Cookie Schwaeber-Issan
Cookie Schwaeber-Issan

Memo to Israeli Youth – The Grass is Not Greener in America

Having just returned home from two different Israeli supermarkets, I am reflecting on the two separate conversations I had at each venue. Both were with young men in their 20s, and each of them lamented about how they wish they could be in America rather than their country of birth – Israel.

As a born and bred former New Yorker, my dead giveaway accent is usually responsible for others engaging me in conversation, asking where I’m from and why I chose to move here.  In this morning’s case, my immediate response was that I have always been a Zionist.  Looking at me, almost incredulously, the claim was totally overlooked and ignored while each of these young men expressed their exuberance and joy about how much better it would be to live in America.

But for those of us who were born there and follow the daily, unfolding events in the U.S., we are both deeply saddened and completely shocked to see the ever-increasing downfall of what was once truly an enviable place in which to live.  America was, indeed, the singular example of freedom of expression, religion and democracy.  It was the place that offered the opportunity to soar and become the person to wherever your dreams aspired to take you.  Life had a comforting rhythm which offered family gatherings celebrating patriotism, a shared culture and so many common values.  Although a melting pot, we all spoke the same language, held many of the same beliefs and worked side by side toward the similar goal of living the “American Dream.”

That was then, but this is now. Today’s America has dramatically departed from family, faith and camaraderie.  It has, instead, taken the decidedly sharp turn of tribalism and division, relegating its citizens into separate camps, depending on political leanings, skin color, ideology and even medical preferences during this Covid era.

Yet those details seem to be lost upon Israeli youth who think that New York or Los Angeles is just about the coolest place ever!

It’s honestly a wonder how these young people remain so uninformed about life outside of Israel and what it is about their own country which causes them to consider it to be a second-class, lesser place of opportunity, offering minimal personal contentment and appreciation?

Young people, from all countries and cultures, are not at all ignorant of world events.  It’s just a matter of which world events.  They immediately know which celebrity did what and where.  In fact, probably the vast majority of them now know that Britney Spears is no longer under a conservatorship.  While the details of her often crazy life are of little interest to them, they, nonetheless, are all breathing a big sigh of relief now that she has succeeded to legally secure her freedom.

Young people also know everything about the latest technology, what’s worth buying and who invented it.  They also know plenty about the music scene, travel, food, university life and entertainment.  But what they are missing is context and details.

Why are those two things so important?  Because within context and details, you are able to be properly informed with a complete and comprehensive picture of crucial subjects.  Those details and context also help you to speak from a place of informed knowledge and current understanding concerning what is really taking place and how those developments are affecting its citizens.

For example, the cashier who raved about his beloved Times Square had not heard of the recent shooting which took place there in broad daylight just a few weeks ago, making it the third shooting in that area just this year.  Instead, he remembers a pleasant and exciting visit there at a time when New York was, perhaps, a bit more sane – a time when Asians and the elderly weren’t being assaulted on the streets, sucker punched and robbed by mentally-ill criminals who seem to constantly evade jail time.

Perhaps, the stock person, who was helping me to find an item, also had not heard about Los Angeles County District Attorney, George Gascon who is committed to freeing hardened criminals from prison and put them back on the streets in his misplaced and naïve belief that they won’t revert to a life of crime and terrorize citizens.  Both New York and Los Angeles have been seeing a surge of violent crime as a result of the “defund the police” movement.  At the same time, political operatives, who live in safe, gated-communities, have suggested that policing be “reimagined,” all to the great detriment of vulnerable citizens who have counted on law and order in their communities but who have, shamefully, been left unprotected.

These are only a small portion of details which young Israelis seem to miss while they ponder the dream of escaping the Promised Land.

Of course, no place is perfect, and Israel has long struggled with its own political players who have not done enough to solve many difficult and challenging issues of daily life – everything from providing affordable housing to dealing with the very unpopular exemptions of military service for the ultra-Orthodox to allowing taxes to be used to provide never-ending stipends for the same religious segment of the population.

However, there is no question that Israel offers so much opportunity for young people who are willing to work hard, persevere and fill in the gaps which often lead to bigger and better occupations.

With all of Israel’s shortcomings, we are, thankfully, not yet grappling with a stymied and feckless police department which is petrified to arrest lawbreakers for fear of being sued and losing everything.  We are also not confronting the poison of  “Critical Race Theory” which has seeped into the American educational system, pigeon holing individuals into the category of oppressor or victim.  We are also not dealing with cynical and corrupt politicians who believe that opening our borders and allowing the world’s poor, disadvantaged and unvetted translates into a good thing for their country.

Finally, we are not dealing with our youngsters being told that their homeland is racist, at every turn, and a place which must be cleansed from White Supremacy, the term given to those who refuse to endorse “woke” ideology.

It is that context and those details which provide a broader picture for young Israelis who have lost the vision of helping to build a thriving and successful Jewish homeland.  Their investment and creative efforts can only improve our relatively young country to make it the bastion of freedom and opportunity of which they dream. Choosing to leave will not enhance what they hope to achieve nor do I believe, for one moment, that they will find the utopia for which they search.

The grass is truly not greener in America, but in order for Israeli young people to know that, they first have to do a little digging into the facts to be fully informed and to realize that life is definitely better in their own backyard!

About the Author
A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.
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