I am very proud of my Israeli heritage. Nevertheless, I would never pretend to present myself as an example of what I think constitutes an ideal Israeli. For one thing, I don’t even live in Israel. I honestly would like to, but my whole life is here in Canada and I can’t take it with me to live somewhere else, even if that somewhere else is my ancestral homeland.
It would also be hypocritical of me to present myself as an ideal Israeli since I write in English and do not consider myself to be fluent in Hebrew, though I’m confident saying that I speak Hebrew better than most people who weren’t born in Israel and/or never lived there for an extended period of time. My name is clearly not Hebrew, though like most Jews, I do have a Hebrew first name that I like to use whenever I’m in Israel. In short, I am not what I would call an ideal Israeli. So what is an ideal Israeli?
An Ideal Israeli Stays True to His or Her Semitic Roots:
I believe that the true identity of Israel lies not simply in being the homeland of the Jewish people, but also a Hebrew, Semitic state. The Jewish people are a Semitic people. We are not European or Western inasmuch as the rest of the world likes to think of us as being so. Yes, many of us, particularly Jews of European origin or Ashkenazim, do not look like Semites, but this of course is largely because of a historical injustice, namely the dispossession of the Jewish people from their ancestral homeland. When the Zionist movement began, we not only started building a Jewish state after two thousand years, but we also started taking back our heritage. Above all, we managed to restore Hebrew and make it a modern language to use in everyday life. There is now a thriving Hebrew culture, in contrast to just over a century ago when Hebrew was almost exclusively a language of prayer. No one can be called an ideal Israeli unless he or she has a mastery of the Hebrew language.
What bothers me, though, is that many Jews living in Israel are still holding on to too many non-Semitic cultural practices of our two thousand year exile. For example, although many if not most Israeli Jews have a Hebrew name, or at least a Semitic one, there are still some, including prominent Israeli leaders, who continue to have names like Rubenstein and Silverman. These are names that belong in the Diaspora, NOT in Israel! The same goes for Yiddish and other Diaspora Jewish languages. Many of Zionism’s founding fathers viewed Yiddish as a corrupt jargon and so do I. May it be banished from Israel as a conversational language forever! We use it in Israel as part of our slang and that’s as far as it should go. And as we relegate Yiddish to the dustbin of history, we should also discourage other antisemitic, anti-Zionist forms of Jewish culture in Israel, such as Klezmer music and that ridiculous-looking, medieval Polish garb that many Haredim wear. My opinion is simply this: If you want to live as if the Jews never left the shtetls and the ghettos of Europe, speak Yiddish and wear those big, black coats and black hats, then please, don’t do it in Israel. To make a long story short, Diaspora Jewish culture belongs in the Diaspora, not in Israel, because Israel is where Jews go to be Yehudim, not Yids.