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Homogeneity in Israel causes culture shock to diversity after just 18 months

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Phil mashed up my post on the Mamilla talk at Columbia and an article about the Olmert scandal by Isabel Kershner in the New York Times to ask an important question: "Are there non-Jews in West Jerusalem?"

I’m going riff on this further by bringing in an article from Ha’aretz today, mindful that, this time, the question — "Are there any non-Jews in that neighborhood?" — has an answer.

The article is a shameless screed against diversity. The author, Elie Klein, a native New Yorker, moved to Israel with his family some 18 months ago. Since then, he has been "rewired" by Israel’s Zionist narrative (his words, not mine), and holds contempt for his homeland.

Now an "Aliyah enthusiast" and "public relations specialist", Klein deigns to tell us why he found his former home so off-putting:

  • His body shudders — "actually shook from head to toe" — when he saw Newark’s industrial park from an airport window.
  • In "brief encounters with taxi drivers, cashiers, airport security officers, flight attendants and other travelers," people looked at Klein’s kippah.
  • The "abundant English-language signage in the airports and on the roadways" made him feel "uncomfortable and unwelcome,"
  • as did a "complete lack of Kosher dining options just about everywhere [he] went." (In Florida? I don’t believe it for a second. And this was certainly not the case in the "Miami Jewish Home and Hospital… in North Miami Beach" where Klein was visiting his ailing father.)

Is this superficial (and, in the last case, bogus) stuff, or what?

Now that he’s in Israel, Klein says, he doesn’t have to think about "long-winded explanations to employers about the religious significance of your week-long vacation during busy season." Was this really the case when, as his biography states, Klein was the North American director of The Elite Academy, a joint program of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency? Is it really that important to him that "taxi drivers, cashiers, airport security officers, and flight attendants" all be exactly like him?

Klein’s objections seems to be less against the fact that there are so few options specifically for Jews, but that there are options for anyone else at all. When you consider his biographical data at the end of the article, and Phil’s question of yesterday, it brings this notion into sharp focus.

Beit Shemesh, the town West of Jerusalem where Klein hails from, has exactly zero non-Jews, according to the uncited Israeli Bureau of Statistics report mentioned in its Wikipedia page. It is 100 percent Jewish and other non-Arab.

I, too, might be shocked if I left a place where everyone was like me and traveled to a place where there is diversity, even if there is a benign curiosity in such things (say, glancing at an usual hat). But I don’t have to deal with those problems much in New York City. It’s the thought of living in place where everyone is the same that makes me shudder.

Here people sometimes might stare or even glare at appearance — I wear long hair, a beard, and underdress for nearly all events — but it’s okay. People speak Spanish everywhere, and it doesn’t bother me. The English signs don’t seem to bother them, either. I live on the Upper West Side where, perhaps to Klein’s surprise, people often walk by me speaking Hebrew and wearing yarmulkes. They don’t get a fist glance, let alone a second.

This is not a world that rejects Klein, but a world that he rejects.

Ali Gharib
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