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.