Irene Rabinowitz
New Englander by birth, Israeli by choice.

Leave That Diaspora Where You Found It

In an effort to be as obsessive compulsive as I can about aliyah, I joined a Facebook group set up for us older folks who are making the big move. There was a lot of good information most of which is available through Nefesh B’Nefesh and through a Jewish Agency for Israel shaliach.  I tossed in information that I thought would be helpful and learned some good tips about the practical things that could make the process easier. I realized that there are people making aliyah who have never visited Israel or had not visited the community to which they would be moving. But that’s a western concept; those who came before us from Ethiopia, Russia, present day Ukraine might be in the same situation with many fewer resources. So that worried me less than other comments.

As I read the postings, I found a couple of things annoying and some downright disturbing. Many people were seemingly obsessed with consumer goods and what would be available. I know this is important to those used to the instant gratification of life in the United States, but the questions were as if people were moving to Soviet-era Warsaw.  Shampoo, Ziplock bags, Greek yogurt, blenders, and other common items were mentioned. One irritated Israeli posted something like “hey, we don’t ride around on camels, we’re a modern country”.

Then, and here’s where it became disturbing, I noticed a not so subtle bias against those who are orthodox or identify as haredi.  Someone posted a warning not to move to Beit Shemesh because it was filled with “Orthodox”; someone posted that Jerusalem might not be the place to live because it was “too haredi”. The warnings about where or where not to live seemed to be all about where more religious people might live, and should be avoided.  One poster mentioned that she knew people who moved from Jerusalem because it was filled with religious people. Had they never been there before? Duh.

Even stranger, some of these posts were made by someone who said she has lived in Israel for many years and made a comment about “Russian accented Hebrew” in a not too nice way. What the hell, I thought, is she thinking? The diaspora is filled with different languages, accents, levels of belief, customs, ad infinitum.  The whole reason a homeland makes sense is that we can come from places with all these differences and be a true nation, regardless of those differences that were created by dispersing our people to foreign lands.

At the risk of being judgmental myself, thoughts raced through my mind about whether aliyah makes a difference if someone is stuck in diaspora mentality:  us, them, this Jewish way, that Jewish way, etc.   I remember my mother telling me that she didn’t like the accents of her neighbors in Rhode Island who were Russian Jewish immigrants. That was shocking to me since her parents had come to America from Russia during the tsarist years. Later I realized that the diaspora can render a state of mind that promotes creating “the other” to lessen the feeling of not belonging in whatever culture is prominent.  My mother, who otherwise had few prejudices, had this one…..dislike of those who came after and who reminded her of from where her parents had come.

I allowed myself to be judgmental and left the Facebook group that had become more annoying than helpful. The administrator reached out privately as did a couple of other people to whom I explained what I found so troubling.

I’m no innocent; Israelis have plenty to disagree upon among themselves and in a way that might be over the top to new olim.  There are biases, differences in how Hashem is served, and how some interpret the footprint of the homeland.  We newbies have a lot to learn and have lots of people to tell us what it is we need to learn.

But to start out with a prejudice against those who have strong adherence toTorah is just wrong.  Most of the people who have reached out to me with friendship are Orthodox and have not judged my less observant lifestyle.  Most live in Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh, Efrat or somewhere else in Judea or Samaria.  I’m not saying that I expect that the folks in Mea Shearim want to be my friends.  That they live in a neighborhood close to where I might live does not diminish the value of living in Jerusalem for me. It actually enhances the belief in a Jewish nation that has room for all Jews. To believe otherwise seems to foster a diaspora belief that there are those who are less than others because of who they are and how they worship.

So fellow future olim, the gift of aliyah is that we can be who we really are in the nation where we are meant to be.  There are things we will bring with us and things we need to leave behind including a belief system created by two thousand years away from home.




About the Author
Irene Rabinowitz made aliyah in November 2014 and lives in Jerusalem. Prior to making aliyah, she lived in a small odd town at the tip of Cape Cod for 28 years. She lived in New York City for 16 years as a young adult (or old child), but is a Rhode Islander by birth. Irene has served as a local elected official and retired from a long career in non-profit management at the end of 2013, after serving as the Executive Director of Helping Our Women for 18 years. While still consulting with NGOs in both Israel and abroad, she has most recently been the Director of Development at Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance.