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his week I celebrated the
45th anniversary of my ar-
rival in Israel, less than
three years after the es-
tablishment of the State. Many
things have changed in the in-
terval, but one thing has not.
People here still find it hard to
understand why Americans and
other western immigrants should
decide to settle in Israel, why they
should voluntarily exchange a
higher standard of living for a
lower one, a safer way of life for
a more dangerous one, and a fa-
miliar cultural milieu for one for-
eign to them.
This decision was still more ex-
traordinary back in the 40s and
early 50s, for those of us who
came at that time lacked any real
knowledge about this country
when we boarded the ship that
would take us to Haifa. All we
possessed were romantic visions
imparted to us by emissaries,
many of whom were almost as
out of touch with developments
here as we were.
Inside our youth movement co-
coon we had played at being
"Palestinian pioneers," sung
"Palestinian songs" and danced
"Palestinian dances." And to
these cultural imports we added
our own songs and dances. In one
of the former, which somehow
sticks in my mind, we proclaimed
our intention to be "chalutzim
who worked all day and danced
all night long."
When we came, we soon
learned that people who work in
the hot sun all day can barely
drag themselves to bed, let alone
dance a hora through the night.
And, later on, we became aware
that the institutions in which we
were taught to believe — the kib-
butz movement, the Histadrut
and the Labor Party — were less
than perfect, that Israel itself was
less than perfect.
These revelations, combined
with the day-to-day difficulties of
life in this country, sent the ma-
jority of would-be chalutzim back
to the green, middle-class sub-
urbs of North America. And for
the minority who remained, pio-
neering dreaths were generally
replaced by the materialism that
engulfed Israel as a whole.
So was our effort worthwhile,
, or are we a bunch of suckers who
were sold a bill of goods and are
just too ashamed to admit it?
I think not.
First of all, we and our fellow
Israelis have enormous achieve-
ments to our credit. For in less
than 50 years we have trans-
formed a heterogenous mass of
dirt-poor refugees into a pros-
perous modem nation, one with
world-class industry, agriculture,
health care, art and literature.
And while we aren't yet fulfilling
Ben-Gurion's vision of being a
light unto the nations, we are al-
ready more civilized and creative
than a majority of countries.
Secondly, Israel clearly holds
the key to Jewish survival. Those
of our friends who went back to
the States, or never came here in
the first place, form part of a com-
munity where Judaism is on the
wane. And while some may be
lucky — like the former youth
Was our effort
worthwhile, or are
we were sold a bill
of goods and are just
too ashamed to
movement member who recent-
ly wrote me "thank God that my
children have married Jews" —
the majority of our brethren in
North America are almost cer-
tainly "last generation Jews."
Here, in contrast, we are par-
ticipating in an unprecedented
Jewish renaissance. And we
know that each one of us has a
role in that renaissance, whether
we are tilling the fields, teaching
English or selling real estate.
This gives real meaning to our
lives and compensates for the
luxuries we might have en-
joyed had we never heard of
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