A People Let Down Will Go Down

Opinion

By Emily Hauser

Published June 27, 2007, issue of June 29, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In Israel, just about every immigrant has some kind of “family” that isn’t family, a generous soul or two who took them in and helped make a foreign land home.

And so it was with me. My Ima was a powerful woman, of almost no height whatsoever but of bountiful girth. Born outside of Baghdad, she lied about her age to get into nursing school, to make the money she needed to get herself, her parents, and her seven brothers and sisters to Israel in 1951. She didn’t clear 5 feet, but she moved mountains.

When I was 18 years old, I had the marvelous fortune to meet and be overwhelmed by her. I spent years attending weddings and eating Seders with those siblings and their children; I never left Ima’s apartment without buckets of food to fill my fridge. She died soon after teaching me how to make Iraqi kubeh.

Among my Ima’s best efforts was her son, a man I call “Achi,” my brother. Widowed early, Ima raised him on her own, and he turned out great: handsome, confident, the proud father of three lovely children, owner of an unusually spacious home in a sleepy bedroom suburb of Tel Aviv, his yard full of running kids and bountiful fruit trees.

And now, he wants out.

Not out of the suburb — he wants out of Israel. Or more accurately, he wants to get his kids out.

Having struggled for years with a growing, deepening sense of frustration with how Israel is run and the direction in which it appears headed, he now writes me emotional e-mails, occasionally in tears, about not wanting his children to build their lives in the country to which his mother escaped.

“I have reached the sad conclusion,” reads one note, “that if I want any kind of future for my kids, it isn’t in Israel… it’s a good time to start conspiring to get them out of here!” Later, on the phone, I asked if part of his reasoning is a desire that his children not be drafted. “Yes,” he said simply.

When I made aliyah in the mid-1980s, all of this would have been anathema, to my Achi and to Israeli society in general. Just as aliyah literally means ascent, the Hebrew for emigration is also corporeal: yerida, descent. In the 1980s, yordim were discussed with open contempt. To suggest that your Jewish children would be better off not serving in the Jewish army? Unheard of.

But here we are, and my Israeli brother is not, by any measure, alone. In 2006, the Absorption Ministry reported that there were some 600,000 Israelis living abroad. In 2005, the Interior Ministry and Central Bureau of Statistics reported that some 25,000 people left the country in that year alone, up from 19,000 in 2004. By way of contrast, 2006 saw about 4,200 come back.

I know third-generation survivors of Nazi Europe who have taken out German passports so that they can move to the European Union. Then there are the friends who moved back to Israel after a temporary stay in the E.U. because their visas to Canada didn’t come through. More than half a dozen friends from my 14 years in Israel have decamped — including myself.

My Jerusalem-bred husband and I left over politics, not wanting to raise our children in a country that appears incapable of taking responsibility for the mess it created with the occupation. The friends who hoped to move to Canada were looking for a more stable economy. The Germans just wanted more options. My Achi, for his part, is sick of it all.

The economy, he says. The endless wars. The corruption, the lack of respect for individual efforts and needs, the overwhelming social exhaustion. He can take it, but he wants something better for his kids. Everything, he says, feels hopeless.

Indeed, no less a figure than Avraham Burg, the Orthodox former head of the Jewish Agency and speaker of the Knesset, now has French citizenship and recently called on any Israeli who can to take out a foreign passport. In promoting his new book, “Defeating Hitler,” he said that he had begun writing out of sense of mourning over the loss of Israel. “Israeliness,” he told Ha’aretz, “has only body. It doesn’t have soul.”

I would disagree with that last thought — indeed, it is that very soul that I miss most, out here in the Diaspora — but I, too, have been mourning the loss of Israel. I know what I believed when I arrived on its shores, I know what mattered to those friends who have left and I see where my home — my one, true home — stands today.

It’s no longer enough to insist that Jews must live in their state, no longer enough to call people names if they choose not to. Something has to give, something has to change.

Or, as my husband said on a recent visit back, “If they want me to live here, they need to give me a reason.”

Emily Hauser, an Illinois-based freelance writer, is a regular contributor to the Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.