As an Olah (new immigrant to Israel) I received numerous benefits from the State of Israel. Rent subsidies, free higher-education, tax cuts and a variety of other financial incentives are available to encourage Diaspora Jews to come live in Israel. While I am very grateful for these benefits and do believe that in the long run, my living in Israel is in the interests of the country; I do sometimes ask myself why it is that, economically speaking, life in Israel is still so hard that such incentives remain necessary to encourage Aliyah? (And even with them, many return unable to achieve a “decent standard of living” in this country). As I wrote previously, the current nation-wide social protests in Israel have caused me to question why in the Israeli “Start-up Nation”, the average Israeli finds it so hard to make ends meet?
I remember arriving in the United States a few years ago on the day of the New York Israel Day Parade. I headed straight for Central Park where I was greeted by a mass of Israeli flags, Israeli music and an almost overwhelming Jewish presence. I had to remind myself that I was in America and not celebrating Yom Haatzmaut in Israel!
I’ve just returned from another trip to the United States, this time there were no Israeli flags, but there was no shortage of Israel supporters. I attended AJC’s ACCESS conference in Washington D.C. where the focus of my track was Countering the Campaign against Israel’s Legitimacy. Despite this sombre focus, numerous outstanding speakers eloquently made the case for supporting and defending the State of Israel. Having recently acquired my Israeli citizenship I couldn’t help but feel humbled by the profound support expressed by the American Jewish community and by high profile Americans in general for the Jewish State. Witnessing such open and enthusiastic support beyond the Jewish community is especially moving for me, having grown up in a country where the government and media is often very hostile to Israel.
Reflections on South Africa’s Human Rights Day
This week South Africa commemorated Human Rights Day, this year marks 50 years since the inauspicious day on 21st March 1961 that became known as the Sharpeville Massacre. On this day, which has since been declared the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination by the United Nations, police shot dead 69 unarmed protestors and injuring 180 more who were protesting the carrying of the dompass, an identity document meant only for black South Africans.
This event proved to be a watershed in South Africa’s liberation struggle, it lead to widespread violence and bloodshed around the country, made international headlines around the world and culminated in the banning of black political parties a month later. In many respects it propelled Black South Africans’ struggle for freedom to a new stage in the struggle against Apartheid. The African National Congress (ANC) went undercover, many ANC members went into exile and the party’s military wing Umkhonto We Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) was established the following year. It would take 30 years however until the ultimate goal of establishing a democratic South Africa would be realised.
As Jews we are no strangers to poverty, having experienced it first-hand throughout our history. Even in recent times, the majority of today’s Jews, who now live in the United States or Israel, are the descendents of immigrants who often arrived in their respective countries with barely a cent to their name.
They worked hard to raise themselves and their families up the socio-economic ladder into positions of both influence and affluence. In just a few decades the Jewish people have by and large undergone a profound upheaval in their social status from a poor, nation-less people to a powerful minority group in the modern world. How did they do that? Was it their focus on education, luck or simply a lot of hard work and determination to succeed?