Israeli Culture: Dayenu
In the years since the end of World War II (even more so since the end of the Cold War), the world has been transformed by a rapid increase of American cultural and economic “development” (or in some cases, imperialism). And while in many ways global society has benefited from this phenomena, an extraordinarily negative consequence has been the cultural inferiority complex that I believe has infected too many parts of the world.
In many countries, popular culture has often become synonymous with American culture. Young people who don’t know a word of English strive to learn the words to English songs, American movies overpower the local film industries, and American brands have inundated malls and markets worldwide.
Israel is, if anything, more vulnerable to this cultural imperialism than most countries. Though its culture is rooted in three thousand years of Jewish history, modern Israeli culture (i.e. its fashion, film and television, music, etc.) is a relatively new creation. Lacking a deep foundation of a pre-existing popular culture, Israelis my age have become enamored with any and all things American. Walk down the streets of Tel Aviv and English will assault your senses. Uncle Sam is on every billboard, on every t-shirt, and his harmless voice is heard everyday on the radio.
I’m not trying to be an alarmist. What I think is important to remember, though, is that this unique form of imperialism has direct effects on the strength of the Jewish people, tangibly and intangibly. An Israel that perceives itself as weak is one that relies on America and world opinion far too much. And it is one in which over ten percent of the population has chosen to live once again in exile and in which nearly half of Israeli youth have expressed that they’d like to leave permanently if given the option.
This isn’t to say that American culture is out of bounds. Or that the Israeli culture for which I advocate is one “pure” of outside influences. What I am advocating for is a renewed sense of Jewish dignity, pride, and self-sufficiency. Or, in Zionist terms, hadar.
There’s a perception in Israel that the goals of the Zionist movement were more or less fulfilled with the establishment of the state. That after we won the war, absorbed the immigrants, and drained the swamps that our work was finished. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are battles to be fought, exiles to be brought home, and deserts that have yet to bloom. We must firmly commit ourselves to the long process of state-building that still lies ahead of us.
So, in anticipation of my upcoming Aliyah, I’ve given away my English t-shirts and deleted my English music. These measures, though they may seem extreme, are as rational as moving across the ocean and serving in the military. They are the essence of Zionism and they are what will strengthen the Jewish people and enable us to fulfill our divine mission to prove that in order to be people, we must be more than people.
If this sacred mission requires me to sacrifice my Adele and my beloved Clinton campaign t-shirts, so be it.