The Debate

On a recent Saturday night, a local organization in my community held what has become an annual debate. These debates are a highlight of the year. Generally, there are two debates; one serious and one humorous. This year’s serious debate dealt with the following proposal:

“This house believes that the insularity of the Anglo community in Bet Shemesh is detrimental both to that community and to the wider Israeli society.”

In the last few years this has become somewhat of a contentious issue for our community. The modern city of Bet Shemesh dates back to the beginning of the Medina. For about 40 years it remained a moderately sized, mainly Sephardic community. In the early 90s, thanks mostly to a very ambitious real estate agent, a new development sprang up as, what was billed, an “Anglo” community. It was to be a religious Zionist neighborhood where people from America, Great Britain, Australia, etc. could have an easier absorption among a larger Israeli population.

Well the place took off. (And this doesn’t even include Ramat Bet Shemesh.) In our little “Sheinfeld” neighborhood (named for the builder) there are many hundreds of families and a half a dozen shuls. In the last 5 years, thanks to Nefesh B’Nefesh and the large influx of Americans, the neighborhood has become overwhelmingly Anglo. My shul, for example, has about 75 families and I am hard pressed to think of more than 5 who are “Israeli”.

For many of us, it has been incredibly easy absorbing into such an environment. Yet some of the “pioneers” are decidedly disappointed that the community, which they had thought would have a mix of Anglos and Israelis, has turned out to be so heavily Anglo.

The proponents in the debate made several points that one would expect to hear. They argued that our children’s language development is being hampered, their ability to themselves absorb into larger Israeli society will be affected, that we as a whole are not contributing to Israeli society, and that we are making those few Israelis who live among us feel like outsiders. On the whole they argued that this is not the picture of Aliyah and absorption for which they had hoped.

The opponents made some points that also touched on some issues we have discussed in this forum. The main thrust of their argument was that this insularity actually is a benefit in that it allows us to maintain many of the positive religious and American values that we want to pass on to our children and preserve for ourselves. Another benefit is that, though it is true our children’s Hebrew language development will suffer slightly, their English language skills will remain at a much higher level and this is a huge advantage in today’s global economy where English is the driving force. A very succinct take-away line was, “While it is a mitzvah to live in Israel, it’s no mitzvah be an Israeli.”

As Baalei Teshuva we bring certain things to the table, like a greater sensitivity to non-Jews, a greater tolerance of other races and cultures, and a greater appreciation for the value of worldly knowledge. So while it’s important for us to live in solid, frum communities we may also want to inculcate our children with some of the positive values and ideas from our “galus” lives.

In the end, as the opponents in the debate made clear, the children of our Bet Shemesh neighborhood will do just fine. They will learn Hebrew, (most will) defend their country, find gainful employment, and become contributing members of the greater society as upstanding Torah Jews. But in addition, they will hopefully bring with them a little something extra that only could have been gleaned from a little Anglo oasis such as Sheinfeld.

Likewise, our FFB children will continue to integrate into whatever type of community fits them best. Hopefully, they too will bring with them that little extra value that only our past experiences could have provided them with.

12 comments on “The Debate

  1. Rabbi Student, I believe that it is easier for Anglos in Dati Leumi communities. The variance between U.S. modern orthodox and Israeli Dati Leumi is slight. However, as moshavnik implied, U.S. black hatters need to make some major hashkafic adjustments in order to fit in to Israeli Chareidi society.

    As one example there 1 or 2 boys high schools in Israeli that come close to the typical mainstream right wing high school in the U.S. For starters, secular studies are a big no-no here in chareidi high schools. And it goes on from there.

  2. Well said Katrin. Parents, especially ones who make Aliyah at my age, need a place where they can feel comfortable and secure. That goes a long way to helping with the children’s absorbtion.

  3. gil – i agree with ora. my husband goes to an english kollel in a chareidi neighbourhood, that is packed with anglos – the vast majority of whom seem very content and ‘integrated’.even with minimal hebrew.

    for what it’s worth, and from what i can see in modiin – which in parts is also becoming far more anglo than israeli – the single biggest element to the kids successfully integrating is the parents’ attitude.

    if the parents continually appreciate the bracha that is to live in eretz yisrael, their kids will integrate. the inevitable issues won’t seem like such a big deal, and the kids will get the message that eretz yisrael is worth whatever ‘bumps’ might appear on the road.

  4. Gil–My Haredi friends seem to love their community, so I don’t think so. There are plenty of Haredi communities with tons of Anglos and a more American mentality.

