How to get yordim to come home

New TV campaign aims to get those Israelis who live abroad to return home.

New olim arrive in Israel 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
New olim arrive in Israel 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The Immigrant Absorption Ministry recently embarked on a new TV campaign designed to get us to convince kith and kin who live abroad to return home to Israel.
Based on the content of the clips, the campaign is directed at young, Israeli-born, secular, educated Ashkenazi Jews. It is also apparent that whoever prepared the clips has no idea what makes young, Israeli-born, secular, educated Ashkenazi Jews tick. Those individuals also probably find it difficult to relate to the motivation behind the social protest movement, most of whose organizers and participants are also of the same background, but have decided to stay here in Israel, at least for the time being.
What characterizes this population group is that while most of them are conscientious citizens who serve in the army and pay their taxes, they are becoming increasingly disaffected with much of what is happening in this country in terms of the erosion in democratic values, the corrupting effects of the never-ending occupation, the growing incursion of religion into everyone’s lives, the way the country’s international affairs are run, the deterioration of the education system, the progressive collapse of the health system, and the ever-growing difficulty of making ends meet.
According to the clips, young, secular Ashkenazi Israelis living abroad could be moved to return to Israel is the thought that a gentile husband or wife wouldn’t understand the significance of Yizkor, or the thought that their children might think the holiday at the end of December is Christmas rather than Hanukka, or call them “Daddy” instead of Abba.
MY FIRST reaction to the Yizkor clip – in which the gentile boyfriend of a young Israeli woman perceives the memorial candles she has lit on the eve of Remembrance Day as an indication that she desires a romantic evening – was that the couple was simply not communicating. The girl clearly didn’t bother to tell her boyfriend about Remembrance Day, and is probably completely oblivious to his own traditions and emotional baggage. I also said to myself that the gentile boyfriend would feel much more out of place in Israel than the girl does as an Israeli abroad, which also raises the problem of the absence of non-religious marriages, divorce and burial options in Israel, and other obstacles on the path of mixed couples. Minister of Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beitenu) is certainly acquainted with this issue, which personally affects many of her constituents.
The second clip shows a couple and their daughter talking on Skype with the grandparents in Israel. It is snowing abroad, and there are Hanukka candles behind the grandparents. The grandparents ask their granddaughter what holiday is being celebrated, to which she answers “Christmas,” to everyone’s great embarrassment.
Of course, this wouldn’t happen if the couple and their daughter lived in Israel.
But it also wouldn’t happen if the parents simply bothered to provide their daughter with a little bit of Yiddishkeit (Judaism), including Hanukka candles.
The third clip shows a young father snoozing in the living room. His little son has just finished drawing, and is trying to attract his father’s attention by calling out “Daddy” in an American accent. Only Abba finally elicits a reaction from the father. Of course the language issue is a real one, but can be addressed in various ways. Many children all over the world are brought up to be bilingual. That is largely a matter of determination and effort on the part of parents.
But the real point is that the boy’s parents – and all the others – are most probably in the US for concrete reasons, such as a well paying job which enables them to live within their means.
They undoubtedly also enjoy living in an open and liberal society, as they see fit, without family, friends and the authorities meddling in their lives, telling them what they should and should not do, and without having to contend on a daily basis with all the issues that are causing disaffection amongst their compatriots in Israel.
Don’t get me wrong. I would be delighted to see a torrent of yordim (emigrants) coming back to Israel. One of the happiest days in my life was when one of my daughters and her family returned to Israel after over 10 years in the UK. Nevertheless, I believe that every individual has the right to decide where, how and with whom to live, and that while it is within the state’s right to try to encourage people to return to Israel, this should be done exclusively by making the return attractive, not by means of misdirected emotional manipulations.
The TV campaign is a complete waste of taxpayer money that should be diverted elsewhere, such as to implementing the Trajtenberg proposals, and helping new immigrants feel at home.

The writer is a member on the Labor Party and is currently engaged in research and lecturing on the Knesset.