On being 30 years in Israel by Steve Kramer
Sequestered in our apartment because of the coronavirus lockdown, which will be relaxed somewhat soon, one has time to ponder. It’s been nearly 30 years since Michal and I (“courageously” as some said) made Aliyah. With us came our two young sons, 9 and 6. We had sold our home, our car, and everything else that we didn’t plan to ship to our new home. Although both sons went through the school system and the army here in Israel, each returned to the US about a decade ago. We were happy to remain here. And we still are!
Michal and I are very content, having moved a few years ago from our villa (freestanding house) in Alfe Menashe to a large, third-floor apartment in a parklike setting, just a few minutes’ walk from Kfar Saba’s main street. Our life in southern NJ is a long way off in many ways from our present one, but other habits are the same.
The US elections loom large in the view of Israelis. It’s not just that many have relatives living there. America’s cultural and military influence pervades all of the Western world, and much of the East too. Because of the significant decisions of the current administration to upgrade its backing of Israel, Donald Trump’s reelection is the hope of the large majority of Israel’s population. “A new poll published by I24News and conducted by the Direct Falls Research Institute on Monday (10/12/20) found that 63.3% of Israelis preferred the reelection of incumbent US President Donald Trump, compared to 18.8% who preferred former vice president and Democratic challenger Joe Biden.” (jpost.com)
But which candidate wins the election isn’t the main issue. What is perhaps more significant is the terrible, blatant split between roughly two halves of America’s citizens. Without a doubt, when the election is (finally) concluded, half of the citizens will be very angry at the other half and terribly upset about the result, regardless of the winner.
As far as I can tell, and have experienced, this situation is substantially the result of the media. Those readers who are about my age can remember when, in the early 1950s, network news presenters (John Cameron Swayze, in our home) reported the news events in a dispassionate, non-partisan manner. I certainly don’t know what Swayze’s personal beliefs were, whether he was a Republican or a Democrat. If you read his biography, it’s not even mentioned. This was not unusual among his peers, who were pretty straightforward in their presentations, such as Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, and David Huntley/Chet Brinkley. There was no apparent editorializing; you chose the news show (four networks, including DuMont) whose format most appealed to you.
Today, it’s a totally different story in the US and probably everywhere in the West. People who still watch television news expect to hear opinions which are in line which they share – the echo chamber effect. There’s much opinion and subjective (slanted) reporting with very little objective reporting. It’s the same whether on TV, cable, or social networks. The news is no longer something that is subject to debate. It’s this or it’s that, and never shall the twain meet. There is no doubt about the facts. The fact is absolutely this to one group, and it is absolutely that to the opposing group. Therefore, there’s nothing which allows a differing opinion. Put another way, anyone with a differing opinion doesn’t know the facts.
From our comfortable perch in Israel, I mostly but not exclusively listen, read, or watch the “news” which fits my viewpoint, definitely right of center. But the major difference here, an advantage as I see it, is that my slant is the majority attitude. Yes, there are loud (but not violent) demonstrations against Prime Minister Netanyahu, but he is still the leader that the majority prefer. The next one in popularity is Naftali Bennett, son of immigrants from the US, who is to the right of Netanyahu.
So, when elections are held here, probably sooner than later, fully half the people won’t be spitting at the other half. The one viable left wing party, Meretz, polls in the single digits. The Labor Party, which ran the country for a generation, is nearly defunct. Perhaps a quarter of Israelis might be incensed after Israel’s next election. This is incomparably better than in the US.
Lately, the US looks more like Belgium, which could split itself in two between its French and Flemish-speaking contingents: “Following a federal, regional and European vote at the weekend (5/19), Belgium’s political scenario on Monday appeared as divided as ever, with some speaking of a phenomenon of ‘a Belgium split in two’ — as preliminary results revealed a country torn in half across partisan lines.” (https://www.brusselstimes.com/news/belgium-all-news/57327/election-weekend-splits-belgium-in-two/)
Back to my 30-year Israeli perspective… We thank God every day that we live in Israel. Not that we don’t miss our relatives and friends back “home,” but we feel blessed that the great majority of our fellow citizens are not at each others’ throats. And the country is beautiful and easy to traverse north to south. Israelis are so polite to each other (just kidding). And, there’s the very temperate weather.
Add to that, enjoying a Jewish life here doesn’t necessitate being religiously observant, which is pretty much the case in the US. Judaism permeates the air that we breathe and the holidays that we celebrate. Although we have no true family, very close friends have taken their place. All in all, we look forward to many more rewarding years in the Land of Israel.