Mental Breakdowns and Anglo Olim

Who are the most emotionally healthy English-speaking olim? According to one study, they:

  1. Have close family in Israel
  2. Are religious
  3. Are NOT from North America
  4. Have been in the country for a relatively longer rather than shorter period of time

Does this mean that if you made aliyah yesterday from the States, have no family in Israel, and are less observant that you are on the verge of a mental breakdown? Most likely not, but these bullets might offer some insights on how to avoid said breakdown. “The Emotional Health of English Speaking Immigrants to Israel” published in the enthrallingly entitled Journal of Jewish Communal Service came to these conclusions.

The study looked at 135 English-speaking immigrants to Israel living in absorption centers in and around Jerusalem, with an average age of about 30. A bit over 80% were married, about 70% were religious, nearly 70% were from North America with the remainder coming from the U.K. (24%) or South Africa (6%). The study explains these factors in the following (somewhat obvious) ways:

  1. Family offers a built-in support system when all else fails
  2. Religion offers more deep-seated ideological reasons to push through the hard times in Israel, as well as a synagogue/faith-centered support system
  3. North Americans have a harder time adapting to Israeli society because its much more foreign than it is to Brits and South Africans
  4. The longer you live in Israel, the more adapted you become to it

According to the study subjects, the most highly ranked factor that impaired their ability to adjust was cultural (i.e. dealing with bureaucracy and adapting to a different value system). These cultural differences caused more emotional hardship than distance from family/friends or even financial issues. Knowing Hebrew (or not), was surprisingly not considered to be a major factor by the respondents.

It must be admitted that this study is not recent. It was first published in 1983 and Israel and the world have changed a lot since then, but it would still be hard to argue with its findings or reasoning. Even if most English-speakers coming to Israel were not then and are not now fleeing oppression, poverty, or worse, this shouldn’t minimize the real issues (emotional or otherwise) that Israel’s Anglos face.

Acclimating to an often seemingly overly bureaucratic, pseudo-European Middle Eastern culture is just the beginning for many Anglos, and while no dramatic changes to that culture should be expected anytime soon (arsim and Bituach Leumi seem to have staying power), if we better understand the reasons for the emotional toll this society takes on its immigrants, and how to mitigate that toll, we’ll all be better off.

About the Author
External affair manager and English spokesperson at the National Library of Israel, Zack likes history, reading and thinking (not necessarily in that order), and tries to learn something from everyone. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and two smart and cute kids, for which he is grateful.
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