OMRI GILAD, a member of what sociologists call Generation Y, sits on a bench on Tel Aviv’s iconic Dizengoff Street ‒ the in place to be on a sunny Friday afternoon.
The 29-year-old is waiting for his date to arrive, and doesn’t mind chatting with a reporter until the girl shows up.
The topic is a newly published best seller (in Hebrew), “Generation Y ‒ As If There Is No Tomorrow,” by the husband and wife team of Haifa University academics Tamar and Oz Almog. They posit that Israel’s Generation Y, also known as Millennials, a group of about 800,000 born between 1980 and 1995, is generally spoiled, cosseted, self-involved, late to mature, passive, unwilling to work as hard as their parents did and incapable of commitment.
Due to overindulgent parents, Generation Y tends to lack the resilience that comes from overcoming hardships with grave implications for Israel’s future security. They have turned self-centeredness into a virtue, say the Almogs. They will leave a job at the drop of a hat if it’s boring. They like to party but with their parents footing the bill ‒ many depending on parental help even after marriage.
New Yorker magazine took it up a notch, calling US Millennials the most self-indulgent generation in the history of the world with the “exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming Dynasty.”
Gilad, an accounting student, agrees with almost everything the Almogs say about his generation. But he looks up in surprise mingled with affront at the notion that the Israeli Generation Y is generally similar to counterparts in the Western world.
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“We are much more mature than they are,” he says with indignation. “At age 19 or 20, we see things that people can live their whole lives and not see. The reality in Israel is such that you have to grow up fast.”
Gilad, who served in the Golani Infantry Brigade during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, met youngsters from other Western countries when he did a post-army trip to South America and the Far East. “If you do army service in a combat unit, you need a break from life to clear your head,” he says, speaking above the noise of the buses rumbling by.
It is not lost on Gilad that the bench under the ficus tree that he chose at random is less than four meters from the Simta Pub where four months earlier, on a sunny Friday afternoon such as this one, two members of the Y Generation were shot dead by a terrorist who opened fire with a submachine gun, spraying bullets at young people enjoying a glass of beer.
Alon Bakal, 26, the bar’s manager, and Shimon Ruimi, 30, who came to Tel Aviv to celebrate a friend’s birthday, were killed and six others were wounded ‒ a reminder, if one is needed, that Israel’s Generation Y lives in a different reality than their counterparts in the West.
“As a child, my mother didn’t want me to go to malls or big parties or into crowds of people,” says Gilad. “We are born to terrorist attacks. That’s what makes us Israelis so spicy. We don’t know if we will have a tomorrow, so we live today.”
According to the Almogs, the problems of Israel’s Generation Y, representing one in every 10 Israelis, are universal across the developed world: a blend of debt, unemployment, globalization and rising housing prices that is depressing the prospects of millions of young people and resulting in unprecedented inequality between generations.
Because they live through the same experiences, a generation tends to share similar values and behavior. Israel’s Generation Y is part of the first global generation linked worldwide by the Internet and cell phone.
Their parents grew up in a time of short, intense wars bracketed by long periods of relative calm. They, on the other hand, grew up in a time of unending threats; the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin; the Palestinian intifadas; suicide bombers; the first and second Lebanon Wars; a series of bloody Gaza battles and, more recently, a wave of stabbing and other attacks by Palestinian terrorists.
According to the Almogs, Israeli Millennials are an anxious group. They are patriotic, love their country and are proud to be Israeli. But, at the same time, in a “post- Zionist” era, they are cynical about the government, tycoons and what they perceive as a lack of social justice.
If, in the past, prejudices divided Israelis along the Ashkenazi-Sephardi axis, they hardly exist for Generation Y, with a spike in intermarriages among the groups. And while fertility rates are plummeting in the Western word, 90 percent of Israelis as of 2013 still reported that having children is important and more than half believed that life without children is devoid of meaning, according to the Almogs. Israel is a family- oriented society and most don’t miss the ritual of Friday night meals with their parents, even after they are married.
If, in the West, most Millennials lean to the left, in Israel their politics gravitate to the right or center, not so much for reasons of ideology but more for pragmatic security considerations. They are not against a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but most believe that, for now, there is no partner for such an agreement.
“They have experienced hundreds of terror attacks and their eyes were opened to see the other side. They were teenagers when 9/11 happened and it has shaped their political view. They are less naïve,” Oz Almog, 55, who is a professor in Haifa University’s department of Land of Israel Studies, tells The Jerusalem Report.
Three years of research by the Almogs resulted in a book they call the most comprehensive study of Generation Y so far in the world.
