Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Home is where the heart is

Two (unofficial) facts:
 1 The vast majority of North Americans that immigrate (make aliya) to Israel do not stay there (here) more than two years.
2. The North Americans that do stay here would never consider going back to their former home unless extreme circumstances required it.

I have lived in Israel for more than twenty four years.  When I visit the States to see my parents, I feel like a foreigner.  I simply have no desire to return there and would probably not go there at all if my parents were not there.  I am not alone in that feeling among my fellow “expatriates”, an aptly sounding word linking to the concept ex-patriot.
The interesting issue is the cause of this phenomenon.

Some people would think that the continual wars fought here cause people to leave. Actually, many more people come to Israel than emigrate due to the local conflicts. 

Life is not always easy here.  However, like everywhere, people struggle to make a living, raise their children, and keep their marriage together.  Young people worldwide have great difficulty buying their first apartment or house.  Educational and economic opportunity is much more dependent on individual circumstances.

If it is not the daily grind that drives away or attracts people, the cause must be more psychological.  Unlike many places, including most of the United States, there is a strong sense of collective in Israel.  While everybody has his or her own life, that life is linked with one or more tribe.  A person’s identity is linked with religion, ethnic group, and/or physical place.  You are identified by your allegiances and, consequently, with all the other tribe members. An Israeli cannot be completely autonomous.

Of course, this situation has distinct advantages.  Children don’t walk around unclaimed in the streets.   Every tragedy receives sympathetic ears.  Nobody eats alone on a holiday. People give freely and willing to the community.  If you desire the sense of belonging, you can find it in Israel.

However, being part of a collective gives everybody license to participate in your life and express opinions about it.  If you buy a new car, first people will say “tithadesh” or “mabruk”, meaning congratulations.  Then, they will ask you about where you bought it, the price, and the reasons for this model, and justifications for buying a car instead of using the money for something else they may find more appropriate. They also feel free to criticize the choice of color and accessories.  In other words, you live in a community where everybody affects everybody.   This can drive you crazy if you let it.  Many immigrants and sabras, native-born Israelis, leave the country to have the privilege not to justify their existence. 

When people ask me why I have stayed here, I am left with only one answer:  Home is where the heart is.

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