Saturday, 25 October 2008

Go from the country and your kindred and your fathers house

There is this stigma that Israelis use on their fellow Israelis who choose to leave their country. As if those the leavers have also stabbed those left behind in the back with a rusty blade and twisted it, they are commonly treated as traitors. Label wise, they are referred to as a Yored, which literally means "Going Down".
I can't say that I care much about this stigma showing itself, but it is still funny to encounter when it does. And it does.

Take this first example, from about a year ago. I called the Israeli embassy in Canberra and eventually got to talk to their consular services department. After introducing myself as an Israeli citizen living in Australia and telling them that I just had a new son born, they warmheartedly congratulated me. Then they stated that I must be calling to sort out the baby's passport when I corrected them to say that I'm actually calling to have their Israeli citizenship canceled.
Silence. For a while there I thought the phone got disconnected.
"Hello? Are you still there?"
Eventually I got this whimper from the other side: "But why?"

Moving ahead in time, while we were visiting Israel during September I went to visit a local bank branch in order to withdraw the very last deposit I have in Israel. I got rid of all my Israeli assets very years ago, but due to a couple of mistakes by banks and fund managers who weren't too keen on paying me back my own money I had to go down in person to withdraw it.
After waiting in a very badly managed queue - that is, a very Israeli queue - while watching several amusing scenes taking place (this old man got angry at a clerk and started shouting when she asked for his ID so he could deposit - yes, deposit - money into his account), I was greeted by a smiling clerk. I told her the purpose of my visit and she was fine with it.
Then, however, she asked me why I want to withdraw such a good fund as theirs. I explained that I don't live in Israel anymore, she started asking me questions about Australia, and I could see her generally good mood quickly deteriorating as the discussion went along. When she eventually asked me whether Australia is better than Israel I didn't even say what I usually say and settled with saying that they're different and to each his/her own preference, but you could see what she was thinking by her facial expression.
Shortly afterwards my clerk got this phone call from a friend of hers. She got rid of her quickly, but her answer to the obvious question of "how are things going" to her mate was "this day has been quickly deteriorating for me".

The third example is also the most recent.
I'm not a big fan of Facebook: I have a profile there but I don't really like the concept, which I consider to be a lazy person's replacement for a proper blog. Not to mention the poor facilities for managing photos, the great potential for computer security risks, and the gold mine Facebook offers to any would be identity thief. However, with all the criticism involved, Facebook is a great tool to find people with (especially people who can't be bothered to find you using a simple Google search).
Thus I was contacted a week ago by an army friend whom I have last seen 16 or 17 years ago. It's great but it's also an eye opener: I have had this experience several times during the last few years, and you can see with pretty much all of them why our ways departed. People change with time, and friends from yesteryear usually have a good reason for being friends in past tense.
Still - the reacquaintance is a nice experience that should not be dismissed for pure nostalgia before it gets its proper chance. A good friendship is worth the effort.
Anyway, this newly found friend and I exchanged a few emails and I also dropped a few words re my opinion of Israel given the way I experienced it in my recent visit. This has earnt me her feedback, where she said she would never be able to betray her ancestors' values and traditions by leaving the country.
Obviously, she is entitled to her own opinions and as far as I'm concerned she can stay in Israel as long as she wants (and I truly hope she has the best of times there). My point, however, is that I don't let accidents of birth control my destination: just as I don't believe I should be labeled a Jew because my parents are and instead be allowed the privilege of choosing my own world views (in my case views that are evidence based), I see no reason to have a special affection to a piece of land just because I was born there. Neither do I see a reason to attach myself to a particular nation just because I happened to be born there.

I went down and I'm proud of it.

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