Self segregation in Israel

At the Western Wall,  Romanian photographer, Gabriel. Photograph by Tim Mossholder.
At the Western Wall, Romanian photographer, Gabriel. Photograph by Tim Mossholder.

As a new immigrant to Israel, you quickly learn that you have to define yourself and where you belong. I immigrated from France about five months ago with my small family. My wife and I were pretty excited about the new adventure and a new start in the promised land.

The whole idea of coming to Israel took us many years to finally take that step of submitting our papers to the Jewish Agency. I can still remember my heart beating fast when I received the email saying we were eligible to come to Israel under the Law of Return. I felt proud that I was going to be a part of this great nation and I can still slightly remember hoping that I could make that small contribution to our country. I still feel the same and I am proud to be Israeli and Jewish.

I have had the opportunity of living in many countries, and I have visited different Jewish communities, Ashkenazi and Sepharadi. I love the experience and the uniqueness in all of them. When I visit a Shul for the first time I always get a different reception. From stares to strange hugs from bearded men. I hardly feel out of place or feel the need to define who I am. I am Binyamin and I always wear a smile.

In France, we lived in a small town with five Synagogues that normally had 60% of the Synagogues pues vacant. In order to have a minyan people were generally friendly and welcoming. You could never feel like you had to define or justify where you stood when it came to religion. Maybe it was just obvious.

My wife and I are Haredi however I have always had the opinion that my religious views do not define who I interact with. I welcome everyone into my little world as long as you don’t force your convictions on me. I believe the world is better like that. Coming to Israel we had a great burden like many new immigrants of choosing where we belonged in society, from our children’s school to the shop where we buy bread. I am a pretty friendly person and growing up in South Africa I was taught to greet neighbours and people in general. ‘It’s the right the to do’. I have done it all my life and with a big smile. I greet my neighbours and have that small interaction about the weather or how I’m enjoying our new home in Karmi’El. It’s a great opportunity to improve my Hebrew.

However, I am slowly learning that I am required to define myself even further. I have had some parents talk to me about my children, for example, someone said I should not allow my children to play in the park close to our home because there were non-religious children there who would influence them off the dereck. At the same time, I have listened to someone advising new immigrants not to move in neighbourhoods because there would suffer from the Haredim. I took offence to these statements because they represent something that I do not buy into.  I hear such statements quite often and they leave a bad taste in my mouth. It reminds me of South Africa once more. Reminds me of my best friend as a young man telling me I could not visit her in Cape Town from Johannesburg because her mother wouldn’t understand that she was friends with a black boy.

We are Am Yisrael we are literally hated for no reason I see no need in creating animosity within.

I refuse to give in and I wonder how long I will last. It is my humble opinion that Israel does not need this self-segregation within its communities because the further you separate yourself from the rest of the people, you limit yourself from learning something from everyone as the Michna says “Who is wise? He who learns from every person” (Avos 4:1). I have a feeling that I am not the only one out there who strongly disapproves of this practice in some places.

What can we do as a society to be more welcoming to one another? What can do to limit the baseless judgement and hate?

About the Author
Binyamin is a web developer based in Karmi'El, Israel, a new immigrant from France. Having grown up in South Africa, the United Kingdom and spent most his adult life in France, Binyamin's life is influenced by different cultures, experiences and people.
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