Monday, October 27, 2008

Response to Mother in Israel's post about culture

My father made aliya after college. Then he moved back to NY after 10 years of living here in Israel. When we made aliya he told us that he always felt this way: When he was with Israelis he felt like he was "The American" and when he was with Americans he felt like he was "Israeli." When we lived in Jlm I saw what he meant. In the neighborhood we lived in you could get along without speaking a word of Hebrew. It was amazing to me to see this. We chose to move to a yishuv where there is a significant population of Anglos but still that number isn't too large. We are forced to speak Hebrew and to interact with Israelis. Our Hebrew has improved greatly.

Being that I was born here and had a solid basis for the language I feel more comfortable communicating with Israelis. It's easier for me than for my hubby. I also understand the culture more. Most of my good friends are Americans but I've managed to make friends with Isaeli women as well. We live in a very diverse and accepting community so in addition to Americans and Israelis, there are a lot of Spanish and French speakers. Everyone tries to be very welcoming. My kids babysitters have all become my good friends.
I do however agree with Abbi's idea of the wall. Sometimes that language and cultural barrier is there and you feel that you can't break it. I live on a street where there are six Anglos out of 14. I have almost nothing to do with my Isaeli neighbors. Usually they say hello when they walk past us. I think they are intimidated by us. I'm not sure why. If they'd try to speak to me they'd see they can communicate just fine. I'll understand them and they will understand me. I do however see that my American neighbor who has been living on this street longer than us and who has kids who are slightly older than ours has more to do with the Israelis. She has kids in their kids classes so she has more to say to them. I have nothing to talk to them about and really have nothing to do with them. It is kind of sad I guess.

Part of the reason for the instant Anglo connection is that we all know that most of us don't have close family here. Because of that, we feel we have an obligation to be there for one another. When I gave birth two weeks ago the Americans organized meals right away. They didn't let me have a moment where I'd have to cook for the chagim. The Israelis however took time to get organized. We have a vaadat chessed that is supposed to organize meals. They didn't call until a week and a half after I gave birth. When they called they didn't call me. They called an Anglo neighbor who had been living here for a while and asked her to call me. Once again I'd say they are intimidated. I don't know why. The other Americans act like my mother, sister, aunt, grandmother all in one. They adopt the neighborhood kids and take care of them. For someone whose parents are far away, you need that extra mommy care sometimes. You know you can count on your Anglo friends for that.

Israelis don't understand our need to play the role of lost family members. They have their parents nearby. They can always go to them for shabbat or chag. They can go to their siblings. We can't. That's when having Anglo friends comes in. Friends in different cities will invite each other over. This is important and gives us a family feel.

Although it may be hard to become Israeli, I think that it's worth it at least for the sake of our kids. We may not ever feel like we'r 100% Israeli in terms of culture but we sure do want our kids to be Israeli. We don't want them to view themselves as Americans. We don't want them to go to college in America or to ask people to bring them American products every time they visit from the states (the way we do). We want our kids to be productive parts of Israeli society and therefore they need to integrate well. If they feel they don't fit in they may be more likely to go back to the old country. They may have a hard time finding a job if they can't integrate properly into Israeli society.

Bottom line, it's best to take the best of both worlds. Learn manners from the Anglos and cleaning tips from Israelis and everything will turn out fine.


mother in israel said...

I love to read the different perspectives on this issue. Our kids will also be somewhere on the Anglo-Israeli continuum, and we have a certain amount of control over how much.
Let me know if you need help with your blog.

BB said...

I'm too tied down right now with the new baby and the other kids to worry too much about my blog. I'm exhausted and only get to blog when everyone is sleeping. At that point usually I feel guilty that I'm not sleeping and so I don't end up spending too much time on the computer. Must go eat before baby wakes up.

mother in israel said...

Your blog (and the housework) will keep, the kids won't.
The offer remains open.
Blogging should be fun,not guilt-inducing. Enjoy your growing family.