In the off-and-on discussions about which Israelis are the bigger Zionists, the native-born (sabras) or the naturalized (olim), my money rests on the naturalized.
Israel was, of course, founded and led by non-Israeli born leaders, mostly Ashkenazim from Poland, Russia and Rumania. Dov Joseph and Golda Meyerson (Meier) were two of the most renowned examples, he born in Canada and she in Russia who came to America as a very young child. In today’s Israel, Dore Gold, born in America, is the best example. As are former American born and educated Israeli ambassadors.
Why do I opine in favor of the naturalized? Because they were educated and steeped in Zionist history in the lands of the diaspora, imbued by a burning love of Herzl’s dream and the desire to build a Jewish nation.
They, like the Biluim and First and Second Aliyah olim were willing and prepared to leave the riches and the cultures of their native lands to emigrate to a land they knew only through history and dreams. Their one aim was to “livnot u’l’hibanot”…. To build the land and to be rebuilt by and in it.
Native born Israelis (sabras) are infused with a basic Zionist education in their schools. But it is not a strong nor intensive education. It does not make of today’s Israelis chalutzim (pioneers) with a zealous desire to do manual labor or to work in the fields growing and harvesting crops. Not like my native-born wife who was educated at Mikveh Yisrael and spent her leisure time planting in the nearby fields, weeding and watering and rejoicing when the first crops popped their green heads above the sandy soil.
Today’s youth has dreams of riches, luxuries, high-rise apartments with a penthouse or luxurious private villas, foreign travel and the high life. Society sabras.
They do not share the same values and intense love of Zion that formed the character of olim who happily became naturalized citizens.
When I studied at Havat Halimud in 1951 in the southern part of East Talpiot in Jerusalem, the classmates with whom I kept in contact over the years became Israeli diplomats and agriculturalists. One spent his time advocating Israel’s policies, needs and concerns to the government leaders in the lands of his postings, while the other went on to enrich the soil of the moledet with drip irrigation and the development of foods that are sold in local markets. Eventually he became a member of our Ministry of Finance.
It is rare to find many Israeli-born “fire-brands” in the halls of the Knesset. People like Avigdor Liberman, of whose policies and manners I disapprove, nevertheless demonstrate the Zionism I grew up with, trained in Betar and in the idolized tradition of Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky, Yosef Trumpeldor of Tel-Chai and of the miracle-working successor, Menachem Begin of blessed memory. It took a Polish-born Begin, not a Degania-born sabra soldier like Moshe Dayan, to make peace with Egypt’s Anwar Sadat.
Naturalized Israelis learned the practice of compromise from their youth. Sabras seldom compromise. They tend to follow the dictum in Pirkei Avot…. “sheli sheli v’shelcha sheli”…. What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine.
And therein lies one of the roots of our problem with the Palestinians. We do not compromise. As some say “it’s my way or the highway” and with such an attitude, a genuine and lasting peace is nigh to impossible.
I learned much of this attitude in 1951 from a German-born Israeli, a burning Zionist with a zeal for Israel that was unmatched by most native born sabras. His name is Elyakim Haetzni, born in Kiel and arrived in Israel prior to his Bar Mitzvah. I visited often in his family home on rehov Radak in Rehavia.
He became a lawyer, a leader of a political party, a member of our Knesset and one of the founders of Kiryat Arba in Hebron. Today he is in his 90’s still proclaiming his dream for the Zionist state which he helped to build.
We are a nation of sabras and olim. But we all are Jews whose love for our beloved State of Israel cannot ever be disputed. Together we continue to build. And hopefully, in turn, we ourselves are being rebuilt.