Only after one spends some serious time in Israel can he truly understand that there is a fundamental difference between Israeli-born Jews and Jews born in the diaspora. And although I’ve been living here for almost 20 years, I am still a galut-Jew, always worrying about what the goyim think.
Not so with Israelis in Israel. Only recently have quite a few of my co-nationalists awakened to a tentative and confused understanding that some people hate Jews. One reason it may have taken so many so long to waken is that being Jewish in Israel is boring. Jews aren’t outre or remotely interesting in-and-of-themselves in this neck of the Middle-Eastern woods. We encompass the all-inclusive gamut of elegant, trailer-trash, blue-collar, blue-blooded, Torah-observers, avowed-atheists, educated geniuses and certified morons. Israelis don’t lower their voices, attempting to appear “less Jewish.” No one pays full-price in fear of being labeled a cheap money-grubber. We shout, are nasal, haggle over prices and are refreshingly, annoyingly “Jewish.” For card-carrying members of the tribe, self-reflection is a non-sport.
Therein lies the rub; they don’t know how to discuss it or what to make of it. Israelis feel more comfortable leaving the hand-wringing and stare-downs to Bibi. Our Bibi —“Bibi-shelanu!!!—MIT-educated, smooth-talking, nuance-savvy and cool-cool-cool under fire.
My husband and I have respective children and grandchildren both in Israel and overseas. While not so evident in our children—all of whom were born in the diaspora—the differences between the Israeli grandchildren and their foreign cousins are staggering. Israeli tadpoles are brash, loud, own the world, and completely oblivious that on the world map, Israel is the size of a rye-seed. Israeli children believe that we occupy the equivalent square-mileage of North America and half the FSU; why should one say “please” or “thank you” when he is Master of an Israel-centric universe?
The British and South African grandchildren enjoy a different Jewish reality. Outside of the confines of their well-appointed ghettos, they wait in line, speak quietly and endeavor not to appear “too Jewish.” The males tuck the strings of their tzitit into slacks and hide the identifying yarmulke deep inside a pocket, opting for either a bare head or baseball cap.
New-age graffiti in Jewish Hendon now includes sloppily daubed swastikas on doors and overhangs; anonymous letters to British synagogues and Jewish day-schools threaten damage to property and persons, often including the opinion, “Hitler Was Right.” Holocaust-related language or images deliver more bang-for-the-Jew-hating buck in Europe; it’s been suggested that the “new” anti-Semitism is, merely, unfinished business.
While some South African Jews are too delusional to notice that life may be changing in that Garden-of-Eden-called-Johannesburg, an Israeli ex-pat sent me a photograph of the bumper sticker on the car next to him in the lot. It said, “Honk If You Hate Israel!” His favorite department store had ecstatically announced they would no longer sell products from “occupied Palestine” (“Say what?”), and a student with whom he’d become friendly mechanically informed him that she could no longer be friends with a “brainwashed baby killer.”
The snooze-button is broken on the alarm clock, and it is time to wake up. While a film of crusty sleep-dust still clouds their vision, Israelis are slowly stirring from their uneasy slumber.
New York-born Andrea Simantov is a mother of six who moved to Jerusalem in 1995. She frequently lectures on the complexity and magic of life in Jerusalem and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.