Israelis love, love, love to tell me how much better and easier things are in America. Aside from several seriously well-informed Sabras who understand the challenges of American healthcare, college education, crime, gun violence, public transportation (or lack thereof), and anti-Semitism, a lot of people here just don’t get it. On the other hand, a lot of Israelis (including some who say America is better, in an act of serious cognitive dissonance) like to tell me how awful the food is, how naive the people are, and how fake everyone is in the U.S.
In the spirit of shedding light and dispelling myths, here’s my take on what’s better in America and what’s better in Israel.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
- America is the most diverse country on the planet. 430 languages are spoken in the U.S. There are hundreds of Protestant denominations alone- not to mention Catholics, Jews, Orthodox Christians of all varieties, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Bahai, Rastafarians, Mormons, and Native American religions. It’s extremely racially diverse- there are twice as many Asians in the U.S. as there are Israelis in the world. And seven times as many Latinos.
- Much more so than in Israel, Americans of different backgrounds work, play, pray, and learn together. On my high school soccer team, white Christian kids were a minority (and somehow almost all of them were blond!). Just on one team, off the top of my head 13 years later, we had kids from El Salvador, Korea, Iran, Israel (!), Georgia, Bulgaria, Peru, Cameroon, Brazil, Uruguay, Bolivia, Turkey, Russia, and a bunch of Jews. There were no organized co-existence activities- this was just our normal life!
- Pluralism. In the U.S., thanks to the separation of church and state, religion is a personal rather than a legal matter. This even benefits the Jewish community, where over the course of my life I became friends with Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, and even Haredi Jews. Are there debates between Jews? For sure. But the relationships between communities are much deeper in the U.S. than here and there is far, far less vitriol.
- Ethnic food. Yes, thanks to the tens of millions of immigrants from around the world, American food is amazing. I’m really sorry (not sorry) for my Israeli friend who posted about her office in Denver not providing her with suitable vegetables for breakfast (side note- nowhere I’ve been outside of Israel eats vegetables for breakfast). But the fact is, American food IS international food because we’re an international society. Don’t come to America expecting your (albeit delicious) Israeli cheeses, yogurts, and tomatoes for breakfast- that’s not what we do. But we do have immensely better, fresher, and cheaper Thai, Burmese, Indian (southern and northern), Vietnamese, Chinese, Mexican, Salvadoran, Cuban, Laotian, Korean, Nepali, Japanese, etc etc. Not to mention the best Jewish deli food in the world. The point is that unlike in Israel, where I grew up, these are not seen as exotic tastes of foreign lands. They become part of our diet and become American food. When I spent a summer in Spain, I didn’t miss hamburgers. I missed Chinese food.
ERETZ YISRAEL YAFFA – THE BEAUTIFUL LAND OF ISRAEL
- Healthcare – I’ve already written a blog about this which I recommend reading. Israeli health spending per capita is $2910 and in the U.S. it’s $9403. The number one reason for bankruptcy in the U.S. is medical expenses. Just two years ago, I had to spend $20,000 on medical care in one year- in addition to the $500/month I spent on medical and dental insurance. Israel’s healthcare system is ranked 4th for efficiency- the U.S. is ranked 46th. My friend Dave is battling a brain tumor and has to raise $68,000 for treatment, something unthinkable in Israel. Please consider donating (and stop whining about Israel’s healthcare).
- College education – in the U.S., college education ranges from about $9410-$32,410 a year. And that doesn’t include thousands more dollars for housing or food. Some schools like Bates are charging over $60,000. The better the school, the better the job prospects. Israeli tuition is about…$3000 a year. Pretty sweet.
- Fresh produce – yes I just touted American food, which is amazing. Truth be told, the fruits and veggies here are better. Perhaps because Israel is small and doesn’t ship grapes from California to New York, the produce is super fresh and extremely tasty. Other than farmers markets, fruit in America tastes watery. In Israel, it is full of flavor, inexpensive, and delicious.
- Weather – this depends on where you are in the U.S. (I’m looking at you beautiful San Diego), but at least compared to D.C., the weather in Israel is much nicer. Yes it can get very hot, but there is a beach. There are beautiful rural places to escape to with nice breezes. When there is three feet of snow on the ground during a D.C. blizzard, Tel Aviv is 60 degrees Fahrenheit on a February day.
- Caring for one another – this might surprise Israelis, but I find Israelis to be much more willing to trust one another and to help one another than Americans. I regularly see people step up and help people who are sick, lost, in need of a place to stay, etc- even if they’ve never met them. These are things that would usually be met with suspicion in America, but here are totally normal. If you have nowhere to go on Friday night for Shabbat, just tell someone and you’ll be eating a warm meal before you can remember their name.
- Judaism – yes, the U.S. is pluralistic with a much bigger Reform community than Israel, but the fact remains that the entire country here is a synagogue. When I walked down the street today, my friend and I heard a shofar. There is biblical graffiti everywhere- done by hipsters. My favorite Israeli dancing songs play on juice bar stereos. All of my holidays are government holidays. I can go to the Western Wall in Jerusalem in the morning and a gay Orthodox Torah study in Tel Aviv at night. There is also unparalleled Jewish cultural diversity (and food!) here- with Jews from dozens of countries represented. My identity is validated over and over and over again even in ways Sabras don’t recognize. Here, I am normal.
We won’t even get into the economics of things, because while Israelis decry how much more Americans make, the fact is things are a bit more complicated. The average Israeli household earns a net income of $56,892 a year. In the U.S., the figure is $55,775. For sure, there’s variation by region and industry, and there are different tax burdens. But the point is- not all Americans are rich (most aren’t) and especially when you consider that significant sectors within Haredi and Arab societies here don’t work, there’s not as much of a gap between Americans and Israelis as some people here think.
In the end, I’m not writing this blog to declare victory or to engage in endless debate. That feels a waste. There are beautiful things in America and beautiful things here. And shitty things in both places. And I could give many more examples of both.
I chose to be here not because it would be easy, although in some ways it is easier than America. I made aliyah because it would be meaningful, it would be validating, and it would be inspiring. In short, because I think it’ll make me happy. Much like this famous scene from Monty Python, let’s not bicker about who’s right. Let’s just respect each other’s choices, including mine to become an Israeli. Because in the end, I’m not asking for your approval or your advice. I’m here.