Olim-by-choice suck

I met a friend last week. If I hadn’t known him better, I would have been offended by what he had to say about olim-by-choice. Then he stroked my ego, and informed me that I was the exception to the rule.

Shortly after, I read the post by my fellow Times of Israel blogger Noga Martin, and decided that it was time to stand up for us crappy and uber-sensitive olim-by-choice.

My friend spoke about the better than thou attitude of “I came here to help,” and how olim-by-choice seem to think they are doing Israel a “favor” by making aliya, yet mostly choose to stay in tight-knit circles surrounded by other olim-by-choice, never truly integrating into Israeli society.

Noga, on the other hand, discussed our inferiority complex, how we are so quick to take offense, and of course, our laziness by not attempting to speak Hebrew with a native Israeli accent.


Both took on presumptuous attitudes toward olim-by-choice; neither really got my goat. But they did make me consider, and to better understand myself as an olah by choice.

We do come to Israel for the right reasons. There is nothing wrong, and certainly nothing superior, about wanting to make our homeland a better place for its own sake and for the Jewish people. It is true that third generation (plus) native Israelis don’t always realize the existential connection between Israel and the Jewish people. Yes, our state is looking for an identity to call its own. However, just because some sabra Israelis have forgotten whence they came, that does not mean we olim-by-choice have lost our entitlement to want to live in, and enhance, the Jewish homeland.

That said, it is unfair of the Nogas of the world to expect every oleh-by-choice to be like she and I, completely absorbed into Israeli society. It is not easy to come to Israel for ideological purposes, leave family and friends, the comforts of the known, and the ease of verbal expression. Anyone who presumes it is easy has not made aliya.

Of course we stick to our own! Of course we search each other out. Of course it is easier for us to not spend all of our time working on our Hebrew accents while we are trying to raise families, become accustomed to an entirely new reality, and learn the hard, and often time-consuming way, that sometimes ideology and dreams do not match up to reality.

Both passed judgment; the points are valid to some extent. However, they do not scratch beneath the surface. Why are we so quick to take offense? Well, because so many outside, and clearly inside of our circles, are quick to judge and belittle. Rather than accept us for who we are, and allow us to live by our ideals, many Israelis, and sometimes even olim, wrongly presume that we as a population believe we are better than our brethren; that we are snobs, just because it is difficult for us to acclimate from our previous lives to our current reality; and that we are isolated, just because we (like most, if not all other cultures in Israel and internationally) search each other out in order to find comfort and understanding in each other.

Then comes the accent insult. Maybe we are not all able to speak Hebrew with perfect accents, but our Israeli-born offspring do. Real Sabras, born and bred out of our love for Israel and our ideologies, and with them, you will find no accent from the “old country.”

I, for one, am superbly proud of any oleh who chooses Israel as their home, whether for purposes of ideology, religion, or love. Even if we don’t all make it here for the long haul, we all tried.

This is our home, these are our people. Period.

Am I the exception to the rule because I have fully integrated into Israeli society? Maybe. Does that make me better than thou? Nope.

About the Author
Safra made aliya in 1997, and has been involved in the Jewish world both professionally and voluntarily throughout her life. She currently resides near Haifa and owns a small translation business. Safra is married and has one son.
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