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Thursday, December 27, 2007

The complete void of 'Israeliness'

I know that many of you who live abroad must be wondering why there seem to be so many former Israelis in your home towns. In fact, it's a major problem. With all our success at attracting immigrants, nearly as many Jewish Israelis leave this country permanently every year as arrive here to stay. One reason is that those who leave recognize that 'Israeliness' is an empty value system that leaves them groping for 'meaning' in their lives. And they have had a resentment for Judaism ingrained in them that often does not allow religion to be the answer.

For those who have never heard the term, Israeliness is a way of describing what many of the country's founders tried to substitute for Judaism. There was (and is) a belief among many on the left of the religious spectrum that Judaism was a religion for the exile, that once people came here they no longer needed it. Therefore, they tried to substitute a value system I (and I did not coin the term) refer to as 'Israeliness.' This is one of the reasons - probably the biggest one - that much of the religious establishment in Europe did everything in its power to keep its youth away from Zionism at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. They saw that the left-wing Zionists were as interested in separating Jews from their religion as they were in reuniting Jews with the Land of Israel.

Israeliness is the Israeli equivalent to an attitude I saw among a lot of parents when I was working for NCSY - an organization that attempts to strengthen Jewish identity - when I was in high school and college in the 1970's. Many parents were furious when their children started to become religious after attending NCSY weekends. They would rather their children intermarried - God forbid - than make them unscrew the light bulb in the refrigerator (so it would not turn on when the refrigerator was opened on the Sabbath) every Friday afternoon. In this generation, many Israeli parents would rather that their children throw their lives away at drug orgies in the Far East - God forbid - than that their children suddenly 'get religion' and study in a Yeshiva or seminary.

Thus I'm sure many of you thought I was exaggerating when I told you that Israel's 'real demographic problem' is that the Jewish population of the country is getting more religious. I was not. And one of the reasons the country is getting more religious is that many of the offspring of the mostly Ashkenazi secular Zionists - like Ehud Olmert's kids - is leaving the country as fast as they can once their army service is done, and sometimes even before. For many it starts out as a post-army trek to the Far East, which is something of a tradition among the seculars here, but it has become much more.

An article in today's Jerusalem Post shows just how bad the situation has gotten. It's not on the Post's web site yet, but I found it here. (Hat Tip: Mrs. Carl) I'm going to give you part of it and then you should go read the rest:
Gupta the swastika salesman arrives at sunset, fires a kerosene lantern and displays his gold-painted trinkets on an Indian beach filled with hundreds of young Israelis dancing in a fog of hashish.

Draped in garlands strung with jasmine blossoms, the pulsating Israelis are freshly decommissioned from the military and seeking a cheap retreat to unwind from their obligatory two-to-three years of safeguarding the Jewish state. The conscripts find sanctuary in the thousands of dilapidated wicker seaside shacks and dozens of isolated jungle ghettos that weave along a 78-mile coast and snake up treacherous dirt tracks into the impoverished mountain villages of Goa.

According to Israeli and Indian officials, between 40,000 and 60,000 young Israelis have either permanently moved or established long-term residence in India. They have created new lives for themselves alongside the country's 900 million Hindus and 150 million Muslims and caused tension among the local population because of the widespread use of recreational drugs.

``Our souls need a permanent break from Israel,'' says army veteran Tomel Basel, 24, pocketing one of Gupta's 10 cent charms, the ancient cross with bent arms that is venerated by Hindus as a lucky adornment.

``We're all runaways,'' Basel says before filling his lungs with potent smoke and exhaling his separate reality on the squalor of Anjuna Beach. ``There's nothing for us back in Israel.''


What began in 1994 as the great post-military escape to India has turned into a new-age Diaspora of young and embittered men and women looking to flee what they say is their country's armed turmoil with the Palestinians and the spiritual emptiness of Judaism. [These kids know nothing about Judaism. All they have been taught of it is a few chapters of bible that they had to memorize for their matriculation exams. You don't see religious kids throwing it all away to run away to India. CiJ]

Many of the revelers on the sands of Anjuna Beach and elsewhere along what's known as the Karma Kosher Trail say they have no intention of returning to Israel, despite the efforts of four local rabbis and a $200,000 joint government-private sector campaign funded by Israeli banking and telecommunications magnate Nochi Dankner, a devotee of the Dalai Lama and chairman of IDB Holding Corp.

Shlomo Breznitz, a director of the campaign and founder of the India-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group in Israel, says the exodus is worrisome and potentially tragic. ``Karma kosher is much more of a widespread phenomenon than Israelis want to admit,'' says Breznitz, 71, a retired member of the Israeli parliament and former president and provost of Haifa University.


