There has been a recent slew of articles and blog entries published in the English-language Israeli media focusing on perceived injustices and unreasonable hardships of the aliya experience. I have read grievance after grievance about the shortcomings of the Jewish State’s system for absorbing its Anglophone immigrants. After all, we are incontestably the best people in the world and deserve only the finest treatment. The often-repeated complaints are wide in scope and range from the hardships of the aliya process itself to the difficulties of “making it” in Israel. I’m embarrassed to admit that all too many of us arrive in Ben Gurion Airport with an unshakeable sense of entitlement.
The Anglo superiority complex develops as a defense mechanism against the challenges and threats of aliya. It manifests itself in many ways and is often vented at undeserving victims, namely the “overly aggressive Israeli.” In fact, it seems that this is at the core of most olim’s complaints about the country. The accusations are familiar — they are “pushy,” “arrogant” and “rude.” They force their way ahead of you in the line for the bus. They ask you what your salary is. They speak on their cell phones when they should be ringing up your purchases.
Maybe I am the delusional one, but I think this is largely imagined. I made aliya from New York around a year and a half ago. I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens. I would never claim that I was not pushed and shoved by the throngs of commuters on Queens Boulevard and 71st Avenue rushing every morning to catch the F train. In fact, it was a daily occurrence, just as it is in Israel.
Oftentimes, olim will be advised by other misguided immigrants to “act Israeli” in order to avoid being taken advantage of. What this means is to be overly aggressive, loud, and direct when dealing with native Israelis. An Israeli co-worker has informed me that “real” Sabras are appalled by such behavior. There are subtleties in “Israeli behavior” that are lost on olim. This disparity is evident in the not-uncommon scene of an irate Anglo yelling and gesturing wildly at a shocked native; the Anglo, who’s sure he’s being clever and has finally assimilated, is simply showcasing his failure to do so.
Another popular gripe is the extremely inefficient Israeli bureaucracy. People spend hours on the phone with Cellcom or Bezeq or the Ministry of Absorption, only to be transferred around a few times and then, finally, hung up on. While this is certainly frustrating, I clearly remember sitting in the good old US of A, waiting on hold for an hour with Cablevision or AT&T only to be transferred to a representative somewhere in South Asia who could barely comprehend my request. I also remember waiting around three weeks for my US passport to arrive from the State Department, a feat that the Israeli Ministry of the Interior accomplishes in half the time. And let’s not even begin to talk about the dreaded DMV. It seems to me that American bureaucracy is no less infuriating than that of Israel.
There is a disturbing new phenomenon afoot, one that I have dubbed “Complainglos”; that is, Anglos who seek to ease the difficulties of absorption and assimilation by bashing everything about life in Israel. They cook up all sorts of issues and paint themselves as victims of a culture of incompetence in order to compensate for their own aliya shortcomings. I have sat at many a Shabbat meal, where gaggles of Anglos congregate and commiserate about anything and everything. I am not above admitting that I am also guilty of this.
Yes, salaries are low and taxes are high in Israel. Yes, that brand-new Hyundai has a tax of over 100%. This, for better or worse, is the nature of a state that faces the unique challenges that Israel does. We knew this when we began filling out that aliya application. Israel isn’t just any country; it’s an enterprise, a Zionist start-up; and it requires commitment and sacrifice if it is to be successful. Granted, it is in our Jewish nature to bitch and moan. At the end of the day, however, it just makes the absorption process more difficult, not any easier.
The truth is, when we decided to leave our perfect, infallible, and idyllic birth countries for the bureaucratic wilderness of Israel, we made a choice. When we accepted our Teudot Zehut, we became Israeli. It does us no good to cling to the comparisons. We are here for no other reason than that we want to be here. No one makes aliya as a prudent, practical decision. It is an emotional one. So let’s take responsibility for that decision. I think it was the right one to make.