I don’t know about you, but as an immigrant from the United States, even one who has been in this country a long time, I want to have candidates speak to me in my language about the things that are important to me, not only as a regular Israeli citizen with concerns and needs just like everyone else, but also as an Oleh with unique concerns. Over the years that I have been in Israel, I don’t recall too many politicians taking the time to come speak in English to English speaking crowds or in French to French speaking crowds, etc. and address those unique concerns.
According to the Jewish Agency, more than 30,000 Olim came to Israel in 2018, some 3,500 of them from North America. I had the honor of heading the Aliya Delegation to North America from the Jewish Agency from 2010 to 2012. These numbers may not be tremendously high, but they still show that Olim are coming. The 3,500 figure is more or less the yearly average from North America in the past two decades. I’m sure that every Zionist in the coalition or the opposition will agree as to the importance of continuing to promote Aliya and ensure its success.
Aliya remains at the core of the Zionist dream.
For those of us who have taken that step, both recently and long ago, I dare say it has shaped our lives, perhaps even defined them. Over the years we have become Israelis; we have become more and more like the person next door with similar needs, hopes and dreams. We work in the Israeli work force. We raise Israeli children. We serve in the army, as do our children. We develop our own political affiliations. We read the papers and watch the TV news. But additionally, we will always be unique in the sense that we bring our accents and cultures with us, we tend to live in communities where there are other olim and we gravitate to olim who appreciate the same food, music and sports (OK, maybe I’m talking about myself here) and yes, also to people who speak the same language. While most of us speak varying levels of Hebrew and some of us actually do figure out the Israeli accent, I venture to say that most of us still like to speak English when we can and many of us have yet to completely overcome the language barrier.
It is for this reason that at election time, it is so important for politicians to show they care about this segment of Israeli society (and again, I don’t only mean English speaking Olim) and to speak to us directly; to explain the political nuances that we may not pick up in our daily routines, to demonstrate that we matter to them.
While there are English speaking activist groups in some of the parties, we don’t often see politicians speaking directly to Olim, let alone the heads of parties. That is why it is refreshing to see Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid holding a Town Hall in English, specifically for English speakers. (In Tel Aviv on January 13).
In the four years since the last election, Yesh Atid has made the most consistent and impressive effort to reach out to English speakers of any political group (alongside the Jewish Home) and so Yair Lapid taking the lead on this issue is not really a surprise.
It would be great if the Prime Minister and other heads of parties would do the same, giving English-speaking Israelis a direct interface so that they too, can make the best-informed decision for themselves and for the country on Election Day. Certainly, this is something to strive for.