2011-10-14

Anglophone immigrants in Israel

Israel is said to have the highest percentage of immigrants among its citizens in the world. In spite of a growing general tendency of nationwide intercommunal integration, many immigrants still seem to flock together among themselves partly because of their common language and mainly because of their common culture, making a number of micro-societies within a macro-society called Israel. You can spend your lifetime not only without having any contact with any of these micro-societies but even without being aware of their very existence.

When I spent five years here in Jerusalem as a PhD student from 1988 and 1993 for the first time, I was initiated to the micro-society of Russophone immigrants. Since then I have a special sentiment to this community and its members. This time, that is, since I was offered a position here and immigrated here about seven years ago, I have had the privilege of getting acquainted with the micro-society of Anglophone immigrants, mainly from the United States but also from Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Actually, almost all the new friends and acquaintances I have made during these seven years are Anglophones. Most of the Anglophones I socialize with are frum, whether "FFB" (frum from birth) or "BT" (ba'al tshuva), and highly educated. And since I socialize mostly with them to the exclusion of sabras, I find myself speaking more and more English, especially on Sabbaths and holidays.

Although I did not expect this, I am very happy that I have become acquainted with this community and its members in Jerusalem. Some sabras, especially what few sabra friends I remain in touch with regularly, may not like to hear this, but honestly speaking, and if I am allowed to generalize, I feel far more comfortable with Anglophone immigrants than sabras, though I speak Hebrew much more fluently than English. This is because generally speaking, I find more things in common socioculturally with the former than with the latter, including more awareness of the fitness of our own bodies and the environment. I also like their version of Orthodox Judaism as well as the fact that many of them have kept the Ashkenazic traditions far better than their Israeli counterparts such as the pronunciation of Hebrew when davening.

It seems to me that those immigrants from Anglophone countries have had a number of positive effects on the Israeli society beyond their micro-society and have made unproportional contributions to the Israeli academia. We need more of them in Israel, but on condition that they will also take the trouble of learning Hebrew.