Why live in Israel if you want to stay American?

>>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.


14 thoughts on “Why live in Israel if you want to stay American?

  1. 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.

    When asked similar questions we too answer, “I moved here because I wanted to live in Israel.”
    When we first moved to E”Y, to our Anglo bubble, we used to get snide remarks from people in chu”l along the lines of, “oh, I thought you were moving to E”Y!”
    Guess what! Despite living in an Anglo bubble, we are still in E”Y and need to keep only one day of chag, unlike everywhere in chu”l.

  2. Though I don’t live in Israel, I really loved this post and couldn’t agree more. Many, many people emigrate to America and continue to speak their native languages, eat their native foods, and congregate with others from their native land. They moved to America to have a better life, and in my eyes that is why people move to Eretz Hakodesh. It is a different type of better, but essentially the same idea.

    In a new country people continues to eat, speak, and socialize in ways they are used to because it is comforting, easier, and pleasurable. Though we may view one places as, “better,” for various reasons, we still feel nostalgia for our old homes.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful post! I don’t live in E”Y but would love to one day. And I think about this idea often. I don’t think that I’d be able to live like an Israeli. I probably would move to an Anglo bubble. But why should any of that take away from my desire to be living in E”Y, the land given to us by Hashem, amongst my extended family, Klal Yisroel. As you said so well, there are so many other adjustments one makes when they make aliyah, what’s the big deal to hold on to certain meaningful things.

  4. Perfectly stated Avivah. I can’t bear the snide judgement of those that look down on people because they haven’t become “Israeli” (whatever that is supposed to mean). We want to make aliyah because the mitzvah is to live in Eretz HaKodesh…period. Since we will be “senior citizens” when this is likely to happen, we absolutely plan to live in an Anglo bubble, Gd willing! Whatever people need to do to live there…commute to America for work, live in Anglo communities, etc. still involves mesires nefesh and I’m sure the Abishter is pleased, nonetheless:))

  5. We are so thankful to be removed from a cultural stereotype, although my children are still feeling it to a certain degree. We now live in an Anglo bubble and we have very Israeli neighbors and kehilla sorrounding us too! The best of both worlds. We HAVE not bought ONE anglo product and have not tapped into any other “Anglo” areas that pertain to the physical world. We have solely tapped into the “Anglo” spiritual benefits such as Torah shuirs, Mussar Vaads, Womens groups and the Anglo Talmid Chocham that sorround us! There is a HUGE out of town feel here, everyone is SO friendly, non judgemental, warm and welcoming – each person I meet is more and more eager to soak in all the Torah that is accessible here. Although it is in a diffrent language – it is still Israel – through and through – and even more so!

    1. Miriam-
      I would love to know where you live. Just curious.
      Avivah has my contact info if you want to reply directly to me!


  6. I look forward to when English becomes the second official language in Israel instead of Arabic and third, Russian. That would promote more aliyah. My experience with aliyah, is that the locals especially the Anglo doctors push the non-Hebrew speaking patients from fellow Anglo communities to communicate with Hebrew, especially since they hire only Hebrew-speaking receptionists at the kupah, so communication with the kupah became extremely difficult and made living to be unnecessarily challenging.

    Many NBN employees and the Misrad HAklitah employees automatically assume that olim are Zionists and want to integrate into Israeli culture and society by being “pushy-shovy-chutzpadik” Israelis. Unfortunately, having lived there and observing that the only way you can sometimes get what you need, is to be like the “Israelis”, it is sad that we have to learn to become like them in order to get anything done.

    So, the Anglo community needs to be active in voicing out their opinions to the govt, such as voiced on your blog.

    1. Why? In America, do doctors’ receptionists speak Hebrew or Chinese or French? If not, why not? I am not a Zionist, but Hebrew is the spoken language of the country. Arabic is the second language, but that is because many of the residents of Israel live in Arab-speaking towns and villages. Russian is not an official language. Many people speak Russian because there are many immigrants from the FSU, not because of any official policy.

      When you move to live in a different country, it is normal that you should expect to have to manage with that country’s rules, laws, language etc. That doesn’t mean you have to change your personality. I don’t know what you mean by “Israelis”. I know secular, religious Zionist and chareidi Israelis. I know Israelis who they (or their parents) were born in America, England, Yemen, Morocco, Russia, France, Tunisia, and Germany. I know Israelis who live in cities and on rural settlements. And they are all different, apart from their innate differences.

      So which “Israelis” do you mean?

  7. One thing that really annoys me is how Israelis refer to America (and just about anywhere outside of Israel) as “chutz la’aretz,” as though Israel is the center of everyone’s universe. I mean, it is, but not in a way that means we must put down any place outside of Israel, or the people who have chosen not to make aliyah themselves.

    My little sister was in gan for a short time, and one of the little girls there told her something along the lines of, “I don’t like America. [My mommy says] it’s bad. How can you like it?” And if I recall correctly, they kind of stopped hanging out after that.

    Does that sound to you like that poor kid’s being indoctrinated somewhere?

    I moved to Israel because my family did. My family moved there because of their love for the land. We never said anything about loving the culture.

    PS. The reason why I bought American-brand products is because America actually makes sure the items they import from China are of usable quality, and our American plastic cups don’t fall apart when you blink your eyes at them. :)

    1. Hi, Shoshana, welcome, and thank you for your comment!

      Israel is the center of the world, so I don’t have any problem with everything else being referred to as outside of the land, because it is. But I agree with you that people shouldn’t automatically denigrate somewhere else. It can be a hard balance, between loving where you are and overstepping by being critical of others. This is true of lots of areas.

      I wouldn’t put so much stock in what a 3 – 5 year old says in preschool. Kids pick things up from everywhere and don’t always process what they hear accurately, definitely they don’t understand subleties. I remember one of my kids at the age of 7 saying something that disturbed my mother, and she said he must have picked it up in our home. But he didn’t; it wasn’t at all reflective of our values. It was something he heard about the importance of valuing one thing so he automatically though it meant the other thing wasn’t valuable. Having had my own personal experience with something similar, I’m very reluctant to assume there is any indoctrination going on.

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