>>Why do you wish to live in Israel, if you want to stay American?<<
This wasn’t a question asked specifically to me, but a sentiment I’ve seen expressed a number of times on aliyah related discussion lists. And I’m going to address it now because I think there’s an underlying presumption that needs to be discussed.
The question is applied to so many issues: why do you still buy your American brand foods or clothing? If you want to live in Israel, you should live like an Israeli. Why do you want to live in an Anglo neighborhood? If you want to live in Israel you should live like an Israeli. Why do you speak to your children in English? If you want to live in Israel, you should live like an Israeli.
But is this really so black and white?
Here’s a comment a reader left a number of months ago along these lines, which I chose not to respond to at the time.
>>If you wonder why american olim do not feel part of the community, it’s because many are unable to adapt to society. You want to bring America with you and not let go.<<
We really aren’t a family that’s insisted on maintaining our American standard, not physically and not psychologically. We didn’t make a lift – all of our furniture and appliances were bought second hand in Israel after we arrived. I’ve bought the typical Israeli foods and household products from day 1. I don’t feel the need to go to America and stock up on all the material things that are more expensive here (though I wouldn’t mind hitting the thrift stores for educational games if I were there!) – we buy what we need locally.
We moved to the opposite of an Anglo bubble. My husband and I both speak Hebrew – I even speak to my kids in Hebrew sometimes (just because it’s fun). My husband works for an Israeli company. We don’t talk to each other or to our children about how much better America is – there are things that are better about being in America and things that are better about being here, but we chose to move here because we feel this is where we can have a higher quality of life and that’s our focus. And at the same time, I don’t assume that to be happy here you have to give up things that have some kind of value for you (assuming you can afford them).
I didn’t move to Israel to become Israeli. I’m happy being who I am. I moved here because I wanted to live in Israel. And I bet many people would say the same thing. This country is filled with immigrants from many countries, and integrating doesn’t mean giving up everything that was meaningful to you in the past. I think it’s helpful to have realistic expectations and an appreciation regarding your new country, so you don’t get stuck insisting ‘the old country’ was so much better, negatively comparing Israel to American whenever a difference comes up. But if you want to buy a certain kind of coffee or chocolate because it has a value for you, or bring all of your things with you from the US – go ahead! If these aren’t my or anyone else’s choices, so what? When moving to a new country, there’s so much that is unfamiliar, so many things we have to struggle through, that it’s very nice to have something that stays the same, something that feels stable and consistent.
I’ve given a lot of thought to the concept of integration, which is what I think people are really expressing concern about when they ask the questions like above. You can integrate into this culture even if you insist on doing all your shopping in America on your yearly summer vacation. You can integrate if you don’t send your three year old to gan (or elementary or high school) or insist on speaking only English in your house. You can integrate if you live in an Anglo bubble and if you don’t speak Hebrew well. My mother moved here less than a year ago – she often says it’s the best decision she ever made, she’s really happy here – and her Hebrew isn’t good at all. Does her lack of fluency mean her aliyah is less meaningful than someone who acquires better language skills?
There are different levels of integration, and it’s a mistake to be so rigid about what integration looks like that we minimize the efforts of all of those who have moved to this country and are working as hard as they can to make a meaningful life here.