February 8, 2007
Israeli official woos expats -- you <I>can</I> go home again
(Page 2 - Previous Page)"Life is exciting in Los Angeles, and the film industry presents a fascinating challenge," she said. "What I miss most about Israel are the love and warmth of family and friends, walking around everywhere, amidst other people.
"In Los Angeles, you are physically detached from other people, and even more detached emotionally; you really don't have deep friendships," she said. "The upside is that you have your private space, people don't constantly pry into your business. But, then, sometimes you feel alone."
The ideal career for Markus, as for director Katzir, would be a dual track, working in both the American and Israeli film industries.
"I would like to be bicontinental, to work both in Hollywood and in my native country, like many European and Mexican directors do," Katzir said.
Rivka Dori is among the veteran expats in Los Angeles, having arrived in 1966 with her future husband, who came for a college education.
As a longtime teacher -- Dori is director of the joint Hebrew studies program at HUC-JIR and USC -- and community activist, she is especially focused on the second generation of American-born Israelis, including her own adult children.
The second generation, she believes, "is neither here nor there, not Israeli and not American."
Dori established an after-school program for "Heritage Learners," second-generation youngsters of high school age, to expose them to Hebrew as it is spoken today and to Israel's culture.
Her students, she said, face a dilemma in defining their identities. They are exposed to all the pressures and attractions of American teen life, while their parents try to indoctrinate them with a feeling of loyalty and belonging to Israel -- up to a point.
"When the youngsters absorb their parents' lesson and one day tell them that they want to join the Israeli army, the parents are usually horrified," Dori said.
Few expats are involved in the social life and causes of their American Jewish peers, and, if pressed, they are likely to define themselves as "Israeli Jews in America."
Dori doubts that many of them will follow Boim's exhortation to resettle in Israel and believes that when the members of the third generation grow up, "they will be less conflicted and more Americanized."
Avner Hofstein has a special perspective on the expats. An experienced reporter for Yediot Ahronot, Israel's largest daily, he has been on assignment as the paper's West Coast correspondent for the past four years; he is also an occasional contributor to The Jewish Journal.
Israelis here, as in their native country, are full of contradictions, Hofstein observed.
They have bought fully into the materialistic life of America, while trying to recreate the Israeli neighborhoods and milieu they knew in the 1970s and '80s. "Especially in the Valley, Israelis have their own cafes, markets, dances and social and business networks," he said.
"They pop into each others' homes unannounced and are very much into each others' business," Hofstein added. "On the one hand, they tend to be hawkish and super-Israeli patriots, on the other hand, they are highly critical of Israeli society, perhaps to justify their own departure.
"There are no Israeli ghettos in Los Angeles, but you have a sense of closed communities, with their own networks of professional and business services, and few American friends," he said.
The Council of Israeli Communities (CIC) is the closest to a central expat organization in Los Angeles, with a membership of about 5,000, according to its president, Moshe Salem. Founded in 2001 to speak up for the State of Israel and its policies, CIC now focuses mainly on strengthening relations with the people and culture of the home country.
A sure sign that the Israeli community is coming of age is that academic researchers are beginning to pay attention to it. Through the Israel American Study Initiative (IASI), a group of UCLA scholars and librarians is trying to collect and analyze the chronicles and documents that tell the history and development of the community.
IASI tracks Israeli culture and life in the United States in its BAMA magazine and the Web site, www.IsraelisinAmerica.org.
"We are studying the Israeli community for itself and from three perspectives," said Jonathan Friedlander, assistant director of the UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies. "The role of Israelis within the larger Jewish community; within the Middle Eastern community of Arabs, Armenians and Iranians, and their impact on the entire Los Angeles ethnic mosaic."
Writing in BAMA, professor David N. Myers, director of the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, notes one crucial contribution of Israeli expats, alongside Jewish immigrants from Iran and Russia. Without them, writes Myers, "The Los Angeles Jewish community would either have hit the wall demographically or be in decline."
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