Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Israeli vs Jew

I thought I'd mention the first time I ever heard of this dichotomy between Jew and Israeli!

Way back in the early 70's my wife and I lived in Maalot.  There was some twenty five years ago a wave of immigrants from the then Soviet Union.  The Ministry of Absorption put a group of some fifty families up in a new sub-division originally built as apartments for sale to general public, near our home.  Naturally my wife and I made an effort to great these people and extend our assistance to them in whatever way possible, as did many others in Maalot in general, and the Maalot Yeshiva community in particular.

At some point the "authorities" decided that [religious] interference was not a positive influence on these raw immigrants, and forbade us from entering the temporary absorption center.  Very abruptly our day-to-day connection with our newly form friends was severed.

When the immigrants finally figured out what was going on, they discussed it amongst themselves and appointed a committee to re-establish contact with us and encourage us to persevere.  At one point our contact amongst them, a young woman called 'Yana' called us to invite herself over! 

The actual meeting was almost surrealistic.  The Russian Jews all arrived wearing their 'Sunday Best', clothes which might have been fashionable in the West in the early fifties, but outside of some vintage film I had never seen the likes of!  Their demeanor was very stiff, straight backed and ever-so formal, unlike the relaxed laughing people we had visited in their apartments.  Yana was evidently the spokesperson, and she opened the encounter with a very clear and succinct description of the problem:
"We have", she explained, "met very many Israeli's who are Israeli and a few Israeli's who are Jewish.  We want to meet more Israeli's who are Jewish."
And so we did!  We couldn't visit them, but no one could stop them from visiting us!  Yana and her husband Boris and people from the yeshiva community organized Eruv Shabbat meals for anyone who was interested.  Eventually many of the new immigrants under went Brit Mila with big public parties celebrating their fulfillment of this pivotal act of Jewishness.  Older men in their sixties, younger men and youth all asked for this, and we complied.

One last aside:  I remember Shimeon Peres being interviewed after having lost [yet another] election.  The question was: "How do you sum it [these elections] up?"  His answer was very insightful!  Shimeon spoke without hesitation nor obviously forethought: "The Jews won, the Israelis lost!"