By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, June 13, 2008

Klitah, meaning immigrant absorption, was an important part of the lexicon of old-fashioned Zionism. New immigrants were received in mercazei klitah, absorption centres, that were a little more welcoming than army barracks. When I made aliyah 15 years ago, people would enquire, “How’s your klitah going?”, which was a way of asking, “Have you learned Hebrew, do you have a job, have you met the love of your life and how are you dealing with the crazy bureaucracy?” all in one question.

The word itself comes from kalat, which means suction. From here it comes to mean a place of refuge, as in the ir miklat of the Bible, the cities of refuge, to which perpetrators of accidental homicide could flee and receive asylum from vengeful relatives of the victims (Numbers 35).

Immigrants from South Africa to the UK, say, notably do not talk about their absorption into Britain. The word klitah is part of a worldview in which immigrants to Israel became absorbed into a new all-encompassing Israeliness that superseded their outmoded identity as Jews from the UK, Russia or Argentina.

Recently Natan Sharansky has argued in a new book that this model is itself outmoded. Acknowledging that there are “hyphenated Israelis”, as there are hyphenated Americans, with strong connections to their countries, traditions and Jewish communities of origin, he believes this enriches and deepens Israeli culture rather than enervating it with the weakness of the diaspora, as the founders of the “New Israeli Jew” myth once feared.

    Last updated: 1:36pm, June 12 2008