American Ethnological Society
Oral Presentation Session
The process of Jews moving to Israel is often referred to as “repatriation.” In the Hebrew language, the word Aliyah (literally means “ascent” or “pilgrimage”’) which stands in sharp contrast to the term yerida (emigration from Israel) which literally means “descent”. This paper looks at the language of Jewish migration, and how it connects and disconnects from the experiences of actual return. Based on ethnographic material this paper analyses the way ex-Soviet Jews in Ukraine, who have once immigrated to Israel and have since returned, navigate the moral demands and pressures that arise upon their return as they negotiate their sense of belonging as locals and returnees. Specifically, the author looks at the ways in which the narrative of Israel as a meaningful place, and thus the right place, for Jews to live is taken apart but not necessarily abandoned by those who choose to leave the so- called Jewish homeland and return to their native homes. Through dialogue and actions of Jewish returnees the author looks at the moral dimensions of their trajectories, specifically the ways in which Israel and Ukraine are judged as homes in different contexts of everyday life. The paper argues that a return (however indefinite) is always tangled in a web of complex moral codes- embedded in the language used to describe Jewish migration- that returnees contemplate as they rebuild their lives in an attempt to secure a brighter future.