Claims published in these pages about Israeli society’s failure to embrace olim reek of entitlement. Before continuing, I think we should twist the kaleidoscope slightly to show that this is more an issue of the failure of olim to embrace Israeli society. To voluntarily immigrate somewhere and then subsequently complain about the culture into which you wish to integrate is fairly audacious. In Israel, zeh mah yesh. This is what you signed up for, kids.
I can’t imagine it comes as a surprise to anyone that people think “life in Israel is hard.” But, maybe we should define hard. For me, hard is living somewhere where I feel no connection, either to the people or the land. Hard is standing on the sidelines commenting on the game when it is being played elsewhere. The creation of the modern state of Israel is the greatest thing to happen to the Jewish people in thousands of years; it is an honor and a blessing to be alive to experience it. To complain about the nuances of a country in its 64th year of existence is both condescending and presumptuous.
People have suggested that, to get by as an oleh/olah, the best thing to do is to purge yourself of any Zionist fantasies. I could not disagree more. Clinging tightly to your Zionist ideals is exactly what you need to. Don’t move here as a Westerner looking to relocate because you had a great time for 10 days on Birthright, or because “you love the beach in Tel Aviv.” Move here because you believe in contributing to the manifestation of a millennia-old longing originating in the depths of the collective Jewish soul. Move here because you are a believer.
If your immigration is absent of Zionist ideology, you will likely end up in similar, non-Zionist circles. Thus, they will gauge your decision to make Aliyah through a practical lens. You will be someone who (in all likelihood) left a country with higher pay, less stress, and more opportunity, to come live in a veritable battleground, in the middle of the most volatile area in the world. They won’t rush to help you; they will write you off as a starry-eyed idealist, whose failure here they deem inevitable. If you want to be welcomed by Israelis, surround yourself with those who view your arrival as a blessing and not some misguided spiritual adventure.
As a staunch Zionist, I fully and comfortably endorse the notion that Aliyah isn’t for every Jew. It isn’t even for every Zionist. Some should stay in their places of birth and do anything and everything they can from afar to ensure the survival of the Jewish state. Reality prohibits every Zionist longing to return to the homeland from doing so at this very moment. That doesn’t negate one’s ability from dedicating himself to ensure it will exist in safety for when your children hopefully want to move here.
Beneath much of the psyche of the “Complainglos” (a kitschy term I actually endorse), is this idea that Israel owes them something. That, “if it weren’t for us, you guys wouldn’t be here.” That may very well be true, though I tend to think otherwise. A perfect example of this is an altercation between a group of American yeshiva students and a group of Israelis around the same age. In his broken English, one Israeli says, “If you don’t like it, then go home. We don’t need you.” One American responding by taunting him, saying, “Yeah, you need us! You need our money.” No, no we don’t.
What’s ironic is that it’s completely the converse: “Anglo” Jewry needs Israel. It needs to live vicariously through its tough “Sabra” cousins, who are hardened after years of adversity, who don’t suffer from the victim mentality endemic in the Diaspora, who don’t kowtow to every detractor, who aren’t afraid to wear their Jewish hearts on their sleeves. That’s why the token souvenir is an IDF t-shirt. That’s why FIDF events are able to raise tens of millions of dollars. Israelis are the Jews most Jews wish they could be.
When olim arrive, they need to understand that they are entering a place created and inhabited by the redefinition of “the Jew.” It was born out of defiant thinkers and rebellious actors, like Jabotinsky and Ben-Gurion. It was cultivated by people who didn’t have Skype and Facebook, but rather trekked off into the unknown, chasing after an idea. This was a caliber of people who stared down adversity, who mocked hardship, whose conviction was more powerful than any weapon. The shadow of these pioneers spans lifetimes. We insult their commitment and trivialize their sacrifices when we complain about the “perils” of being absorbed by contemporary Israeli society.
If you can’t tolerate the cashier at the supermarket, where will you be when the bombs start falling? If you can’t deal with the lines at Misrad Hapnim, where will you be after a bus explodes in the city center? Those “rude” people are the same ones that rush to console a still-shaken victim of the horrific terrorism that, in all likelihood, olim chadashim never had to experience. Israelis have weathered the storm of waves of suicide bombings, of rockets, of shootings. Israelis have done their compulsory service in the army, in physical defense of the state. If the result is an abrasiveness one might deem excessive, then consider that an unfortunate consequence of statehood.
The Statue of Liberty that says, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” In a not so recent past, Israel spoke of that, as well. Regrettably, global events dictate it to still be the case for many Jewish communities around the world. The Jewish state exists to accept “our huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” but Israel wants “our strong,” “our able,” “our committed.” If you would like to get something from a place, New York is a great city. But, if you would like to give something to a place, and get something in return, then Israel would welcome your efforts.
As an oleh/olah, one has the honor of living in “the State of Israel.” That is not to be forgotten.