Paying a high price for homesickness
More than one million Israelis have left the country — a phenomenon bearing the cryptic title “yeridah”, (meaning to go down, thus being the antithesis of aliyah, which means, literally, to go up).
The cost to the State of Israel of educating one Jewish child runs at about US$100,000. Multiply that by a million plus and you have a lot of zeros.
From a strictly Zionist point of view, it is money down the tubes. And I’m hard-pressed to think of a single factor about this country that gives as much hope and comfort to its — ahem — adversaries. But every cloud has a silver lining.
I got a phone call from Keren in Santa Barbara, California, about a month ago.
She spoke in perfect English with an Israeli accent. She wanted to book the whole house (four rooms) for her family for one night. It was her son’s barmitzvah.
Ten of them arrived, packed into two vast SUVs. Along with the Vuitton suitcases and laptops, came the two grandparents with their pill boxes, a jolly uncle, laptops, four pneumatic teenage girls with their iPods, orthodontic braces and hormones and, of course, the parents and the ga’on himself.
The dad was a tough, friendly all-American Jew, not short of a buck. He came to Israel as a volunteer in the 1980s, fell in love with this smart Israeli beauty, and spirited her back to the States. The deal was that the kids speak Hebrew and spend every summer in Israel.
I get a lot of these so-called yordim passing through. I think I know why they come here of all places. On a subliminal level, they are drawn to Ben Gurion’s grave (a short walk from my house) in a silent act of penance. On another, they want, quite desperately, for their children to love the land and feel it is their home, so what better part of the land to show them than Sde Boker?
When the 24 hours is up and they are packed, Keren, a mind-reader in her spare time, takes me to one side and says: “I live in America but it is not my home. My family is here. I bring my children here every year, their closest friendships are here, and they just love it…”
So there you have it. I’m looking at five spoiled, plump, pasty, mouthy kids, but smart and Jewish and patently in love with Israel. This time round Uncle Sam foots the bill for their education (of course the best America has to offer) and, who knows? Perhaps Keren will have Israeli grandchildren to draw her back to the land.