“Before ‘Abba’ becomes ‘Daddy.’” This is the dire warning (written in Hebrew) adorning billboards strategically placed in a number of cities in America, cities with large populations of Israelis. Israel’s Ministry of Absorption is on a campaign to bring its citizens home. The slogan: “הגיע הזמן לחזור לארץ” (he-ge’ah hazman lachzor la’aretz), or “It’s time to come home.”
Videos on the Ministry’s Web site include a young Israeli woman, whose Jewish-American boyfriend doesn’t get why she’s mourning on Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers. The tagline: They will always be Israeli; their spouse will not always understand them. Next, a cute girl is video-chatting with her grandparents. There is a menorah in the background of the grandparents’ house. When they ask her what holiday it is, she blithely blurts out, “Christmas!” The little girl’s “abba” and “ima” (or Daddy and Mommy?) look at each other in alarm. Tagline: They will remain Israeli; their children won’t.
Why so negative, you might ask? While it is entirely understandable that the Israeli government wants to woo its citizens back to the homeland, why use scare tactics and not the proverbial honey? “Come back and stop shoveling out your cars!” “Come back, you have family here!” “Come back, our economy hasn’t been flushed down the toilet!”
But this campaign speaks to the very essence of Israeli-ness. First, let’s face it, as a nation, we expertly speak the language of doom and gloom. A small example: When Israeli was hit with a nice bout of rain at the beginning of the winter, rather than excitement that our rainy season was off to a good start, the mood was more Eeyore-like: Just because it’s rainy now doesn’t mean it’ll be rainy all winter.
But it’s more than that. Nice weather, good economy—maybe that can persuade “others,” Anglos and the like, to come live in Israel. To appeal to the Israeli’s true nature, however, you need to appeal to the elitist (and I use the word with the greatest affection and love) part of his identity that says, “No one else can understand us. No one else is like us.” Show him that his future in America is full of people who won’t “get” him, of children who won’t be like him—that’s how you are going to get him to come back.
Sabras, native-born Israelis, extend this you-can’t-possibly-understand attitude toward new immigrants as well. When Gilad Shalit was released, an Israeli friend said to us, “So, have you been following everything with Gilad Shalit? [Yes; cue jaw drop] You have? [Shakes head to regain equilibrium.] No, but you don’t really understand. After all, you weren’t born here.” (They’re not 100% wrong on this point, but that’s the topic for another post.)
The campaign is not suggesting it is impossible to be Jewish in America. It is claiming that one cannot be fully Israeli in America. What’s at stake here is not Jewish identity, the Jewish future, the Jewish people—it’s a unique “Israeli” identity. One cannot fully express one’s Israeli identity any place other than Israel. Being Jewish might be possible in the far-reaching outposts of the world. But to be Israeli? To really get it, and be among others who get it as well?
That can happen only in Israel.
Note: After protests from many Jewish-American groups, who (mistakenly?) viewed the campaign as being anti-Jewish-American, rather than anti-Israeli-American, the Ministry pulled its campaign and the videos.