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Growth In – and Acceptance of – a Different Culture and System


Rachamim Schwab, Tel Tzion


Though I am now acclimated to the Israeli system, it was a gradual process. When I first got here as a bochur, I was basically living in a “little America.” I started out in a very American yeshivah (Derech); shiurim I attended were in English, and basically everyone I knew was an English speaker. It was only when I moved on to the Mir Yeshivah (where I was in Rav Asher Arieli's shiur) that I got to have a bit of an association with some Israelis. Living in Har Nof after getting married, and continuing to commute to learn in the Mir even after moving to Tel Tzion, enabled me to move out of my bubble bit by bit, as gradually more and more of my life was inside the Israeli system.

My real immersion into Israeli culture began when I transferred to a local Tel Tzion kollel, a branch of Rav Yaakov Hillel's Ahavat Shalom. At its peak, there were about fifty avreichim there, of which about 80% were Sephardi and only 20% Ashkenazi – somewhat reflecting the makeup of Tel Tzion at the time – and almost all Israeli. Most of my day I was speaking Hebrew – although I had never formally learned to speak it – in my clearly discernible accent, which will not go away! I must have sounded funny at times. Knowing my place and knowing how to be myself and holding my own hashkafos, while at the time having the space for everyone else with their different background, culture, mentality and worldview, was something I absolutely needed to learn.

The mahalach halimud (learning style) in that kollel was nothing like the Litvishe mahalach I was used to. I had no real safety net guiding me to learn the way I had been taught; this made me work so much harder and learn that much more on my own. I grew more in my five years in that kollel than in any comparable time period, except maybe when I first got to Mir.

For those whose only way to make it in Eretz Yisroel would be to live in these "out-of-town" type of places where rent is more affordable, I would strongly encourage them to look seriously into these many options, and not to give up on the amazing learning going on in Eretz Yisroel just because they can't afford to live in a place like Ramat Eshkol. They do need to realize and understand though that they are guests in someone else's kehillah and culture; in my experience this was actually an opportunity for growth.

My impression is that here in Eretz Yisroel it is easier than it is in America to make do with very little. I have a driver's license, but I never had a car or related expenses, as managing without a car is still possible here. There are a lot of things like that here.

One thing that makes it easier to make do with a lower level of gashmiyus is that here it's still considered normal. When we first moved to Tel Tzion, it was a less affluent crowd, and we were the “loaded Americans” who moved in. At the time, I was still an avreich in Mir, and we had basically nothing, but it's hard to feel bad about it when everyone in the building is looking at you as the “high roller.” B”H we made it for many years like that. Though in the vast majority of families I know here, both spouses work, for my wife it was important to be able to devote herself to our kids, and B”H we were able to manage that as well.

When I started out in kollel about fourteen years ago, a really well-paying kollel would pay $1000 a month, which was then about 4,000 shekels. Those kollelim were very hard to find. 1500 shekels was a normal kollel paycheck, and 2000 shekels was already impressive. My impression is that although every basic need went up in price – i.e. the price for chicken is almost double nowadays, and rent has obviously gone far up – the kollel paychecks stayed the same. With that amount of money, you can no longer do the things you could've done once upon a time.

We got to a stage in life where we had to see what we would do in terms of parnassah. We consulted with daas Torah and decided that the best thing for us would be to stay here in Eretz Yisroel and move out of kollel and into working, just to keep things going and make ends meet. On the advice of friends I taught myself programming, developing an expertise in a certain niche. I simultaneously started learning in a college program geared to Chareidim, although that didn't work out for me at the end.

Like many Americans, we may have had some issues with certain aspects of Israeli chinuch, but we did have the open-mindedness to realize that it's an entire system here, which includes both pros and cons relative to how things are done in America. Allowing our children to embrace what they were offered in terms of school friends and other such things, enabled us to give them a much healthier experience than if we would have been fighting the system.

From what I have seen, it seems that most of the families who fight to prevent their kids from becoming Israeli fight an uphill battle, end up suffering greatly, and even lose some kids in the process – they are not American enough to be American, and not Israeli enough to be Israeli.

Not fighting the system didn't mean that we ourselves couldn't be “American,” or that we had to change our own hashkafos; we were still able to be ourselves, but we accepted the fact that our children might act and conduct themselves differently than if they would have been growing up in America. B”H, my kids are having a great time in the mosdos here.

Working in Eretz Yisroel

At a certain point, as our family grew, it wasn’t just about making it through the month – we wouldn’t be able to cover our obligations to others if we didn’t figure out a way to increase our income. I joked to my wife, “I’m willing to be moiser nefesh for my learning, but I don’t get why the baal dira (landlord) also has to be.” B"H, I had rebbeim who understood my situation and who I was able to talk to for guidance.

I found a computer programming job in Tel Aviv for much of 2018. I had no issues with the chilonim (irreligious), who were generally respectful but very ignorant. And yes, I wore a hat and jacket to work… The only person who would notice if I dropped it was myself, as for the chilonim it was all just different modes of black and white, with the hat or without it... B”H I am now working near home, from a friend’s machsan (storage unit) which I converted into an office, for a foreign-based company.

I understand that a lot of people think that here in Eretz Yisroel, an avreich who leaves kollel for work is going to get it over the head; he'll have problems with the mosdos and is going to be looked at as weird. My own experience has not been like that; I have had absolutely nonegative social experiences from it. I'm not sure if that may be a product of where I live or who I am. At least where I live, there is a realization that people need some kind of a parnassah, and need to somehow make it and not burden themselves on the tzibbur.

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