If you whine it, it is no dream

Over the past few weeks, Sarah Tuttle-Singer has become the latest Israeli pundit we love to hate as the leader of the internet brat-pack of the “complainglos,” a group of self-proclaimed dissatisfied Western olim who find that the land of milk and honey has left a sour taste in their mouths. (Right, chevreh?) As a potential American olah — although sadly, not a blond — I am of two minds about this tirade. On the one hand, I relate to the experience of being reduced to tears by an ill-conceived attempt to patronize Bank Ha-Poalim, Sufersal, and the post office all in one afternoon (which evoked in my own mind the slogan “Never Again!”) and despite near-fluent Hebrew, the difficulties of forging friendships and professional connections amongst native Israelis. On the other hand, as someone who is currently confronting the myriad of difficulties in making aliya as a 30-something, I admit to feeling envious of those who were more easily able to create a new life for themselves in Israel and wish they’d smell the roses (or the heavenly scent of Jerusalem jasmine) rather than complain over the proverbial spilled Tnuva. However, the notion that Ms. Tuttle-Singer raises about the clash of civilizations between Americans and Israelis is not unique, and she might be interested to know that academics spend a lot of time and energy studying her not-so-rare breed:

Believe it or not, people with PhDs sit around and write journal articles about what it means to be an American-Israeli freier and why Israelis hate you. (Seriously! I kid you not! Google it!) Other scholars study why Americans can’t assimilate into the Israeli bureaucratic complex, which, in non-jargonized terms, basically explains why no matter what you do and how many bored kuppaim you scream at, you will never get a cash refund at Ha-Mashbir. (Chevreh, I know, I too am still patiently awaiting for the study which will definitively prove whether it is more effective to yell, cry, or quietly point out “my relatives in Europe weren’t killed by the Nazis for you to make me pay extra for E! Television in my own national home” guilt-trip when negotiating with HOT/YES.) The consensus of the robust scholarship on American aliya is that the majority of immigrants from the United States are one nation, under God, indivisible, and totally obnoxious in believing they bring a superior value system from their country of origin to demand reform in Israeli culture and society.

In fact, most Anglo olim are affluent, highly educated, and socially mobile immigrants that freely choose to come to Israel. For many with hyphenated identities as Jewish-Americans, they were proud citizens of their countries of birth, but felt propelled to immigrate by a desire to maximize their Jewishness, a goal they considered could not be achieved in the Diaspora. However, upon arriving in Israel, their “Americanness” was often reawakened and these migrants have come to see themselves as rational, progressive, and superior agents of change in their host country.

Like Tuttle-Singer, many American olim have historically been suspicious and critical of Israeli business and political mores. Countless studies have demonstrated their condemnation of Israeli informalities (eg. why does my pakid have his shirt unbuttoned to his pupik and just called me mammy?) and nepotism (ie. protexia/Vitamin P). Moreover, while most are highly engaged with bureaucratic and political culture, they still complain that “the system” is not responsive to their needs. There has traditionally been a distinct feeling that the average Joe, now the naturalized average Yosef, doesn’t have a voice in Israel.

At the same time, American-Israelis champion and even idealize the value-systems they grew up with in the United States. Some laud values of transparency, efficiency, and rationality (although, really, didn’t they ever have to go to the DMV?) they find absent in Israel, while others pine for American-style democracy with direct rather than proportional voting. Many assert the need to introduce these kinds of reforms to Israel. A smaller percentage even speak of a “white man’s burden” (better called “the burden of pale New Yorkers who haven’t been in Israel long enough to get a decent tan) to change the Israeli way.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a kind of kulturkampf between the self-perceived superior American and the backward Israeli — or alternately the gullible American freier and the saavy Israeli mistadernik — has emerged. In truth, these concepts reflect deep Zionist anxieties in contrasting stereotypes of the weak, slavish Diasporic Jew who is obediently oppressed by non-Jewish rule with the tough, wily pioneer willing to use all means necessary to create facts on the ground to achieve the aspirations of the state. Tuttle-Singer is giving voice to a phenomenon as old as Israel itself.

So think about it this way complainglos: whining is an authentic Zionist activity, so maybe you’re truly an Israeli now!

About the Author
Dr Sara Hirschhorn is a postdoctoral fellow at the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. Her dissertation, entitled 'City on a Hilltop: The Participation of Jewish-American Immigrants within the Israeli Settler Movement, 1967-1987,' is now available on PROQUEST.