Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Our Wonderful Melting Pot

This morning I had the privilege of going with my 9-year old daughter Revital to a gathering and performance of school choirs from all around our city. The aspects of it which involved adults – the speeches, the “organization” of the morning (a term which I use very loosely here), and so on, was pure torture. The mayor came in (made a real entrance in the middle of one of the songs being performed), then gave a 10 minute speech which was much more geared towards the 50 or so adults in the room than the 300 or so kids who were in theory the focus of the morning). There were a couple of other speeches, one of which went on for more than 15 minutes and essentially repeated everything that the mayor had already said. The emcee of the morning had a few times when a choir started coming to the stage for their turn, then she apologized for forgetting to tell them to wait before coming up because there was something else on the program (a lecture, or sing-along, or whatever) before they were supposed to come up. All in all, it was an organizational mess.

On the other hand, the aspects of the morning involving the kids were an absolute delight. We got to see about 6 or 7 school choirs, with kids between 2nd and 6th grades, each perform two songs and it was simply wonderful. Besides the fantastic songs, the performances drove home for me the beauty of living in Israel.

Here were kids, the very overwhelming majority of whom were born in Israel, many of whose parents were also born here and many others whose parents, like myself, came to Israel as adults. Besides the kids, like mine, whose parents (i.e. me) are native English speakers, I saw children whose families are originally from Ethiopia, from Russia, from France, from Spanish speaking countries, and more. Yet these kids, having been born in Israel, are sabras - every bit as Israeli as those whose grandparents were born here. The sabra, for those who don’t know, is both a cactus plant fruit and the word used to describe a native born Israeli. The stereotypical Israel is very much like the cactus fruit, in that he is “tough and prickly” on the outside, but very sweet on the inside.

The theme of the songs sung by the various choirs was older Israeli music (with a couple of very nicely done exceptions), and the songs being sung really emphasized for me the common denominator shared by all children growing up in Israel. It’s something that those of us who moved here as adults will never really, no matter how “Israeli” we consider ourselves, but the children do share it – whether their parents are from America, Europe, the former Soviet bloc or Africa.

During the performance I was sitting next to a friend of mine from our synagogue whose son was performing with his school. When I mentioned my observation about the kids there whose families were from all around the world, he commented that it was exactly the same for him growing up. He is a sabra whose parents immigrated to Israel from Morocco.

As one who moved to Israel as an adult, I am fully aware, and I accept that there are certain areas in which I will always be at a disadvantage.

For example, my kids are learning songs in school and in gan (kindergarten) that Israeli children have been taught since before Moses went up Mount Sinai, but since my childhood was spent first in Maryland then in North Carolina, I was never taught these songs. Whereas children of sabras can have these songs reinforced by their parents who know them as well, my kids have to teach their parents who have an enormous gap in their childhood education.

This carries over into other areas as well – even in subjects things that I did learn just as kids learn today. While my Hebrew is very fluent conversationally, and even for studying in Hebrew at university, there are terms that I’ve never needed to know in Hebrew, which is particularly evident when I am trying to help Revital with her math homework. Of course I understand the concepts involved, but she and I have different vocabularies when it comes to discussing those concepts.

I also know and accept that no matter how fluent my Hebrew is, I will always have something of an accent – and my kids will very likely always have a good laugh at how I pronounce certain words. No way around that, so I’ll roll with it and even join them in laughing at me.

The biggest disadvantage is that no matter how many years I live here (so far it’s been 23) serving in the army, paying the outrageously high taxes, I will always be regarded by native Israelis as an “American” rather than an Israeli. This is especially ironic because growing up in America, people were more likely to refer to me as a Jew rather than an American. It would seem that to be seen as an "American" I had to move to the Jewish homeland. Go figure!

What it all boils down to is that being born and raised elsewhere, on some level I will always an “outsider”.

But I take comfort in knowing that by deciding to build a life and raise a family in Israel, my children will be “insiders”. They are currently receiving all of the childhood references that their children will eventually have – they’ll know the songs, the poems, the traditional ways of celebrating holidays in school, and they’ll know exactly how to say “add, subtract, multiply, divide and fractions” with the same terminology their kids learn.

And some day, when my grandchildren are participating in some kind of performance, some future immigrant will look at their parents, i.e. my kids as the native Israelis with all of the advantages and acceptance that they – these future immigrants – will be building for their children.

1 comment:

  1. The wonderful world of children, when we observe closely, gives grownups a certain perspective that they can't get from other grownups. I truly enjoyed this posting for its description of the "layers" of the Israeli community. "Sabras", "Americans", outsiders who join the Sabra community. The songs, the phrases, and other examples of lore that you learn from your daughters give examples of how much our children have to teach us. Thank you for the richness you keep providing in these word portraits of life in Israel. Pat Fulton