    Steve and former moshavnik–I think that the problems of anglo kids in adjusting to Israeli society can be avoided with planning. The thing is, it’s easiest for anglo parents to join predominantly anglo communities, but that can hurt the kids’ ability to speak decent Hebrew and feel truly Israeli. Still, if parents make an effort, kids can adjust quite well.

    In my experience, children ages 12 and under tend to adjust fairly easily, pick up the language quickly, and all that. Teenagers are harder, and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend aliya to a family whose teenagers are vehemently opposed (one of my few exceptions). Still, if teens are interested in aliya, it can work wonderfully. In that case, it usually is better to move to an anglo community (as opposed to with younger kids, where exposure to Israelis is crucial).

  5. Gil – I think you are correct and actually meant to make the point in my original post. It is very hard to be “absorbed” into Israeli charedi society and there is no Israeli counterpart to “modern yeshivish” or the like. Which also addresses Steve Brizel’s issue of making aliyah with kids – I don’t know that it makes a difference. The kids that I’ve seen do the best in the Charedi world are the ones whose parents made extreme efforts to fit into “mainstream charedi society”, even if it meant adopting or rejecting things that weren’t necessarily part of their agenda. I’ve known women who decided to only wear suits and thick stockings – b/c they felt it would help their kids fit in in the long run if mommy was “normal”. It’s part of the cheshbon everyone has to make for themself – and it’s part of why I find myself back in the US.

  6. Could it be that it is easier to be an Anglo in the Dati Leumi community than the Charedi community? Serious question without a preconceived answer.

  7. I’ve heard of some of the issues that Moshav Mattisyahu has and I think most of them are specific to that moshav and to moshavim in general.

    I didn’t say that the kids are having problems in Beit Shemesh. Yes, there are teenage issues, but I’m not sure they are worse than the issues our communities are facing all over.

    This anglo community in Beit Shemesh is fairly young. Kids are just now getting to army/college age. I personally know several teens at this stage and they are terrific. We know kids have completed their Hesdar army service in top Hesdar Yeshivas. Others are in prestigious programs like Atuda and select officer training programs.

    To answer Steve, there is no question that it’s more challenging to make aliyah with kids in school and teens in particular. But it can be done. We are literally surrounded by several families from Teaneck who made Aliyah with 4 or more kids within the last 4 years. (In the summer of ’03 35 kids from the same yeshiva made aliyah!) Overall they are doing very well.

    B”H these people, and thousands of others who have made aliyah recently are not counting out Aliyah just because they have school aged kids.

  8. Maybe-the answer is that aliyah really should be considered either before one’s kids are in school or thereafter-precisly because of the sociological and cultural difficulties outlined herein.

  9. Having lived on R. Leff’s moshav which is basically the same “Beit Shemesh” experiment on a smaller scale, I can say that the arguments of the original poster hold water. Moshav Matityahu has 15 – 20 years on Beit Shemesh and we can see the fruit that has been reaped. 1) the children are often not integrated into Israeli society and suffer for it in terms of being perpetual “outsiders” in frum life 2) many of the children never find schools where they fit in and bounce from school to school 3)many do have trouble learning Hebrew and struggle with schoolwork. Their Anglo parents often not able to help them 4) quite a number have gone off the derech as a result of the above and finally 5) many have wound up back in the US. Just $.02 to consider.

  10. You live in Sheinfeld? So cool! My husband used to live in Beit Shemesh, some of our best friends still live in Aviv and rehov hashita.

    While it’s not a mitzvah to be Israeli, it is a mitzvah to live in Israel, and not many young adults will be enthusiastic about that if they constantly feel different. Teens don’t like to feel different. Similarly, we have to be careful instilling our kids with too much BT-ness. First priority is to make sure that the kids are comfortable as religious Jews and as Israelis. Only after that should we worry about preserving some of the good values from the old life/country.

    I definitely know kids in Beit Shemesh whose Hebrew is sadly lacking. Poor Hebrew is a major obstacle to finding jobs in Israel which more than makes up for good English. While those who make aliya as adults can get by, it’s not a good situation for Israeli-born children.

  11. For those interested, the OU has a link to a blogger who moved with his family to EY into a mixed neighborhood and the reaction that he encountered one Shabbos afternoon. It is interesting reading on this issue and would tend to support R Bulman ZTL and Yivadleinu LChaim R Leff as to their POV therein.

  12. Rav Bulman, zt”l, was very outspoken about the advantages of English speakers having their own shuls, schools, and neighborhoods. Rav Leff has argued the same point. The cultural differences between Anglos and Israelis are enormous. (In nine years living in EY, I never did fully adjust.) For baalei tshuva, the need is even more acute. Trying unsuccessfully to mainstream into Israeli society can lead to all kinds of social and family problems, as well as to giving up and going back “home.”

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