America in Israel
To the Editor:
Hal Lehrman (“When Americans Emigrate to Israel,” February 1952) really does an excellent job in describing the ideological, emotional, and practical difficulties facing the American pioneer in Israel. There is one point which I feel, however, should be added.
To my mind, the greatest conflict which arises within the mind of the American pioneer is the adjustment which the American has to make with respect to the place of America and the American way of life in his new Weltanschauung. The act of emigration from America must have been preceded by at least a partial rejection of America, perhaps its “crass materialism,” or its “outdated” bourgeois standards; perhaps, as would be true in the case of a few American immigrants, they sought in Israel a place where their religious life as strictly observant Jews would be simpler than in the United States.
Upon his arrival in Israel, the American finds, to his amazement and sometimes to his dismay, that the very America which he has rejected is the idol of practically all the population of Israel (with the exception of those who view Russia as the Eden of the 20th century). Not only does America spell the ultimate in technical advancement, at least so far as the Israeli is concerned; not only does everyone ape the American, whether in style of dressing, or in the type of magazines one reads or publishes; not only does the very word “American,” whether incorporated into the name of a commercial concern, or added to the description of a new process or article for sale, spell immediate success. But virtually everyone talks of America as the place from which all goodness flows, and one’s social prestige can be measured by the number of American relatives one has.
A lot of this is economic: the dollar and the food package from New York have a tangible value. And a lot of this is simply a fad, a craze, a Hollywooditis that has infected Israelis. And yet it makes the American immigrant frequently ask himself: “What am I doing here?” For in a land where everyone is yearning for a trip to America (for studies, for government business, or simply at the invitation of a newly discovered uncle in Chicago), the American often feels apologetic about having crossed the Atlantic in the “wrong” direction.
The American who had rejected American bourgeois standards suddenly finds that in Israel everyone yearns for the refrigerator, the car, the Coca-Cola (which they haven’t had since Mandatory days) which he has left behind. . . .
What then can hold the American to Israel? There is the final success of the individual who in the end finds his apartment, gets his job, and learns the language. But beneath it all is the realization that the day of the opening of the first hot-dog stand on the outskirts of Beersheba is considerably closer than the day on which a kibbutz will be opened in America.
Abraham M. Hirsch
New York City