You know that saying about not knowing how sausage is made…
I made aliyah to a time when kibbutzim and moshavim were the core urbanization in Israel. Collectivism, in all its rose-colored glory, ruled, and worked. This place, so far away, was even still so closely tied to me as we watched in terror as scud missiles fell on Tel Aviv, ate falafel at Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebrations, or used Hebrew at summer camps. At least that’s what I wanted and hoped to find in some manner – a bit of that collectivist ideal.
Today, the Israel I made aliyah to is one of crushing inequality and consumerism with a massive dose of patriarchal paternalism, religious dogma, and close-minded tribalism remarkably within what should be one tribe. The environmental and social challenges facing this country are intimidating.
From afar it’s easier to idealize. From inside, things are clearer, more bleak, more honest, and sometimes more inspiring. How is it, that in this country, built on such ideals, we have social workers earning 5400NIS a month* and municipal department heads earning 6 or 8 or 10 times that amount? From what ideals does this inequality come? (I highly recommend checking out the Shoresh Institution’s publications to see where this inequality is taking us.)
I suspect that Israel looks pretty much the same, perhaps a few new roads, to our occasional visitors. I suspect that for my friends who made aliyah 30, 40, or more years ago, the arc of change has been gradual and they have been part of the transitions, making them easier to absorb. Change is inevitable and time does march on.
Nearly 9 years later, after digging into this country through the educational system – both as a parent and as a student – and experiencing local and national elections – as a voter and as a candidate, the shine of idealism is long gone. I did not expect to find the country of the 80s or 90s to be reality on the ground in 2010. But I also didn’t expect to find such a dramatically different country in less than 20 years time.
It is a much different experience for those of us who made aliyah more recently. Inspiration and motivation remain – otherwise, why would we be here? However, life in Israel, today, is a far cry from the era of kibbutzim and moshavim and the ideologically driven society built by the pioneers. Those original values remain, they are just a bit dusty, a bit hidden from sight, so that we have to hunt them down and dust them off to see them clearly for what they are.
I work really hard to remember what brought me to this country, the ideals and the visions. They are still here, still embodied in many amazing and inspiring people trying to illuminate the light that Israel is to be to other nations (I find the Podcast in the link above inspiring, maybe you will too). It is important to look closely and critically at how we are building a country here, how we are building a society. This can’t be like a sausage factory – we have to know what goes into making Israel. And we have to go into making Israel.
*I spent a restless night after watching her powerful statement and then several days hunting it down again when I sat to write this. If you want to translate what she says, the text is here to copy and paste for translation.