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Weighing In on the “Israelis, Come Home” Ads

I’ve been a bit under the radar lately as I’m in the late stages of trying to get my mystery novel ready for publication — I’m self-publishing it (a saga unto itself) and have been trying to deal with an amazingly long list of decisions (just what should those squiggles that separate scenes look like?) to unexpected crises (dear God, the font I chose can only be read with a magnifying glass! The whole thing will have to be typeset all over again, augghh! And why the @%$&* does the proofer keep shoving hyphens after my adverbs?) to writerly angst (wait, I’m using adverbs?) to anxiety over budget creep (hang on, that printing cost was based on an estimated 330-page book…what do you mean, it came out to 400?). So I’ve been trundling along, trying to get all that done and still get the kids fed and at school on time, which hasn’t left much quiet time for ruminating over the implications of the Egyptian election, or the Arab League’s sanctions on Syria, or much of anything, really.

But I have been checking in here at Ricochet when I can, and enjoying the usual high standard of ideas and conversation. It wasn’t until this morning that I happened across Claire’s piece expressing her disgust with the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption’s ad campaign (since retracted by Netanyahu) exhorting Israeli expats in the US to come home to Israel before they and their children are lost to Israel forever.

Now, I know this business has offended people and I shouldn’t make light of it, but it’s all so quintessentially Israeli that it made me laugh out loud.  The ad campaign is a gigantic guilt trip wrapped in cozy charm, which is about as Jewish as it gets. It was put together and shoved onto the air without it occurring to anyone at the Absorption Ministry to run the concept by the Foreign Ministry or the PM’s office, which was either a brazen end-run (hey, maybe it’ll get through!) or a bureaucratic dropping of the ball (much more likely), either of which would have been thoroughly Israeli. It was heavy-handed, a little crass, self-defeating, accidentally offensive, but done very professionally and with genuinely good intentions (oy vey, so Israeli!).

As an American Jew, do I find the ads personally offensive?

No, for the simple reason that the point they make — that the decision of Israelis to move to the US marks the beginning of a disconnection from Israel that will manifest clearly and indelibly in the next generation — is so obviously true. This is debatable? While I would argue that in many essential ways, Israel is a better place to be a Jew, it’s easier in America (especially for secular Jews), for two big reasons. First, you have the life-simplifying option of forgetting about your Jewishness completely when it suits you. And second, you live in a great big country with lots of space between you and vast populations of testy people who wouldn’t mind coming up with some way of making your large population centers spontaneously combust.

I was a little nonplussed by all the ire directed at the ads because the fear they enact — that Jewish kids, one generation away from Israel, won’t have a clue what Memorial Day means, or why anyone should care — is absolutely on target. I’d say to any Israeli considering a move to America to do it with their eyes open. They should acknowledge exactly what it is they’re doing: detaching their future kids from Israel. Skip all the hand-waving about Skyping to Saba and Savta back in Rishon and shlepping the kids for two-week sightseeing tours in the Galilee. Go ahead and do those things, yes, but don’t expect those gestures to turn those kids back into Israelis. They will never identify as anything other than Americans with Israeli parents. I’d advise anyone weighing this decision to look at that head on, assess how they feel about it, and if they’re okay with it, buy the tickets.

To amplify: my point is not that it’s a tragedy for Israelis to make this choice. My point is that Israelis who leave should not deny that this the choice they’re making. You want Israeli kids, you raise them in Israel. No Jewish kid born and raised in Silver Spring is going to consider himself Israeli, no matter how Israeli his parents are. Why should he?

To the American Jews insulted by the ads, I understand their feelings, but I think they’re a little misplaced. Boneheaded as the ads are, they demonstrate Israel’s quandary when dealing with expats: in trying to talk anyone who’s now ensconced in American comforts to come back to a place that is so much less comfortable, and that will push the kids into the army yet, the only card Israel has to play is the guilt card. It’s a little tacky, true. But it’s been our old standby for five thousand years.