In 1986, American-born and former Israeli author Micha Lev wrote a novel entitled “YORDIM”.
It is supposed to be written in comic style, but appears to me to be more of a tragedy.
Yordim (singular Yored) means one Israeli who has left Israel to settle in another country. In the early years of the State, those Israelis who chose to emigrate elsewhere were called Yordim. It was a badge of shame. Families were divided. The potential yored was ostracized from his neighbors, many family members, those with whom he worked. He (less frequently she) was considered a disgrace and a traitor to the moledet. Over the years, with increasing emigration from Israel, times have changed.
Lev subtitled his book “Leaving the Promised Land for the Land of Promise”.
Ted Koppel, The ABC network News Nightline wrote of it: “It was supposed to be the land of milk and honey, but since the nation of Israel was founded, nearly 10% of the population has left, for good…. That’s not like any other country talking about 10%. That’s a national catastrophe”.
Professor Seymour Martin Lipset, an author and sociologist, wrote: “You almost can’t find an Israeli living in the United States – including people who have been here twenty, twenty-five years, of whom there are some—who will admit that he’s here permanently. They all say they intend to go back”.
The truth is that most of them never go back.
A recent census indicated that there are approximately 120,000 Israeli citizens living in the United States and Canada… many of them illegals… who buy green cards, obtain false employment records, and look for jobs.
The less educated among them, including those who matriculated and received the bagrut, still found low-paying jobs as dish-washers in restaurants, taxi drivers and furniture movers. In the diaspora they did all types of work which they found repulsive to do in Israel.
A friend in Kfar Saba told me some time ago about her cousin’s twenty-two year old son who was unable to find a job…or at least the kind of high-paying job he dreamed of. On pretense of visiting relatives in America he applied for and received a visitor’s visa permitting him to remain in the country for three months. Seventeen years later he was still in the United States rising from a furniture van driver to a manager in the van company. In seventeen years he has not returned to Israel to visit his elderly parents for fear of being denied a visa to return. It is true that he earned more money in one year than he could have earned in five years doing the same work in Israel. And with a salary unreported and with tips, he can live like the king of the highways.
Today, more educated Israelis, university graduates, are leaving Israel to settle in Western countries where the economy is better. Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland are preferred European countries where social insurance is paid from cradle to grave.
More recently, after the Milky war in Israel, 2500 young Israelis left the country to settle in Berlin. The same Israeli pudding sold in Berlin supermarkets are below the cost of the same product manufactured and sold in Israel.
We no longer call them yordim in a derogatory manner. In fact, we wish them hatzlacha—success in the New World to which they are going in search of adventure and a “better” life.
There are Israeli professionals who divide their time between Israel and the United States. One prominent oncologist in a major Tel-Aviv hospital spends six months of the year lecturing in an American medical school. The salary is far beyond anything he earns in Israel.
Once the yordim were detested. Now they are greeted with “kol hakavod”… more power to you.
Nevertheless, the emigration of technicians and professionals is a brain-drain for our Israeli society.
Life is definitely easier and more comfortable and profitable for them outside of Israel.
But the one great thing missing from their lives in the diaspora is the chevra, the society of friends for which Israel is renowned. The true and genuine friends in Israel, those with whom we went to school and those with whom we served in the military, can not be replicated in foreign lands.
Here we can visit our friends at will. A simple knock on the door is a guarantee of a warm welcome. Our children can play with their friends and classsmates without having to call to make a play-date appointment, as is the custom in the United States. Foreign visitors to America are usually treated to the hospitality of cafes and restaurants, rather than to cooked meals in someone’s home.
Friends like those I have in Israel cannot be found anywhere else in the world.
I have a neighbor who complains about everything in Israel. “The government is corrupt. Food prices are too high. There is discrimination in getting a decent-paying job. You have to use protektzia (paid influence) to find any kind of work, help or accommodation”. He talks about how better life is abroad. But he still prefers to live in Israel “even if I suffer here”.
The pool of yordim may be diminishing. Hopefully young Israelis will choose to remain in our country and work to improve its faults.
Micha Lev, author of “Yordim” became one himself after spending five years in Israel. That was many years ago. He is still here.