The Israeli media reported recently that one-third of all Israelis who committed suicide in the past decade were immigrants, according to the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora committee.
This figure is disturbing but not surprising.
Immigration is not easy. In Israel, where immigration is often ideologically motivated (especially among Anglo immigrants), it’s often difficult to talk about the pitfalls of “returning home.” The word for Jewish immigration in Hebrew, aliyah (ascension), says it all.
What’s more, the government regularly publishes stats on aliyah. Yet, we rarely hear from official sources about those who have left, whether they are native-born Israelis or immigrants who have returned to their home countries.
Not to say that we immigrants don’t complain about Israel. We do. About the rudeness, the lack of order, the unnecessary aggressiveness. That’s not to mention the high cost of living, regular wars and violence, politics, etc.
But I think this startling report is an opportunity to start a more meaningful discussion on the difficulties we encounter. And it doesn’t have to reach the point of suicide. Even those of us who have had a successful aliyah should openly talk about the hardships we face. And official sources should listen.
I write this because I experienced something of a delayed culture shock. When I moved to Israel nearly 13 years ago, I was young, single, and eager for adventure. I absorbed everything Israeli and refused to speak English. It was great. I didn’t experience culture shock then.
At the time, I didn’t give much thought to that huge move. Growing up, Israel had always been the subject of fantasy – a Jewish garden of Eden, where I would be part of the strong, proud majority, not an “ethnic” minority within a minority in my native Quebec.
Yet, for many immigrants, the landing from an idyllic dream to Israel’s gritty reality can be harsh.
It took me more than 10 years, giving birth to two Israeli children, and writing a book about my aliyah experiences for me to realize the enormity of my move and its ramifications. Only recently have I started to reflect about how unnatural it was for me to cut myself off from my natural environment, my family, and my hometown. I’ve started taking inventory of what I’ve gained and what I’ve left behind.
I used to try hard to fit in, but now I realize that there are parts of me that will always be foreign. I’ll always have an accent, I’ll never block other cars just because, and I will say “please” and “thank you,” even in Hebrew, because that’s who I am.
Similarly, I love living here, but there are some things here that can send me into a fit. Like, why does no one in this country understand the concept of customer service? If your job title is customer service representative, your job is to serve (read: help) the customer, for *%&*(#$ sake!
To be sure, the difficulties of immigration are not limited to Israel. They’re universal. Yet, immigrants are usually too busy learning the language, adjusting to a new culture, and supporting their families to talk about these hardships.
We’ve seen these culture clashes and hardships expressed in Europe in the wake of the waves of refugees and migrants crossing its borders. Norway, for one, has been teaching refugees how to treat women in their new country, as reported by the New York Times. These are small steps. There is a lot more to be done. One way to start would be discuss the immigrant experience more, on this site and on others.
Hopefully, a more substantive discussion on migration will help ease the burdens for many of us and allow the personal hardships of immigration to take their rightful place in the public discourse.