Why Israel- First Published 2006
As I was fastening my seat-belt on the miniscule seat of the cramped IsrAir flight into Ben-Gurion Airport, I felt a tight knot on my stomach. I knew it could not have been the airline food, since we have not had any chance to eat with my three children on the plane. In fact, the whole process of planning my current Sabbatical year in Israel was an emotionally drenching experience, not because of any religious or security connotations, but because it is a country I have rarely visited in 13 years and where I lived for about 7 years (from age 18 to 25). It is also a country I love and the one I would like, one day, to move back to and raise my children in. Before my trip, when I told my Israeli friends about my desire to come back, many of them looked at me with a puzzled gaze and asked me: Why?
Ishtagata??? (Something akin to saying: Have you gone mad???), and I understand they have a point.Indeed, as an academic, I have a good life in theU.S., one of the very few countries in which a university professor can make a decent living. Israelis a country in which, as we all know, security and economic considerations cannot be ignored, and lately, even political corruption has shown its ugly face. Also, I am not a particularly observant person. Israelis, unfortunately, are used to seeing that the majority of Jews from America who make Aliyah are not secular but rather only the ones motivated by their spiritual convictions. So why indeed would I like to move to Israel? The first thing that comes to my mind is that in Israel,children can go play with their friends without a play-date. In fact, the concept of play-date doesn’texist. As a matter of routine, elementary school age children, after having done their homework, just head out to the street and knock on the doors of their friends, one by one, and move in small groups from house to house. This practice not only speaks volumes about the over-structured life that American children live, but also about the irony of our sense of “security” when compared to that of the Israelis. No Amber alerts down there.And then, there is the weekend. I visited with four different families in Israel who have children in 2nd-3rd grade, and as part of my conversation, I asked their children, “what is your favorite thing about your weekend.” Answers, of course, varied,but were mostly in areas like, playing in the yard with my parents and cousins, going on a field trip with my family, or attending the meeting of the Tzophim, the Israeli Scouts. I asked the same question of my twin 4th grade sons and their friends, and the answers were: It’s the day I get to go to Toys R Us™; I get to play gamecube™ allday, I don’t have to go to school (at least this last one is not ™). Israel is, as a matter of fact,becoming a more materialistic society, but, at least in my view, one that still has a better sense of balance.Which leads into the topic of school. See, as an educational psychologist, I am a big supporter of public education. I think it has the potential of being the vehicle to bring about diversity, tolerance,equality and opportunity for all to our next generation. The problem is that, as a Zionist Jew, I also value Jewish education and want my children to learn Hebrew and Jewish history without having to have another reason to hate Sundays. Only in Israel can my children get Public Jewish education,and one, that for the most part, is still more about values and experience and not bubble-sheet tests.I want my children to grow up in a country in which Jewish values, which are human values, are a stronger part of the culture. For example: caring for the disadvantaged is so important, that in Israel,Universal Health coverage is not a bad word, it is a national standard (although it has been eroding lately). The average tuition at any of the national universities (some of which are at a par with any Ivy League institution) is less than a third of what we pay at a regional State College in the U.S., making education more affordable to all its youth. And the value of human life is so high, that not only is Israel willing to trade hundreds of prisoners to rescue a single Jewish life, but they won’t even put the cruelest of terrorists to death (the single death sentence ever carried out in Israel was that of Adolph Eichman). I want my children to live in a place where people are involved and care about important issues. In Israel, routinely 80% of eligible people vote (compared to slightly over 40% in the U.S.), and according to several surveys in the late 90s, the favorite Hebrew “songs of all time” deal with themes of peace and life (like Jerusalem of Gold, or Shir la Shalom). In contrast, a similar U.S. survey found the favorite songs to be about drugs, sex and violence. I also want my children to experience a diverse,multicultural society. In Israel, the vast majority of people are fluent in two if not three languages, and represent cultures all around the world. This level of diversity tends to make people more tolerant and even appreciative of differences (although Israel is not above prejudice for minority groups). Israel has a long way to go before the Zionist ideal of gender equality is a reality, but our small country is unique in some of it’s achievements in this area: It is the only country in the world where women have a mandatory army draft, the one which boasts the highest proportion of women in the world in its universities (58%), and among the highest proportion of women judges (Close to 50%). I want a society for my children that is not obsessed with liability. A culture of liability breeds conformism because doing things by the book is the best way of avoiding being sued. People become more willing to take risks, be creative and think outside the box without fear of frivolous litigation. For my children, I want a society in which there is trust in adolescents. In the U.S., we consider teenagers guilty until proven innocent. We do everything we can to limit and control their “wild” behavior, and we assume that the moment they are left alone, they will take the opportunity for mischief. This mistrust becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and teenagers, as soon as the opportunity presents itself, experiment with alcohol, drugs and sex, often without knowledge (or awareness of the consequences) because we are afraid that teaching them about these subjects will “legitimize” them. In Israel, adolescents are often leaders of large youth movements. Routinely, a couple of 15 or 16 year olds will be in charge of taking a dozen third graders camping overnight with little or no adult supervision. Teenagers have parties, spend the night at each others houses and go out with friends without the need for chaperons. As a result, Israeli teenagers become, on average, more self-regulated and responsible. There is one more thing I want my children to experience. Israel is the only place in the world in which being Jewish is not a minority condition but just being part of a nation. The only place in the world in which you can flirt and “pick up” a person in the bus or in a bar for a romantic date, while being fairly certain that they are Jewish. No need for J-Date. No need for the temple’s young-singlesgroup. Just anywhere. It is the only place in the world in which you don’t have to THINK about it,and asking somebody out on a date is not a dilemma. I am sure that this is not necessarily what Herzl had in mind, but it is definitely one of the benefits of the State of the Jews that, if I live in Israel, I certainly will appreciate when my 6 year old daughter turns 15.