Monday, December 11, 2006

Anglo Olim and the Israel Challenge

How Israeli should Olim become? Here are some questions for my fellow Olim?

Do you listen to the news on Kol Yisrael?
Do you listen to Israeli music or read Israeli novels?
Do you ever attend Israeli theatre?
How accented is your Hebrew?

This is but one of many issues that faces Olim to Israel. How much effort should I put into becoming "Israeli?" The facts are that many Olim fail to learn Hebrew, don't listen to the radio or get to know Israeli TV, don't read Hebrew newspapers. After all, today one can listen to US radio, read the NY Times, and watch British TV over the internet. In many ways, they are cut off from society. And in certain perspective, they are living in their past, unengaged in a living dialogue with the society that surrounds them, of which they are a part. I can only feel that they are losing out. After all, one who lives in a cultural vacuum becomes stagnant.

There are many causes of this phenomenon. One is lack fo confidence in grasping a new culture. Cultural identity is certainly a powerful thing. Our basic cultural "wiring" acquired during our formative childhood and youth is so deep that however long one lives in another environment as an adult, one's early cultural context remains with us in a powerful way. But I do feel that this is not the only thing for Olim.

Sometimes I feel that certain Olim from western countries latently feel that they come from a "better" place, and hence they are happy to confine themselves in their Olim's bubble and allow the Israeliness to be absorbed by their kids.

I have always been attracted not only to Eretz Yisrael but also to Hebrew and Israeli culture. I enjoy it. Now I admit, I speak predominantly in English at home, and I live in a community with a large anglo population. At the same time, I have been here in Israel for 15 years and so I am more than comfortable with the language. When I am in the makolet or park with my kids, or other public places I talk to them in Hebrew as I seek to have an identity as a "local" rather than an immigrant. I find that year by year I find myself more knowledgeable, more interested in the cultural scene here in Israel. I find that the CD's that I am attracted to buying are increasingly of Israeli artists, be it Shlomo Artzi or Etti Ankri or Achimoam Nini or Aharon Razael. I enjoy getting a Hebrew newspaper, whether it is Haaretz or Makor Rishon, and one of the reasons is for the Arts sections which give me a window into the wonderful range of plays, shows, concerts, artists, conferences, lectures, etc. that go on around the country. I listen to Galatz constantly. The last two films that I saw : "Someone to run with" and "Aviva my love" were both excellent Israeli dramas which showed the beauty of Israel alongside the more sordid elements. And I loved the films: for the scenery which I know and love, and saw differently through the camera lens; for the Hebrew language itself, and the wonderful idioms and references that only Hebrew has; and also just the notion of seeing an Israeli film gives me pride. What can I say?

Recently on our email list in Alon Shevut, there was a discussion about use of Hebrew by English speaking Olim. Some people expressed rather emphatically that anglos should be writing in Hebrew: עברי! דבר עברית! And that at least people should post in Hebrew alongside their English. Some Anglo-Olim replied equally forcefully expressing the sentiment that they had sacrificed enormously by leaving their previous countries and that Hebrew was tough for them. They called for people to value their Aliya and the contribution they bring to this country despite the fact that they will continue to function almost exclusively in English.

In the 1950's any Oleh would change their name, Hebraicising it, and would only speak in Hebrew. On the one hand, I really feel we could do with some of that today. Israel could do with a boost in its national pride and Israeli identity. But I am a realist. Today we live in more global and more liberal times. So many Israeli's love to play with English within their Hebrew. And so in today's world, the "other" identity of an Oleh is warmly welcomed here. No one will ambast you for not speaking fluent grammatical Hebrew. Nonetheless, I call upon all my fellow Olim to put in some effort and to work on engaging in a wider spectrum of the Israeli cultural experience; not to live over "here" but be culturally "there." Try it! It is a process, but becoming Israeli can be very rewarding and enriching!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I must say that I wholeheartedly agree. My chanichot and contemporaries often mock me for "thinking I'm Israeli." Whether it's when I buy more Israeli looking clothing, speak in Hebrew just for fun (imagine!) or with my fake (but I think pretty good) accented Hebrew. There is such a high defense mechanism up for olim who want to try avoiding feeling 'new' and sometimes 'stupid' here, that they never even try. By saying, 'I'm never going to be one so why try at all' it's a lazy excuse and a dangerous trap that I think eventually comes back to haunt them (But this is not the forum appropriate to elaborate on that.)

I often find it frustrating that in today's Israeli society it's almost hard to try and acculturate. Everything is available in English and thankfully, many Anglos have moved here. If I didn't attend an Israeli college, and teach Israeli children, I would never speak a word of Hebrew! I think there is a tremendous value in acculturating and feeling like there is what to gain and enrich our lives with here. Valuing Israeli lifestyles and culture, boosts both the self-confidence of the natives and eventually of ourselves, because it helps us one day get to the point of feeling comfortable in the land we have chosen to live in.

So be strong and hatzlacha to us all!

~Yosefa (Previously and still sometimes, Jaimie. Changing the name is a biggie in the acculturation as you pointed out...)