December 11, 2018

If you don’t come back to Israel you’re going to lose it

If you weren’t yet exposed to the campaign calling on emigrating Israelis to come back home (assuming “home” will always be Israel), you can see the videos in this Jewish Channel report.

Or here (beware, Hebrew):

Alex Beam of the Boston Globe wrote about this campaign two weeks ago, after encountering one of the many billboards placed in key US locations (he saw the one in Cambridge, but there are “two others in New York, three in Los Angeles, one in Palo Alto, Calif., and two in Miami”):

The message of the Cambridge billboard, which is reprised in several 30-second TV ads you can see at the website, is that Israelis who linger too long in the Diaspora risk losing their Jewish roots. In one of the ads, a family is Skyping their grandparents in Israel at Hanukkah, and the presumably assimilated daughter refers to the season as “Christmas.” A look of pain shoots across her grandparents’ faces. The point of the “Daddy” ad is that real Israeli children call their fathers “Abba,” not “Daddy.”

Three quick comments on this campaign:

1. I can see why it might make some American Jews uncomfortable. It implies that not just Israeli culture and heritage is hard to maintain in the US, but also Jewish culture and heritage (Goldblog writes: “The idea, communicated in these ads, that America is no place for a proper Jew, and that a Jew who is concerned about the Jewish future should live in Israel, is archaic, and also chutzpadik”). This, though, is the classic Zionist position, and was always a point of disagreement between the two greatest contemporary Jewish communities.

2. Beam writes that “There are 10,000 Israeli citizens in the Boston area and perhaps a million in the United States.” That’s probably not the right number. For more accurate estimates I’d urge you to read a report I wrote with my colleague at JPPI Yogev Karasenty. In short: to get closer to a million, one has to also count Israelis born abroad, emigrants who are already dead, Arab Israeli emigrants and some more. 

3. Karasenty, a leading expert on emigrating Israelis, also wrote an article back in September in which there’s an interesting nugget on returning Israelis: “The numerical difference between Israelis who head overseas for a year or longer and those who return to the country after a sojourn overseas for a year or longer is not overwhelming. In 2009, the number stood at 4,900 – that is, 15,900 departing Israelis compared to 11,000 returning Israelis (not counting new immigrants). And here’s the best news: the 2009 figure represents the lowest such migration differential in over 30 years.” In other words: Israelis are coming back much more than you might think. The economy (better in Israel than in the US) is probably the driving factor. Campaigns such as the one we see today only ride an already existing trend.