Anglos in Israel

My older son caught me off guard when he mused that immigrants ought to make aliyah to places other than to Jerusalem, to Tel Aviv, and to Beit Shemesh (all of which are Anglo enclaves). He did not realize the bias he was articulating; my boy was completely sincere in his exclamation.


Cultural prejudice is a funny critter. Not only do appraisals borrowed from New World communities confuse us as to the relative worth of the Old World, but they confuse us as to the relative worth of people, who live in this Old World, too.


Imagine the surprise that some North American newcomers feel when encountering, for instance, the prevalence of Russians in the Israeli population or the great number of Israelis who are Sephardi. On the one hand, it’s understandable that many Anglos are shocked since the USA, Canada, and certain European nations, despite all of their convergent and traditional mass media bravado, are, to various levels, insular. On the other hand, how can we, Klal Yisrael, forget that our Avot were not Ashkenazi and that cities like London and New York were not populated until thousands of years after our Middle Eastern capitols flourished? What’s more, how dare we suppose that just because we grew up with certain values that those standards represent the highest possible conceivable good?


In another example of confused adjudication, some time ago, our family hosted a young visitor who claimed that female beauty ought to be measured: by refinement in make up, by heel height, by the degree to which outfits are coordinated in fabric, in cut, and in color, and by the amount of styling hair receives. Oy!  That youth’s benchmarks were far removed from those held by most religious Israelis. In balance, they came from a well-intended base. That sweet kid, a yeshiva bucher for long years, had not been, hitherto, “in the parsha,” and, hence, had not gleaned his ideals from dating. When I gently asked him about his New World-sounding thresholds, he innocently smiled his answer; his views came from those of the only women he knew; his Los Angeles-based mother and his Ottawa-based sister.


Although clothing and accessories seem, weather conditions notwithstanding, as though they ought to be relatively globally utilized, such an assumption lacks truth. Styles get replicated, but habits do not get copied as much. Mull over the dismay felt by outsiders attending Israeli sma’achot; locals tend to dress much more casually than do their international counterparts. Even when attending shul, individuals, who might wear tucked in shirts and ties elsewhere, often pray in open collars and in slip on shoes here. It’s not that the desert sun makes persons want to pop buttons so much as it is the case that Israelis are inclined to be more functional and less formal than their kin.


Similarly, home décor and similar matters of gashmius frequently differ between the Holy Land and other nations. Accoutrements which, collectively, might be assessed as “stark” outside Eretz Yisrael are considered as purposeful abundance here. Accordingly, “ornate” leanings there might be regarded as overwhelming here. In the Old World, artists and rich others, creators and patrons, respectively, have lots of physical beauty in their homes. Beyond that, few denizens possess as much. In the New World, in contrast, embellishment is a kind of profusion so copious that families are apt to change their decorations by season or by mood.


In addition, a majority of olim hold fast to certain foreign “necessities.” Take into account the “need to pack” lists that sprout up on many aliyah sites. Contemplate, as well, your own family’s behaviors. In my home, for instance, my sons and daughters clamor for imported ketchup, urging their father and me to pay the high price of that comestible. At the same time as my kin have mostly gotten used to local resources, including to “Israeli-sized” incomes, we’ve not entirely transitioned to thinking like the indigenous. That is to say, when well-meaning (and financially endowed) relatives offer to “buy anything,” for us, we have no problem asking them to purchase “luxuries” like: zip storage bags, English language books, and a certain brand of coffee. Also, we are guilty of encouraging our extended family to send to us or to bring along with them a type of liquid soap, manufactured only in America, despite the fact that similar herbal products are available here.


As well, higher education, if judged by foreign criteria, can shock newbies. Here, post secondary education is fairly straightforward. Few programs offer a “warm-up,” i.e. a span during which students learn liberal arts and sciences. To a great extent, in Israel, “Renaissance thinking” yields, in curricula, to more tacit aspects of job training. Medicine, and law, for instance, here, are undergraduate (albeit difficult to enter) courses of study. Concurrently, compulsory army service, which causes many students to first enroll in university at age twenty-two or older, coupled with this nation’s cultural impetus to encourage marriage at a relatively young age, leads to almost all undergraduates having to work, beyond the campus, during their entire student careers. To wit, Israel’s “university experience” focuses on mastery of course material, not on parties.


Nonetheless, living in Israel is not loss, but gain, even for Anglo ex-patriots. Staking a claim here means embracing our ancient heritage. Israel is home. Israel is where generations of Jews have longed to settle. As Caryn Lipson writes in “This is MY TERRITORY,” when Jews make aliyah, “we truly feel that we’re in the place where we belong. With time the rest will come, but we’ve already got the most important part.” Thus, even when we are waylaid by the mental measuring devices we bring from our former lives, we live better here than there.