël was an academically oriented Parisian in her third year at Sciences Po when she did a third-year exchange program at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. Although she travelled to Israel with her family many summers prior, this trip was a big discovery for her of what Israel is really like behind all the positive and negative clichés of Tel Aviv beaches and war. In 2013, Anaël discovered a country that has very deep history and challenges to solve– she had to be a part of it all.

After her year abroad, she stayed in Jerusalem and worked as a research assistant in a think tank, focusing her research on decision making in the Knesset as compared to other political administrations. After finishing her undergraduate degree, she was ready for more. She started her Masters, also at Hebrew University, and because she had a French professor and focused on similar aspects of political science and philosophy, Israeli academics did not feel foreign to her.

During her Masters, Anaël began studying the relationship between religion and State, which she found fascinating, especially when comparing France and Israel. Both countries pose many challenges in protecting religion while securing human rights and expression. Israel, says Anaël, must manage its dual heritage of a strong religious tradition that one cannot ignore, with its commitment to liberal values of religious freedom. Answering to these challenges requires delving into the philosophical question of how we think in addition to what we think. Of course, as Anaël points out, these elements are not internal nor concrete but fluid and inherited.

Anaël has always loved how studying humanities offers the ability for both mastery of material and self-expression. “It’s half technical and half artistic because you can express your own sensibility, subjects, questions, and your own angle,” said Anaël. In that way, studying the humanities is very personal and anti-egoist in the way teaching is transmitted from learner to learner.

It’s clear that Anaël is a fast learner, to say the least. Within one and a half years, she went from beginning Hebrew to level vav. She “studied unstoppably,” had Israeli roommates and international friends, audited a class in Hebrew, and pretended she didn’t speak English so others would speak Hebrew to her. When asked what her tricks were for Hebrew acquisition, she simply recommended, “Just speak and be with Israelis!”

Perhaps this is was one reason why Anaël acclimated quickly to her new country, in addition to her policy of not judging and instead, tolerating differences. “Don’t judge the people or the country, even if it hurts your own sphere of confidence and security,” Anaël suggests. “Be open to something you haven’t seen in your life. Israel is special place with special challenges, special people, and it’s different than the mainstream. It’s easy to come with your own criteria and ideas of what is good or bad, or what should or shouldn’t be.”

Anaël recalls being shocked at first, when within her first month in Israel, she was walking on the street, minding her own business, when she noticed a very old woman with a big radio in her hands, playing old Israeli music. All of a sudden, the woman stopped right next to Anaël, placed the radio into her arms, looked in her bag for something, found it, took back the radio from Anaël, and continued walking away. After after hesitating, the old woman turned around and said to Anaël, “Sorry! I forgot to say thank you!” The woman smiled and waved goodbye.

Funny incidents like this occur all the time, says Anaël, especially on busses. One time, the bus driver parked the bus, which was full of passengers, in the middle of a street. He left the bus and walked to a falafel shop across the street, chatted with a friend, got his falafel, and returned to the bus as if nothing strange had happened. In another bus ride, Anaël took a late night bus in which the driver was blasting Ethiopian music at 1am. Once they were on the road, the driver took the microphone and announced joyfully that he likes the music and if you don’t, you can get off. To Anaël, this would never occur anywhere other than Jerusalem, where strangeness, difference, and diversity run deep.

Jerusalem’s uniqueness is also what made Anaël fall in love with the city. While for some it’s difficult to cope with, Anaël loves the rhythm of the city, rich with religion and simple living. It contrasts to the big city life of Paris where “it’s all about going and going, having more and more, and better and better,” Anaël explains. Here it’s about being a humble part of a community, which she finds to be an effective way to put life in perspective.

Even with her love for Israel, Anaël still sees the great beauty in her hometown. In fact, Anaël believes that the best part of aliyah is the opportunity to be bicultural, finding oneself a part of people in two rich places. Anaël loves French culture, humor, television, music, and revels at the opportunity to share with others. As such, after finishing her Masters, Anaël hopes to work for a venture that fosters cultural discovery amongst Israelis and foreigners. She believes in people discovering the richness of Israel and Israelis discovering the richness of cultures like her own. Anaël is already great at this, as she loves meeting new people around town and striking up conversations about anything from human existence, to philosophy and ideas, to the future of her new country.

Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” and “Israel Girl” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.

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