The cost of deliverance is initially underwritten by the Israeli Defense Force. Combat veterans leave the army with a maximum cash bonus of $2,100. Combat support staff walk away with $1,800. Everyone else pockets $1,452.

On the beach, life is cheap and flea-ridden.

A room with a plank bed and a pink mosquito net costs $5 a night or $11 for three people. Sleeping under a fragrant cashew tree is free. Kitchens with names like the Outback Indian Israeli Restaurant come with Hebrew-speaking Hindus who ladle vegetarian fare for a few cents a plate.

``A lot of us either never served in the army or left it more than a decade ago,'' says Asaf Rottenberg, a 30-year-old waiter who abandoned his job at Tel Aviv's LaLa Land restaurant. ``People my age come here because Israel is an empty place.''


``It's dangerous,'' Breznitz says. ``There are hordes of young Israelis moving around India and too many of them fail to blend in and look down on the locals.''

Breznitz's apprehension can be heard during conversations on the porch of a crumbling stone villa in Anjuna. It's from this old Portuguese house where Rabbi Meir Alfasi, 22 and an envoy of the powerful Brooklyn-based Hassidic group Chabad-Lubavitch, cheerfully spends his days tending two goats, three chickens and riding a motor scooter equipped with walkie-talkies around Goa, trying to bring Jews back to Judaism.

As Alfasi sees the scene, the 40,000 Jews wandering through India are prisoners in a new Babylonian Captivity.

``India is the lowest place on Earth, an impure place in the middle of idolatry'' Alfasi says. ``Lots of idols and lots of Jews looking to be assimilated in the local culture. Our mission is to prevent that from happening.''


The Chabad outpost, which includes a kosher kitchen and a room for a synagogue that holds Goa's only Torah, opened its doors in 2000. A dozen Jews for Saturday service is considered a good crowd. The chocolate cake is delightful.

``It's a big draw,'' Alfasi smiles.

Alfasi says Israelis generally remain in India for five to 10 years, adding that the Indian government is now quietly trying to help him reduce that time by limiting the number of visas it issues to Israelis and the period they can legally remain in the country.

``It will be hard for them to find us here, Meir,'' says Yomtov Yoni, 23, an air-conditioner repairman and Israeli air force fireman whom Alfasi is trying to bring back into the fold.

``India is huge,'' Yoni adds, straddling a motorcycle. ``Israel is the size of Anjuna Beach. We are free here, Meir.'' ``You see, the situation is not so good,'' Alfasi says, stringing flower necklaces around a 12-foot-high menorah and preparing a Friday Shabbat dinner under the stars.
40,000 to 60,000 Israelis in a constant trance doing drugs on a beach and sleeping in flea infested hostels in India trying to get over the void in their lives where the Judaism was removed from their parents and grandparents. Read the whole thing and weep.


At 6:28 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

This would be funny if it weren't so sad. Maybe we can pool money for a plane ticket for Zombie to go make a photo reportage about these brain-fried curry sausage worshipers.

It all of course begs the question whether these people have a predisposition for liking this stuff. Sure, "nature abhors a vacuum", but I was an agnostic at that age yet would never have done this since too many aspects of that lifestyle were and are repugnant to me.

Also, these "curry sausage smoking" trips seem to have become less popular in recent years in favor of South America?

At 2:33 AM, Blogger nachtwache said...

I agree that people fill that void with something, but nothing else will ever satisfy, because it's reserved for our Maker.

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Daniel434 said...

It seems to me they are searching for great truths, yet the truth lies on the soil they choose to forsake. The rest seem to be affected by constant war, lack of confidence in their government and just wish to get away and "have a good time". This reminds me of the culture war here in the states. I think the youth need proper education, and not to view Zionism as something negative but instead something to die for. G-d must weep for Israel.

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


This is what they mean when they say they want to live in a 'normal country.' Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future, Israel is not and will not be a 'normal country.' We are surrounded by too many enemies.

At 12:08 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

An entire generation of Israelis has been raised devoid of Jewishness. This has two implications.

First for the Israeli Left, it means hurrying with their fire sale of Israel's assets before the rest of Israel can come into power to save it for posterity.

Second, with the country becoming more traditional and religious as a result of the secular youth leaving and never coming back home, Israel will become more of a Jewish State. Bad news for the post-Zionists but good news for Klal Israel. Let's hope the good news happens sooner than later.


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