Coming out to my grandmother was one of the hardest things I have ever done. My Safta (Hebrew for grandmother), who was born 90 years ago in the village of Kiltze in Poland, arrived at Jaffa Port in 1937. Truth be told, it was not Zionist zeal or frustration from frequent anti-Semitic attacks that caused her family to migrate to Palestine but rather a keen business sense. My great grandfather was quick to realize the financial potential of the Zionist endeavor. Yet following the death of her entire village during the Holocaust my grandmother vowed to never ever again set foot on Polish soil. Therefore, I needed to muster up all my courage before I could say “Safta, I want to become a Polish citizen”.
Nowadays, more and more Israelis are searching for an additional citizenship. In the past, migrating from Israel was seen as an act of betrayal in the Zionist cause. Those who left would often bring shame on the families they left behind. Such was the case with my grandmother whose older brother left Palestine in the 40’s in favor of the Bronx and a position at Time Magazine. Each morning, to my grandmother’s shame, her neighbor would stand in street and yell “Mrs. Isenberg! You have two siblings, one hoodlum sister and a brother who fled to America!”
While the resentment towards those who leave Israel still exists amongst the older generation, young Israelis feel no shame in filling out applications at foreign embassies located in Tel Aviv. As more and more Eastern European nations join the EU, a growing number of grandparents are sent to their attics in search of Polish or Slovenian births certificates and proofs of ownership of prosperity.
Some in Israel question the motive behind this popular trend. Why have young Israelis set their sight on European passports? Is it due to a wave of Post Zionist thought? Or perhaps it is the dread from a nuclear Middle East in which Israel and Iran are sure to mutually destroy each other?
On my part, I am motivated by Eastern European genes that cultivate the feeling of an impending doom. But there are of course many other reasons for wanting a European citizenship. For some, the high cost of living in Israel has made it nearly impossible to raise a family or purchase a home. Such Israelis, who migrate in search of a higher standard of living, were the focus of a recent series of news reports aired on Israel’s Channel 10. Similarly to Benjamin Herzl, who founded the Jewish State in Basel, these Israeli migrants have created “mini-Israels” all across Europe. Their closest friends are Israelis; they watch Israeli television and follow Israeli sports yet they do so in bigger apartments and can afford a better education for their children.
After watching the above mentioned news reports, Minister of Finance and failed champion of the Israeli middle class Yair Lapid commented in his Facebook profile “A word to all those who have had it and are leaving to Europe. You caught me, by chance, in Budapest where I came to speak at the Parliament against anti-Semitism and to remind them of how they tried to kill my father simply because the Jews had not country of their own…so excuse me if I am inpatient towards people willing to throw away the only country the Jews have because it’s easier to live in Berlin”.
This statement best exemplifies the current generation gap in Israel. To Lapid and older Israelis, those who abandon this country are still a “fall-out of weaklings”, a term coined by the late Yitzhak Rabin. To young Israelis, Israel is part of a global village that offers many opportunities, such as academic ones.
Countless passport seekers are youngsters hoping to find academic freedom in the form of studying at world renowned universities in Europe far away from their parents’ Jewish over-protectiveness. While academic tuition in Israel is relatively low, numerous European countries offer free tuition as well as financial assistance to students and free housing. Moreover, although Israeli universities are ranked amongst the finest in the world they do not offer a cosmopolitan learning environment such the one available in London, Leipzig or even Tallinn.
For other Israelis, it is the spirit of the wandering Jew that brings about a yearning to tour the continent coupled with a feeling that one’s identity can be both local and global. Like most countries, Israel is home to large hipster community and like their brethren from Berlin, Israeli hipsters wish to move freely between European capitals in search of culture and art. It is not the sound of the Uzi that guides them but the sound of alternative music.
And finally, perhaps there are those who have had enough. Enough of reserves service, enough of military experts on television and enough of war. These Israelis seek escapism and the ability to watch the 8 o’clock news without taking matters to heart. After risking their lives for this country and carrying their share of the load, who are we or Mr. Lapid to judge them?
As for myself I am currently brushing up on my Polish, just in case they will have me.