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Being Proud of Who I Am


Yaakov L., Kiryat Sefer, Modi'in Illit


I entirely identify myself as part of the Israeli Chareidi community. I am also an immigrant from the U.S.—I first came here to learn in yeshivah only after getting a college degree—and am identified also as such.

My rebbi told me in the name of Rav Hutner, zt”l, that all immigrants to Eretz Yisroel are a “transition generation.” We decided to go through a transition from the way we grew up into a different kind of life that we now wish to lead. This is not to say that we grew up with anything inherently "bad”: we just want something else for our children. We want them to be sheltered from what we were exposed to in the old country. We want to give them the opportunity to grow to greater spiritual heights than we were able to obtain.

An outcome of being 'transitional' is that we will always be somewhat of an outsider to the community. We will never be a natural part of the country, but our children will. Therefore, it is not worthwhile to raise our children here in the Israeli environment as Americans with an American philosophy and method of education. Parents who insist on doing so are often found badmouthing the country and the educational system here, and by doing so they inject poison into the integration process of their children. This is regardless of the fact that there may be challenges in the Israeli environment that we wouldn't have had in America.

Integration is of the utmost importance. If you feel you cannot integrate into the Chareidi community here (it is harder and there are more obstacles), you may consider other communities you are more compatible with. For example, a fine community within the Dati Leumi (National Religious) does exist. Weigh the pros and cons, and make an informed decision based on real data and evidence. Whatever community you are researching, look at how the next generation emerges from it and decide if that's how you are comfortable envisioning your children. There is more polarization here between Chareidi and Dati Leumi, and if you don't decide, your children will have to deal with a lot of confusion.

My identity as an American—my accent, behavior, outlook and mannerisms—will never go away, but my Israeli children are not at all disgraced by it. To the contrary—with HaShem's help, I have instilled in my children a feeling of being proud of who I am, which includes being an American.

For the guidance that will always be necessary, I have found it to be of crucial importance to find an American rav who lives in Eretz Yisroel and understands the system here from the “inside.” The fact that a rav is familiar with my own American mentality and background is simply not enough.

About twelve years after moving to Eretz Yisroel, I went through another transition. Up until then I was learning in kollel full-time. We had several children, lived economically, and were financially supported by our parents. My wife didn't work, and the time came when it was appropriate for me to pursue parnassah opportunities, while continuing a half-day of learning.

As it had been several years since I had finished college in the US, I felt I needed to “refresh” my credentials here before going into the working world. I went to Tel Aviv University, taking afternoon graduate courses that were designed for people who were working in the mornings. This allowed me to keep a half-day learning schedule, learning iyun in kollel in the mornings. I didn't go all the way to getting a PhD, because the process is much more involved and difficult here, being impossible to pursue while running a big family and a half-day learning schedule.

At the university, I met someone looking for a freelance engineer. This unique opportunity allowed me to work from my own office near my home in Kiryat Sefer, while I would go in once a week to submit the results of my work. Over the course of the next twenty-five years, I went from job to job, getting higher-level security jobs for major companies like Elbit. This required me going out to work away from my home and the sheltered Chareidi community, into an entirely chiloni (irreligious) Israeli environment.

The Jewish character of this country does have an influence: Jewish holidays are off-days, and in many cases my employers will be fine with me taking off for Chol HaMoed as well. But one must be aware of other aspects of the secular work culture and be equipped and properly prepared to deal with the challenges (which would exist in the US as well). In this regard, it is important to always be in touch with a posek.

There are issues beyond basic halachah, such as social interaction with the people at work, especially with members of the opposite gender. This is something that the secular do not understand. I have found that avoiding the cafeteria saves me a lot of trouble.

People here are very opinionated, and they feel they must express their opinions to their coworkers. These opinions are influenced by strong anti-religious undercurrents and by the media portraying Chareidim in a terrible way—whether by focusing on individuals not acting properly, or by just grossly misinterpreting events—so I don't feel a need to “justify the Chareidim.” Especially in such a setting, I find that it's important to feel—and give over the feeling—that I'm proud about who I am and how I identify myself.

Unofficial Spokesman

Chareidim have made much progress over the last few years including in terms of natural growth and political power. This has sometimes caused my chiloni (irreligious) coworkers to express strong anti-religious sentiments. Much of this comes from their emotion, and I make it very clear that I will not tolerate this.

I have learned that there are some issues which are absolutely forbidden to discuss with them, as such discussions will never be productive. This includes issues such as Chareidim not serving in the army and not celebrating Yom HaAtzma'ut [Israeli Independence Day]. I tell them I understand where they are coming from, and I offer to host them for a Shabbos and we'll have the whole day to talk about it. No one has ever taken me up on the offer, but it does keep them quiet.

Though rare, they sometimes express genuine interest in learning about Chareidi culture. When I married off two boys within one month, I was asked how the Chareidi shidduch process works. Likewise, when I was learning Menachos I was asked what it is that I am learning, so I explained it to them a bit.

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