My Homeland, My Self, part 4
In this blog series, based on the Focus story "Israel by Israelis," in the Spring 2010 edition of Reform Judaism Magazine,
you will discover what it's really like to live as a Reform Jew in
Israel from the personal stories of 18 Jews who champion our Movement
in the Jewish state.
Israeli Reform Jews--some born in Israel, some via aliyah--share their stories about the agony and the ecstasy of living in this still young and struggling Jewish state.
Today, participants will respond to two questions, listed below.
Are there aspects of Jewish life in your former country you
wish you had now in Israel, as well as aspects of Jewish life in Israel
you wish your former country would emulate?
Rich Kirschen: I miss the Jewish New York scene, good
deli, public speaking in English. Sometimes, after giving a speech in
Hebrew, I wonder if I didn't sound a little like Latka from Taxi.
If North American Jews could learn something from Israelis, it
would be having a sense of peoplehood. I am concerned that, in the U.S.
and Canada, Jews are turning Judaism into a religion and losing the
idea that we are also in fact a nation.
David Forman: I do not miss very much about Jewish life
in North America, except the greater tolerance of different Jewish
lifestyles and the exciting creative experimentation in religious
services and at our Union camps. Still, none of these can compare with
the 24-hour-a-day Jewish lifestyle that defines life in Israel.
Levi Weiman-Kelman: I miss separation of religion and
state, decent Chinese and Mexican restaurants, and going to the
supermarket without getting into a heated political discussion.
Miri Gold: I miss the American system of democracy. In
Israel, while serving as "mayor" of my kibbutz during elections for
regional council head, I invited both the incumbent and the challenger
to speak in our dining room. The other kibbutz "mayors" from our
region, who supported the incumbent, berated me for having given the
rival candidate a chance to speak. When I protested, "It's a
democracy," they shot back, "Oh, that's your American democracy!" Well,
I'm proud of that American democracy. In the Israeli parliamentary
system, Orthodox parties have disproportional clout because the party
forming the coalition must bow to their partisan demands to remain in
Tamara Schagas: I've found that Diaspora Jews feel a
deeper interconnection with Jews in the rest of the world than do
Israelis: They visit other Jewish communities, express interest in
their history, and learn about them. Israeli Jews, on the other hand,
are aware that Jews live in other countries, but don't necessarily feel
as connected to them. Jewish identity in the Diaspora is built around
religion; in Israel, it's built around national identity. I wish we
would learn from each other.
Michael Marmur: I miss cricket, crossword puzzles, and
the more mature political culture of Britain, home of "the mother of
Parliaments." In Israel we sorely need a culture of free and informed
discourse without the shouting and screaming.
What do you like most and/or least about living in Israel?
Rich Kirschen: I love the connection to Hebrew. Even the Coca Cola bottles say "Hag Sameach" (Happy Holiday) on Rosh Hashanah. I hate the fact that Israelis always think they're right.
Hannah Yakin: I like when total strangers smile and say,
"Shabbat Shalom" on the way to and from synagogue. Also, I appreciate
the way people meddle in one another's business because they feel
responsible for each other's well-being: the men and women in the
street who advise me to cover my head against the sun, or tell me to
pick up my grandson if he is crying in his stroller.
Going home after a routine eye examination, I was blinded by
the bright Jerusalem sunlight. As I stood helpless on the sidewalk, a
woman offered to help. I explained my problem and asked if she could
take me to my bus stop. Not only did she lead me by the hand as if she
were my nursemaid, she gave me her sunglasses, waited with me until my
bus came, asked another woman to help me get off the bus at the right
stop, and refused to take back her sunglasses when we parted.
Dalya Levy: I love that people care deeply about their
country and want to make it the best place possible. When an Israeli
does something noteworthy, the whole country stands a centimeter
taller; when an Israeli does something awful, the whole country bears
the shame and feels that it reflects badly on us all. We spend lots of
time worrying about why, with all our brains, determination, and
incredibly talented young people, we aren't the number one country in
everything--education, sports, culture, art, cuisine, etc. Striving to
be the best gives us a vitality that I never found in the States.
