I''m sitting in Ben Gurion Aiport and I''m thinking about narratives, about viewpoints and subjectivity. Lying on the chair beside me is Nora Ephron''s I Feel Bad About My Neck – a collection of essays I picked up about an hour ago at Steimatzky''s and just finished. (Good thing I also grabbed the newest Jeffrey Eugenides novel or I''d have run out of reading material before we even boarded the plane!) While I find Ephron''s writing to be entertaining, I can''t help feeling a lot of it is lost on me. Candidly discussing the reality of growing older, of what it means to be a woman in her sixties, Ephron addresses the sudden unwanted mustache growth she experienced due to hormonal changes and how she developed her own culinary and decorating style over time. She reflects on her child-rearing years and unsuccessful marriages, lists the things she wishes she''d have known when she was younger, and eventually tackles “the D-word.” Moving as it was to read about the difficulty of losing your friends one by one to diseases and old age, I couldn''t relate. Ephron''s narrative, that of an aging woman, is the product of her own circumstances and likely appeals to people who share them.
This made me consider my own narrative – what stories do I tell, what drives me to tell them, and what makes them my own. As I list to myself the different factors that influence my subjectivity (gender, age, occupation, etc.), the word “immigrant” pops into my head.
Is there an immigrant narrative? How does it express itself? Is it the product of a temporary situation or a life-long condition?
I''ve noticed that in conversations with fellow English-speakers, society will often become polarized into Israelis and olim (and sometimes just Israelis and Americans). Discussions will often center on how “Israelis” dress, shop, eat, speak, etc., especially in comparison to how we choose to do these things. Do these generalizations and portrayals of the other as the “real Israelis” betray a lingering immigrant mentality? Are they signs of unsuccessful klita (absorption into society)?
Immigrants may often feel detached from the rest of society due to language and cultural barriers, educational disadvantages and/or financial difficulties that impede their ability to integrate successfully. However, Anglo olim are generally less disadvantaged than other immigrant groups. We tend to arrive with a stronger educational background and financial stability and our decision to immigrate is likely the result of ideological, religious or political inclinations rather than poverty or persecution.
I live in a large community of young Anglo students and professionals. We probably have a collective ulpan level of daled (level 4 out of 6). Despite the fact that we study and work in Hebrew, we choose to socialize in English. We eat our Shabbat meals together, celebrate our simchot (happy occasions) and Thanksgiving dinners together and generally choose to date and marry fellow English-speakers. Similar communities exist in places such as Ra''anana, Beit Shemesh and Efrat. How can this lifestyle be explained in light of the fact that we do not suffer from many of the difficulties other immigrants face and have the resources and abilities necessary for a klita? Why do we choose to live and feel like immigrants, even when we have the technical tools to integrate? Is it just a matter of convenience? Nostalgia? A reluctance to let go of important and meaningful aspects of our identity?
As with Ephron''s collection, the use of a specific narrative will determine the readership. So why do we choose to preserve our native languages and customs and retain a narrative that will likely only appeal to fellow olim? Is exclusion our goal?
I encourage you to weigh in and look forward to your responses!