Diversity in Philadelphia, New York, and Petach Tikva

Many college campuses in the United States and elsewhere have become hotbeds for anti-Semitism.  The trend has been on the increase, and if history is any indication, cannot be expected to remain confined to colleges and universities.

Philadelphia and New York City are geographically comparable.  They each are located in an Atlantic Ocean estuary of a river, and their respective rivers drain geographically-adjacent watershed basins of approximately the same size.  Each city serves as an active maritime port to a resource-rich hinterland.

From the United States independence from the British Crown in 1776 until 1820, the population of Philadelphia exceeded that of New York, reflecting a stronger economy.  By 1830, the situation had reversed; New York’s economy and population had pulled ahead of Philadelphia’s.  The obvious game-changer for this was the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, which increased New York’s commercial traffic, and with it, the population.

[For the purposes of the foregoing comparisons, “Philadelphia” entails all of Philadelphia County’s subdivisions before they were legislatively consolidated in 1854 into a city that was and still is geographically coterminous with the county; “New York” entails the County of New York before its consolidation into the City of New York as the Borough of Manhattan in 1898.].

One factor that gave Philadelphia an economic advantage over New York prior to 1820 was Philadelphia’s cultural diversity compared to that of New York. William Penn’s openness to diverse groups in Philadelphia was far greater than that found in New York; for example, it was to the Philadelphia County borough of Germantown, now a neighborhood in the City of Philadelphia, where the Anabaptists fleeing religious persecution in Europe first settled in the New World.

While maintaining a diverse social system in any business enterprise, academic institution, or residential community requires greater effort and attention than maintaining a homogenous conforming one, culturally diverse organizations and communities hold definite advantages over those that are not.  As a simple example, a company that has a diverse sales force can relate to a broader base of customers and clientele than can a company whose sales force is all cast in the same mold, thereby availing obvious salutary benefits to cash flow and profitability.

This brings us to the issue of integrating people into the organization or society.   History has had countries and colonies that have proactively facilitated immigration (voluntary or otherwise) to develop their economies.  There generally were no major language barriers in the case of Australia, where such immigrant groups were composed mainly if not almost exclusively of English-speaking convicts.  Israel, on the other hand, needs to assist many if not most of its immigrants in overcoming the language barriers in order to achieve its stated goal of integrating the new immigrants into its society as productive contributing members (the New World nations and colonies that developed their economies through the slave trade had no such objective, and their failure to integrate the Black African “immigrants” into their societies gave rise to negative ramifications which persist to this day).

There are many success stories regarding Israel’s accommodation of immigrants from the Former Soviet Union.  I see it in my own city of Petach Tikva, where Russian speakers are to be found amongst the ranks of professionals, business entrepreneurs, taxi drivers, employees in the supermarkets, construction workers, banks, bureaucracies, and just about every other employment sector.  Petach Tikva’s official mailings often include texts in the Russian language, and Petach Tikva’s city-affiliated Ulpan is explicitly geared to Russian speakers.  The self-help computer terminal kiosk at the Petach Tikva City Hall has a Russian language option (although not an English one).

I, of course, am pleased to see the successful integration of Russian speakers into society, and not only because (as my surname evinces) I would be among them had my grandparents not emigrated from the FSU to America more than a century ago.  The success facilitated by the accommodations by cities all over Israel, including Petach Tikva, redounds to the benefit of the entire country and society.

Viewing the current events occurring in English-speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, the UK, South Africa, and Australia, it is easy to imagine a significant increase in Anglophone aliyah in the coming years.  Some of those English-speaking immigrants will come because they are drawn to the Land of Israel, some will come on account of pressures to leave their current homes, but most will come as a result of those two combined forces of attraction and repulsion.  Israel will need to accommodate these imminent immigration waves, including facilitating communications across the English-Hebrew language barrier.

Israel in general, and Petach Tikva in particular, can do far more to accommodate its Anglophone population; now is the time to begin such efforts in preparation for the inevitable Anglo immigration wave.  English speakers from the USA, the UK, and other countries have much talent that can be harnessed through accommodative measures.

In such regard, I note that two weeks ago, Petach Tikva’s mayor Rami Greenberg announced his candidacy for a second term in the upcoming municipal election.  It is too early at this time for me to say that I will or will not vote for him; suffice it to say that my wife and I have plenty of satisfactions and dissatisfactions regarding aspects of the administration of our city under his watch.  But Rami Greenberg does have the advantages of incumbency, and can, if he so chooses, structure his campaign to include making Petach Tikva into a catchment for Anglos who can help build the great modern city of his oft-stated vision for the future.

Petach Tikva’s successful accommodations of the Russian-speaking olim not only is proof positive that the coming waves of Anglos can be accommodated, but also offers lessons to be learned by those who will devise such accommodations.  And Petach Tikva is not the only locale in Israel that can make provisions for the coming waves of Anglo olim.

About the Author
Born in Philadelphia, Kenneth lived on Long Island and made Aliyah to Israel. Professionally, he worked as a lawyer in the USA (including as an attorney for the Internal Revenue Service), a college professor and an analyst for the U.S. Department of Defense. He's also a writer and a traveler.