Their fieldwork included visiting cafés, bars and night spots where Generation Y gathers ‒ even traveling to Koh Pha-Ngan, Thailand, to attend half moon and full moon parties. They conducted hundreds of interviews; created Internet focus groups; analyzed countless Facebook and Instagram posts; took more than 5,000 photos; and read thousands of Generation Y blogs.
They sold their car, bought electric bicycles and moved from Haifa to Tel Aviv for three years, the undisputed capital city of Generation Y, where 40 percent of the population is under 35.
“For a researcher, Generation Y is like an amusement park,” says Dr. Tamar Almog, 54, who teaches in the university’s department of Learning, Instruction and Teacher Education. “You can ask them anything and get an answer without any inhibitions.”
They are part of a global generation but love to be identified as Israeli, she says.
“The Sabra genome does not disappear in one generation,” adds Oz. “They still have one leg in Israeli culture but we are closing the gap very rapidly with American culture.
One of the bottom lines of our research is that the Israeli Generation Y has been Americanized for the good and for the bad.
As a sociologist I was stunned to realized how Americanized they are.”
The book’s subtitle in its English version will be “How Generation Y is changing the face of Israel” and the Almogs are concerned for Israel’s future, in light of the fact that there already are difficulties attributable to the generational gap.
They doubt that a generation so coddled by their parents will have the backbone needed to guide Israel through future existential threats. In the past, the prototypical Jewish mother coddled her children, but she also demanded that they excel.
“We are creating impotents and I am very much worried,” says Oz. “Israel’s cultural DNA is changing. Israel was built on a culture of collectivism, on our willingness to help, to sacrifice, to identify with the collective.
Once society becomes more individualistic, there is a price to pay and we can already detect it.
“Since part of our national resilience is our advanced hi-tech and scientific industry, if you don’t have this mental capacity to keep up with the pace, to work hard, to sacrifice and to be oriented towards the future, it’s going to affect the resilience of the nation. We are weaker than ever. There is a cost to keeping our youngsters in diapers.
“Figures show that the advantages that vaulted Israel forward are declining and this is frightening,” he contends. “We don’t have successors to the founding generation of the ‘Start-Up Nation.’ This is true for Generation Y everywhere in the Western world, but in Israel it’s more fatal. We have a small window because we still have the former generation in the key positions in the economy and army.
“The Israeli locomotive is still moving forward but it seems the engine is slowing down. The army is still stronger than the others in the region but we cannot count on it forever. I don’t have to elaborate on the dramatic implications for the IDF once you see the characteristic of resilience weakening,” he continues.
The army’s structure does not suit Generation Y’s needs, say the Almogs. The IDF requires a commitment of two years, eight months for men and two years for women; does not present enough individual choices; is based on an old-fashioned work environment with inflexible hours and a rigid male hierarchy.
“I’ve been told that when the new recruits need to shut down their cell phones, it’s like asking a junkie to give up their drug,” Tamar tells The Report.
When their offspring enter the army, Israel’s coddling parents are not above calling the commanding officer to ask that he celebrate their son or daughter’s birthday, says Tamar.
Since Israel is a small country, soldiers often come home for the weekend, and if they can’t, the family drives to the base laden with food. The army now provides spots to recharge cell-phone batteries.
Although there are no official statistics, the Almogs detect a decrease in motivation on the part of non-religious youngsters from the educated elite to join combat units and sign on for career army service. The quality of officers is declining, they say, and the army and Israel’s various security forces are finding it more difficult with each passing year to attract top talent.
On the other hand, Generation Y are digital natives and their skill in operating joysticks made a difference in the last war when the Iron Dome missile-defense system saved many lives.
“They were born with fast hands,” says Tamar. “We spoke with army commanders who said they are wonderful and flexible about learning new things and changing things from one minute to the next.”
Another virtue, according to the Almogs, is Generation Y’s willingness to admit their shortcomings.
“It’s an open generation that grew up on the psychological ethos. The whole world has become a reality show. They don’t hide anything,” says Oz. “They have been told that they need to pursue their dreams and if they dream high enough, they can achieve whatever they want. It’s a lie. They haven’t been told that only a few make it. They have not been told that success and money will require blood, sweat and tears.”
Back to the bench on Dizengoff Street.
A pretty girl with long blond hair shows up and she and Gilad take off only to be spotted later sitting at a sun-drenched café filled with other members of Generation Y.
At the adjacent Simta Pub, a group of army friends is drinking beer from a large pitcher and listening to loud Reggae music.
They also scoff at the idea that Israeli Millennials are just like everyone else in the West.
“The army is like reality boot camp,” says Gal Kfir, 26, who came from Haifa to meet his friends. “Maturity comes from dealing with the difficult stuff. Because of the army and Israeli reality.
“I have not met a single American or European my age with whom I felt that I could speak on the same level. Look, we’re sitting right now in a place that was attacked a few months ago.”
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