By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Ideology, which was the backbone of Zionism before the State of Israel was established and decades thereafter, is said to be yielding to economics. A growing number of Israelis are allegedly more concerned about how to make ends meet and how to afford to buy a home than about national aspirations or the future of Jews and Judaism.
That’s why some expect great things from the new party Kulanu that has been assured a place in the next government and whose leader is to concentrate on improving the economic conditions for the country’s poorer citizens. The religious needs of the ultra-Orthodox and the nationalist aspirations of the right-wing politicians will have to yield at least a little to the financial needs of ordinary folk, particularly the young.
Naor Narkis purports to speak for many of them. Like most of his generation, after the end of his army service last year, he went abroad “to see the world,” first to Paris and then to Berlin. In Berlin he discovered that food and accommodation are considerably cheaper than in Israel. He wrote about it on Facebook by showing that the same Milky chocolate pudding snack cost much less in Berlin than in Tel Aviv. The response from his readers was massive and more young people sought to go to Berlin.
He has now turned his observation into something of a mission and is currently urging young Israelis to join him in Berlin because it’s cheaper to live there. To make it more dramatic he now also argues in favour of leaving Israel because of growing nationalism and too much religion in the country. Germany’s Nazi past that once deterred Israelis from even visiting has ceased to be a reason for even living there.
Though no doubt Narkis will encourage some to leave – he has now extended his mission also to Canada and Australia – nationalism and religion are two of the main reasons that continue to bring many Jews – from Germany, Canada and Australia and other countries – to Israel. The influx of young Jews to the Jewish state is infinitely greater than the outflow. Though there’s by now a sizeable community of young Israelis in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe and beyond, they’re said to constitute less than one percent of the young who’ve stayed put.
The United Nations, not known for its public relations work on behalf of Israel, has recently published its World Happiness Report. It puts Israel in 11th place – ahead of Germany. (Switzerland tops the list; Canada is in fifth place). Most of the six determining criteria were related to economy and the standard of living.
The majority of Israelis who now live abroad retain close ties with Israel. Every night between Sunday and Monday, one of the main Israeli radio stations has a programme that interviews Israelis all over the world. The overwhelming majority remain connected and loyal to Israel. Many live abroad because as artists, academics or professionals they needed more space than Israel can provide.
In the days when ideology dominated Israel, Israelis who chose to live abroad were shunned by those who stayed behind. That’s no longer the case. Pursuit of their interests abroad hasn’t deprived them of love for their country and it hasn’t turned them into pariahs.
At 67 Israel has come of age. It can even tolerate those who awkwardly try to justify their living abroad by blaming religion and nationalist ideology.