By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
A source of unhappiness, perhaps the greatest of them all, is unrealistic expectations. That’s true in most, if not all, walks of life, including Aliyah (immigration to Israel). One can always blame external circumstances but the real reason has often to do with one’s attitude.
The best adjusted immigrants, or at least likely to complain least, are those who’ve nowhere else to go. If you’ve options, you’re likely to wonder if you’ve made the right choice: perhaps one’s home country wasn’t so bad after all; perhaps emigrating to yet another country would make things better. This isn’t necessarily a reflection on Israel as much as on oneself. In the same way as divorce is not an argument against marriage, so is leaving the country no argument against Aliyah.
That’s why the last Jews who arrived recently from Yemen are likely to stay: they’ve nowhere else to go. A number of Immigrants from France and other European countries who left because of anti-Semitism there, may return once they think that things have settled down. Even Jews from the former Soviet Union now go back to Russia or to one of the independent republics; they may also try to leave for Canada and the United States.
The official estimate is that 5 to 10 percent of immigrants don’t stay in Israel. Others think the figure is much higher. The phenomenon isn’t new; it has always been like that. We all know people who may have gone to live in Israel and, after some time, even many years, have moved elsewhere.
LiAm Lawrence is an American Jew with a colourful past (former underwear model, stripper, bartender, bouncer, actor, radio talk show host, party planner, media consultant, personal trainer to the rich and famous) who came to Israel a couple of years ago, contemplated leaving but instead decided to form an organization (Keep Olim In Israel) that will help new immigrants to stay.
His aim isn’t to create another lobby championing the rights of immigrants but to find ways to make them feel more at home in Israel. Instead of complaining about what’s wrong they’re being “empowered” to put things right. I saw him interviewed on an Israeli English news programme. He appears to be serious. He told viewers that many thousands of new immigrants have joined his organization via social media.
My wife and I first came to Israel on a visit in 1957 and we’ve been coming regularly ever since. Our son immigrated in 1984 and his bride-to-be joined him a year later. Their three children are now all Israeli army veterans. From 2000 we’ve spent a large part of each year in Jerusalem and some 18 months ago we moved full-time.
The fact that we’ve adjusted well isn’t only because we’ve had an opportunity to get to know the country and to adjust over many years, but also because as retired persons we’re largely free from the struggles to make our way in the world and earn a living. This plus missing family and friends are the most telling reasons for maladjustment. Not knowing the language is often part of the bundle of problems.
Perhaps many of the official bodies that promote Aliyah and seek to integrate those who make it don’t pay sufficient attention to the kind of issues that concern LiAm Lawrence. We can only hope that he’ll teach them a thing or two and help people to feel at home in their historic homeland.