More about why we moved to Karmiel – there was too much for one post!
Karmiel is primarily a secular city. This wouldn’t appeal to many religious families, who prefer to live exclusively with religious families who are similar to themselves. However, we saw this as an advantage to raising our children. We want our children to appreciate people from all walks of life, to know how to respectfully and appropriately interact with different kind of people, and I have very strong feelings about the dangers of raising one’s children in an insular religious bubble.
This also means we have more room to be who we are without feeling like every detail about us is being looked over and checked to see if it meets community standards – I know quite well how common this is, albeit unconscious. And I really dislike that. I am very open about who I am and am not willing to pretend to be more than I am. There are pressures in exclusively religious communities that I find stifling and unhealthy (even though I live according to the same values and standards for the most part!), that too often lead to hypocrisy, fear, and secretiveness. I’ve lived in this kind of community for years very successfully (in Israel) in the past and understand the nuances and reasoning, that most new olim (immigrants) don’t even realize are there. But I don’t agree with it.
As your family gets older you realize that not every child in every family is going to religiously make the same choices. I’ve seen this happen with many, many families and though we’re grateful that our older children have made choices in line with ours, I don’t take that for granted. Do you know how hard it is to live in a community that has no room for even slightly different choices? Do you know how many teens struggle to find themselves, to find acceptance, and so often feel that there’s no room for them? This is a big issue regarding kids at risk. I feel that raising children in an environment like we have here in Karmiel is much healthier spiritually and religiously. Yes, they may see more immodesty, hear language or music that we would find objectionable (though honestly, this has been quite minimal so far), but as a result, they have to think and evaluate more, important skills to develop for life.
But living in a secular city means you see cars driving on Shabbos (though still drastically fewer than during the week), see people walking dogs instead of pushing baby strollers, and you’ll see people of varying levels of religiosity. My wonderful guest who came with her family from a totally religious city, commented on Chanukah that it was strange for her to walk down the street and hardly see any menorahs being lit. And it really is very special to be surrounded by visible signs of mitzva observance, to feel the holiday in the air they way you simply won’t when many fewer people are celebrating. Here, there are many people who are traditional, and I’m sure they light menorahs, but not in a window where people would see it. So with things like that, you don’t have the same warm feeling you have in religious neighborhoods.
However, even here, I love that every Friday, a half hour before candlelighting, Shabbos music blares out over the loudspeakers to let people know that Shabbos will be beginning soon. I can still greet everyone I pass with a Shabbat Shalom, or chag sameach (happy holiday) – and people seem to appreciate it, perhaps because it’s more uncommon, perhaps because we’re visibly Orthodox and there are (false) assumptions that people have that the religious Jews look down on people who are less religious.
The Jewish people were given the mission statement by G-d to be a light unto the nations. How can we be a light to anyone if we live only among those that are exactly like us? There’s a potential for kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s name) in a secular city that you’ll never have the opportunity for in a religious neighborhood, and children in an area that is more secular will learn that how every one of them behaves matters. Sometimes that can be a pressure, but it’s a responsibility that truly every one of us has, but most of those living in totally religious surroundings won’t have a chance to teach their children.
Years ago my husband had been offered a position as a synagogue rabbi in an almost entirely assimilated neighborhood in the US. I was concerned about the affect this would have on my children, and I asked a very experienced and knowledgeable rabbi for his feedback on this before accepting the position. He said that kids who grow up ‘out of town’ (ie, not in large Jewish communities) have a strength of character that you don’t generally see among kids in the big communities. That’s because they grow up knowing that there are other religious choices that people make other than Orthodox Jewry, and want to live a religious Jewish life, rather than doing it because that’s what everyone around them is doing. Furthermore, they are often in a position of being looked to as an example, and that also strengthens them.
So what seems to some as a disadvantage of living in Karmiel, is in my opinion a big asset!