The accent, even ever-so subtle, is usually the first giveaway. Yes, I think, she’s one of us.
Over the past several years, as I’ve become more active in causes dear to me, I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon: American olim (immigrants to Israel) are disproportionately represented in the world of social activism in Jerusalem. At every event I attend, be it at the Knesset, a conference or protest, I can always pick out quite a few directors of NGOs or other prominent activists who are originally from the US. This is true on both right and left ends of the spectrum. Why is that?
Do I just notice them more because those people stand out to me, being an American olah (immigrant) myself?
Are Americans raised on more liberal values than Israelis in general, and therefore more attuned to social injustice?
Are the type of people who make aliyah a self-selecting group of ideologically driven people who are more likely to engage in activism and work at nonprofits?
Have Americans just been conditioned to waltz into other countries and tell everyone how to run things better?
Is there some sort of ideal combination of feeling simultaneously foreign while belonging that enables olim to have enough of a sense of detachment to notice a socially embedded injustice, but enough of a sense of identification to feel responsible for making it better?
In short, yes.
We are at an incredibly opportune juncture in the development of a very young State of Israel and olim are in unique positions to contribute.
Survival no longer commanding our constant attention, Israel enjoys the relative luxury of looking inward. Our country is just old enough to be existentially stable, but still young enough to be socially amorphous. We are an ancient, diverse people who have unpacked millennia’s worth of religious, social and political baggage and now need to figure out where in this modern state to put it all.
So, we sort through the mess. Like awkward teenagers, we grow into our identity. Sometimes we embarrass ourselves. Sometimes, we get it devastatingly wrong. Other times, we get it fantastically right.
Having a tiny country that is relatively young means that individual people can actually have a significant impact in shaping its character. Knowing this is deeply empowering, especially for idealistic olim, whose identities can be very emotionally invested in their personal connection to the country. It turns injustice-induced rage, which would feel futile and frustrating in other contexts, into an asset that can be harnessed to fuel improvement, involvement and growth.
I am reminded of a line that I heard from Michal Shir, founder of the Israeli Center for Political Training: “They were the dor hameyasdim (founding generation), but we are the dor hame’atzvim (shaping generation).”
Here’s to the arrival, but also the journey.
Happy Aliyah Day.