Stacey Blank: Israel is a family-friendly country and a
great place to raise kids. Children are welcome almost anywhere--at most
restaurants you see people out with their kids, and summer street
festivals are always a family affair, with free events like music
concerts and puppet theater for kids. When I walk down the street with
our two-year-old son, even macho Israeli guys smile at him.
What I like the least is the narrow-mindedness of many
Israelis, who see the world as either black or white, especially when
it comes to religion. Also, sometimes the endless, heated debates get
tiresome. The practical American side of me just wants to get to the
Hanan Cidor: I love the Israeli style of arguing about
everything, because it signifies how much we truly care about what is
happening to friends, family, and country. Israelis feel strong
solidarity with one another, and no one is ever a stranger here. We
like to treat everyone as family, as if we know them personally, even
if this is the first time we've ever met. Whatever might happen to me,
I feel I'll never really be alone in Israel. What I like least is
constantly having to explain, to the outside world and, more
importantly, to myself, why I want to live in Israel and what it means
to be an Israeli. I doubt that most Americans or Canadians wrestle with
Matthew Sperber: As a parent and grandparent, I like
living in a little country because my children and grandchildren can
never be very far away. Traveling from Israel's most southern point to
northern point only takes seven hours. Also, in a small country, one
person, one family, and one community can make a real impact on
Evan Cohen: Roni, our "specialty vegetable guy" in the
Machaneh Yehudah market, noticed that for two weeks in a row I was
buying less than usual. He called me over and said, "Listen, if times
are tough, you don't have to be embarrassed. Get whatever you need;
it's on me. When things get better, which they will, you can pay me
back." When I explained to him that I was buying less because we'd been
invited to friends' homes for Shabbat two weeks straight, he smiled and
said, "Welcome to Israel."
What drives me crazy is the feeling of entitlement and lack of
personal responsibility among many Israelis who see everything as the
government's responsibility, rather than their own. That explains why
garbage fills our parks, there are many fatalities on our roads and
highways, and other societal ills.
Miri Gold: I don't like the Israeli bureaucracy. It's
not uncommon for me to stand in a line for a long time at a government
office, only to discover I'm missing a critical form I didn't know I
Worse, though, is the treatment Reform converts receive at the
hands of Israeli officials. One such convert, a Russian woman, was
happily married to an Israeli Jew for seven years. When he died, the
Interior Ministry tried to revoke her permanent status and deport her,
along with her children from a previous marriage. The fact that she
converted through the Reform Movement in Israel bore no weight. Our
Movement's Israel Religious Action Center took up her cause. The case
is still in the courts, which keeps her from being deported. Happily,
her daughter married an Israeli, so she has some protection, although
the authorities check every year for four years to make sure they are
I'm also dismayed by the xenophobia, prejudice, and ignorance
displayed by some government leaders. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, head of the
Shas party, asserted that women wearing a tallit at the Western Wall should be burned in their tallit! Other officials have called for the imprisonment of women who pray and read Torah at the Wall as men do.
Then, because of the fear that foreign, non-Jewish workers and
their children will dilute the Jewish State, in 2009 the Interior
Ministry decided to deport the children of such workers, even though
they were born in Israel, go to Israeli schools, speak Hebrew, and see
Israel as their home. Many Israeli Jews are sensitive to this issue
because they well remember being stateless refugees and don't want to
see anyone else treated this way. Public outcry has been loud enough to
get the prime minister to postpone implementation of the decision, but
it has not been rescinded.
I especially like how we Israelis acknowledge the sanctity of
life on Memorial Day. Every Israeli knows someone who's died or lost a
loved one. When the two-minute siren goes off at 11:00 a.m., cars,
buses, and trucks stop in the middle of the road. People get out of
their cars to stand quietly at attention.
Many people will later visit military cemeteries. Our kibbutz
cemetery has a military section where 19 Gezer members and nine
soldiers are buried, all of whom lost their lives on June 10, 1948,
during Israel's War of Independence. I know some of the widows and
children of those who died. Each gravestone tells a story: the person's
name, his/her parents' first names, the country from which he/she made
aliyah. Ours is a true "ingathering of the exiles": Austria,
Czechoslovakia, Germany, Poland, Romania, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen....
Michael Marmur: I love feeling so at home here. Even
when I feel alienated, my alienation feels at home here. I also like
the ease of life and the feeling of freedom. And there is a directness
and informality here which suits me fine.