a different side of Israel

Enabeling the Shtettle Mentality

It was only until after I came on Aliyah with my family nearly ten years ago and after settling down did I realize that I live in a bubble. A hard concept to imagine, but coming from Kew Gardens Hills, NY, I thought it was there that I dwelled in a happy bubble. Yet, that was not the case. Now being one of the “Anglo’im”, I have come to grips with the fact that we live in a small world of our own. If you are an Anglo and live in Israel, no matter how long you’ve lived here, in all likelihood, you interact, befriend and socialize primarily with other Anglos as well. You may make some Israeli friends here and there, and in more rare instances, you befriend South Americans, French, Russians, Ethiopians as well as other Jews from the Diaspora. But by and large, your circles consist primarily of Anglos. The only exotic Anglos you know (if you are a ‘Yank’ like me) are those from the UK, South Africa, Australia or New Zealand.

Our purpose as olim is to integrate into Israeli society – to become Israelis. Yet, from what I see, people tend to cling onto their native cultures. Language and accent, being the major barrier between Anglos and Israelis, is one of the greatest obstacles which divides our communities to mainstream Israelis. This is true in all sets and subsets of the religious and non-religous oleh communities in the country.

What is striking though, in religious communities throughout the country where many Anglos now call home, English is the common language found throughout these cities. English postings clutter community bulletin boards in shops and libraries; English lectures in public places; English ganei yeladim and now they’re opening up an acreditied Yeshiva High School for boys in Bayit Vegan, Jerusalem which is for English speakers only.

Though it defeats the entire purpose of aliyah and klita (immigration and absorption), the purpose of opening this school is to address a need that is great in the Anglo communities where young teenagers have been having a very difficult time adjusting to the Israeli yeshiva system. Most of these youngsters either had difficulties adjusting to the Israeli school system, be it socially or communicatively. However the question arises, how is this going to help them in the long run? Furthermore, many boys ending up at this Yeshiva will attend because they want to be in an English environment and not necessarily because they merely didn’t “fit in”. In the long run, these boys will not really be able to function in Israeli society, (including the IDF) and in essence, they are being taught and bred to live outside of Israel.

Ironic, though many, if not most religious Anglo communities in Israel have come on aliyah because of their religious convictions, the establishment of this Yeshiva can facilitate yeridah (moving from Israel). Though I’m sure that there are students who, plain and simple have a serious problem learning and living in a foriegn language, there are most, who with help, can overcome this obstacle and mainstream into young Israeli society. In the short run, since many of these students socialize exclusively with their fellow Anglos, it even adds a new barrier between themselves and Israeli society.

For those of us who grew up in the diaspora, many of us lived on the other side of an invisible wall that divided us and the Gentile world, as it has been for many centuries. Friendships and social relationships were maintained at an arms-length distance, especially amongst the orthodox communities. Assimilation has been a huge “no-no” and the secular societies were to remain off limits.

How can this be so in Israel when the concept of absorption has a much sweeter taste than assimilation?


  1. funny here in the US, it is us who are pissed at everyone speaking spanish as it seems like a third world country-there it is like a US outpost. Interesting what moving to another country can do for your perspective!

  2. The thing is though that Israeli culture and attitudes need to have a definite realignment along Western ways. Manners, respect, honor for other humans… these are all things that Western people cannot give up, and really should not give up! This is a huge block to integrating into Israeli culture – it’s because it would be wrong to integrate in this way. What is integration, though? Music, plays, Hebrew, army? Yeah, do those. Society, though? Israeli society has turned into “I’ll screw you over to get mine.” We don’t need that!

  3. Sorry that you’ve had such a bad experience. The idea is to make the changes, and educate our children, both Tzabers and Olim. Many Israelis have become a lot more sophisticated and the old time mentality has been disappearing.

    However breeding those for Yeridah is NOT the answer.

  4. I have to add something. Every society has its weaker and better points. The Americans have the plastic wrapper way of life, in some cases with a set of values that breeds post office shootings and high school killing sprees. On the other hand, you can block traffic in a shopping mall and no one will even blow their horn. They’ll say hi to you even though they don’t know you. It’s the good and the bad that makes the social fiber.

    Israelis have become more aggressive and less polite in the last few years – agreed. It’s also that aggressive nature and “rude” behavior (AKA. Chutzpa) that got them this country in a region that would rather see them spit roasted. It’s not an excuse but it is part of the social fiber for better or worse.

    Someone coming to live in Israel should at least make the effort and LIVE here. I think when they do they’ll also get to know the less vocal and more dignified nature of some Israelis.
    At least I hope so.. 🙂

  5. Moshe from Raanana

    April 15, 2008 at 1:11 am

    I hate to burst everyone’s bubble but there’s absolutely nothing new in such a school. I myself came at the age of 12 and in the mid 1980s was going to such a Yeshiva high school (Ohr Yerushalaimn on Moshav Beit Meir). At the same time I know of at least 2 other English only high schools that were operational at the time – Shimshon (on Shimshon street in Baka Jerusalem) and theAmerican school in Kfar Shmaryahu. Most of my classmates from Ohr Yerushalaim either live here still or have tried to live here at least part time when job issues made it hard for them to be here full time. But the idea of such a school is far from new.

    As for your point about staying strictly within the Anglo community I’m not arguing your point but I’d note that you could have gone still deeper into it by pointing out that the community itself is divided into subsets based on the age at which the subject came. Those of us that came at a younger age with our parents think of ourselves as Anglo Israelis while those who came as adults (even young adults) themselves are naturalized Anglos. In some ways those present divisions of their own such that my experience is more similar in many ways to a Brit or Aussie who came at 12 than to a fellow yank who came at 25. The younger you came the more likely you are to have blended in with Israeli society as well even if you choose to spend much of your time in Anglo society.

  6. This doesn’t seem that different then all the ethnic neighborhoods you left behind in NYC. It takes a generation or three for people to assimilate to life in a new country and culture.

  7. There is and hass never been anythinf wrong with remembering where you have come from. But when you go some where else there i an obligation to fit ‘join in’ and become a part of the whole. It does take time. Learning the language is really important in this situation.

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