I’m in Manuel Antonio, a small beach town on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. In a population of 8,400 there are four Israeli families, all of whom arrived within the last four years. I met the couple that runs the Falafel Bar just off the main road, the young couple expecting their first child, a woman buying falafel and heard about the Israeli couple that owns the bakery from which the Falafel Bar buys its pita bread.
Why Costa Rica? I asked an Israeli mother of three whom I met in San Jose.
“La pura vida” (the pure life) she said, using the popular Costa Rican term for the way life and people are here: relaxed, warm, friendly, serene. “You can pick fruit off the trees here,” she said. “And — I refuse to live in a country at war.”
The expecting couple told me they just don’t want to live in Israel anymore. Dan, as I’ll call him, lived in Los Angeles for 12 years and then, missing home, friends and family, returned to Israel.
“It’s not the country it was when I was growing up,” he said.
“It’s not just the economy, though we could’n’t afford to buy an apartment there,” his wife, whom I’ll call Tamar, said. “The values have changed. We don’t want to raise our children there – it’s become so materialistic.”
This made me so sad. I made aliyah, partly because I wanted to raise my children in Israel.
“All the good people are leaving,” they said.
I know that’s not true and I argued for staying and working for change as my colleagues in the New Israel Fund and Shatil and many other NGOs do daily. I referred them to our website so they could see for themselves. But I knew it was futile.
Why Manuel Antonio?
“We were looking for a place to settle and we love nature,” they said. “And we attended some helpful meetings of an organization that helps people who want to move to Costa Rica.
I wanted to say: You talk about the values changing, but here you are rejecting those very values — Zionism, a pioneering spirit, mutual help – by abandoning ship. But I didn’t want to offend. I wanted to ask if they knew about urban kibbutzim, about other intentional communities living in low income areas out of idealism, but we were standing around after a Spanish conversation class and I didn’t have the chance.
These expatriate Israelis are right when they say there is no peace in sight, the majority of the wealth is owned by a handful of families, the power-money relations screw over the working and middle classes, corruption is rampant and people are out for themselves much more than they used to be.
The powers-that-be must take a good hard look at themselves and ask if their policies are worth driving away a portion of our educated, bright, thoughtful, caring young people.
There are only four Israeli families in Manuel Antonio today. If we don’t change our ways, how many will be here in 10 years?