Prior to my family’s aliyah, when investigating Israel, I looked into schools, synagogues, communities, and the like. Nonetheless, I neglected to weigh the possible impacts, on me and on my family, of the existent population’s demographics. More exactly, I hadn’t known that roughly fifteen per cent of the people living here are from Russia and that a significant segment of that number serve in healthcare professions.
Therefore, it wasn’t just living cheek to cheek with Arabs (the rhetoric about the Middle East, to which I had been exposed, was not very favorable to our cousins) that required me to acclimate. I additionally had to reorient myself to regard former Soviet denizens not as sworn enemies (having been born in 1960, I’m a Cold War baby.) but as olim who happened to be from a different part of the globe.
On balance, before moving to Israel, the mentality of the Russian sovet was alien to me. Subsequent to moving here, I lived in New York City’s tri-State region, a locale where the majority of Jews are middle class, embrace Yiddishkeit (to varying degrees), and are prejudiced against “tankies” by the decades-long geopolitical tension between the Soviet Union and the USA.
Consequently, I had been acculturated to see those others as “bad guys” who were bent on world domination. It wasn’t until the early 1990s, when kiruv movements sprang into relative popularity in newly formed “Russia,” and when international politics/attitudes toward Russians thawed a bit, that most of us Postwar Americans began to think that, perhaps, our Slavic brothers and sisters were not evil but suppressed.
That is, most of my generation came to recognize that the greater number of Muscovites were not wicked but lacking, especially in the richness of Torah life. What’s more, we recognized that our fellow travelers were less fiduciarily secure than us (it wasn’t until decades later, after my family had merited relocating to Israel, that I was privy to detailed, horrific accounts from some of those “apparatchiks.”)
Even so, all things being unequal, less than two weeks after my family landed in Israel, I had my first of many unpleasant encounters with a professional who had escaped the communist regime. That someone was an ob-gyn (truly “American,” I had dutifully scheduled my annual checkup for its ordinary time despite the fact that during the year of my family’s aliyah, that meant that I “needed” an appointment within weeks of landing.)
After the woman poked and prodded (me, a woman who was much thinner than my current self), she announced that the trouble with Americans was our girth. She proceeded to give me unsolicited, inaccurate mussar.
I controlled myself. That is, I said nothing of the fact that the trouble with Russian olim was their smoking habit (that doc had breathed nicotine-laced fumes in my face during the entirety of my exam.) Be that as it may, I wish that I had had the sense not to think poorly of her; she was doing her best.
Further visits to other Slavic healers taught me compassion for those professionals, for those individuals who had lived with little, and who, as doctors, nurses, and more, had had to treat their patients with makeshift interventions. The tales that I eventually heard about Russian medicine made the legends, which I had also heard, of the IDF using cardboard tanks to confuse and frighten away enemy armies, seem less singular. Apparently, Jews of all stripes have been employing their brains when equipment, including medical supplies, were lacking.
All the same, the waves of those immigrants to Israel, sometimes, has adversely influenced our nation. I’m saddened, for instance, by the mushrooming of shops selling treif comestibles. Whereas I comprehend that if there’s a market, there’s a marketer, I adamantly believe that such fare has no place in the Holy Land.
Moreover, since it’s increasingly rare for adults to change their spiritual wardrobes as they age. A case in point is an olah, a friend of mine, who insists that her decorated, December tree reflects her Slavic heritage, not another faith’s major holiday.
I always thought of Eretz Yisrael as Am Yisrael’s home, as the place where Torah will forever, in all manner, be preeminent. Granted, the modern state was fashioned by liberal forces, many of whom valued (and continue to value) choices antithetical to Americans, let alone to persons devoted to serving Hashem.
More specifically, without leaning on either side of the political divide per the Right of Return laws, I believe that it’s one thing to admit someone to one’s place of dwelling and another to expect them to understand, appreciate, and follow “house rules,” especially if they insist that they helped author those rules. Just as the Erev Rav, who wanted desperately to be part of the miracle-experiencing people, tripped up Moses time and again, our epoch’s “outsiders” are, immediately, and in the long run, too frequently detrimental to Am Yisrael’s well-being.
Eretz Yisrael is for all Jews. Some olim, like many from North America and Europe, arrive because of ideals. Others, like many from the former Socialist Bloc and Africa, arrive seeking sanctuary. Our home belongs to all of us. Hopefully, those among us who have suffered deprivation will cease acting in ways that undermine the rest of us.