Asian Studies: Israel as a ‘Melting Pot’
On March 15th a seminar entitled ‘On the Twists of the Modernity’ took place at the HSE, where Yossi Tavor, First Secretary of the Embassy of Israel in Russia, read a lecture for the students of the HSE Faculty of Philosophy School of Asian Studies.
The seminar was organized by the HSE Faculty of Philosophy together with the Israeli Cultural Center, part of the Embassy of Israel in Moscow. The lecture by the diplomat, former TV and radio journalist, and observer of culture and art, Yossi Tavor entitled ‘The Melting Pot’ was dedicated to the creation of the modern Israeli society by Jews who were born and grew up in countries with totally different cultures.
Israel as a state was created in the mid-20th century, and people from Russia, Morocco, Tunisia, Canada, Germany and many other countries came there to become its citizens. It was not an abstract problem, how to feel united. Israel is a small country, its population today is about 7 million people, and in 1948, when the state was founded, there were only 600 thousand people. This means that in a half of century the population of Israel has grown ten times, and each new citizen has brought with him the culture of his country of origin.
The term ‘melting pot’ first appeared in the USA, where a united society with mutual values and ideas was created from the large numbers of immigrants. People from about 120 countries came to Israel, bringing about 90 different dialects and languages. How can we unite this mass of people to make them feel as one and to unite them behind one national idea? Is it possible to do this ‘from above’ or should everything happen in some natural, unforced, way?
Originally, when immigrants from Eastern countries rushed to Israel, migrants from Poland, Russia, Czech Republic and Germany looked down on them, and even treated them with some disdain. But these Eastern immigrants were the people who saved the Jewish culture, philosophy and poetry, and continued to create culture. ‘We were wise enough to listen to what was happening around us, to understand that the East is not of less interest than the West. And we in Israel tried to combine those two mentalities, since what unites us is our religion. A Jew from Warsaw or London celebrates the New Year of the Passover on the same day, and the Sabbath day is sacred for all Jews’, Yossi Tavor said. This means that such a complicated task could be solved through mutual belief. And this is exactly what happened. The Jewish people have been carrying their treasures with them all the time: they have been reading the Torah. And they had to come to the idea of consolidation, but independently, freely and naturally.
Yiddish – a European language spoken by Ashkenazi Jews – was eradicated in Israel. Everyone should talk only in Hebrew, according to the decision by the founding fathers of the state. And truly, only a common language can unite different people. Such a policy proved to be effective. People spoke Hebrew, wrote in Hebrew, prayed Hebrew… Hebrew has never been a dead language: even those who spoke Yiddish communicated in Hebrew. According to Yossi Tavor, everyone knew it since they studied the Torah.
So, was there a ‘melting pot’ in Israel? Yes and no. Something new genuinely appeared. But it was not a merger, but the mutual influence of cultures which kept their originality. Today a generation has grown up who feel the Israeli ground is their own. But many people remember the difficulties of the formation of the Israeli state and society. This is the topic of a documentary film which was shown in the end of the lecture. The film describes how difficult it was to accept others, how people from the East were discriminated against, and how in the 1970s the situation started to calm down. Those who were born in Israel demanded a different approach to themselves. As a result of the conflict between the two worlds, a new type of Israeli citizen appeared, called ‘Sabra’. ‘We are changing, we have become more technological and progressive, but less family-oriented. Should we mourn this? Yes and no, since the world is so dynamic', Yossi Tavor summarized.
— This meeting took place following a suggestion from the Cultural Center of the Embassy of Israel in Moscow. We eagerly accepted it, since experts in country studies trained at our Faculty’s School of Asian Studies, specialists in the history and culture of China, Japan, Arabian countries, should know the history and culture of other states of this region.
Israel is a country with an ancient culture which is quite close to us. It is necessary to know the Book of the Law of Moses. A researcher in Asian studies cannot succeed without a knowledge of the Torah, since, for example, it is hard to understand the Koran without it.
This seminar is planned to be part of an ongoing process. We already have an agreement with the Indian Embassy to organize a similar meeting with the Faculty’s students and teachers. This type of seminar is also important for the educational process. According to our plan, during the third year of study, students will have an opportunity to specialize in religious studies, and such meetings, of course, will be helpful for them.
Andrey Shcherbakov, HSE News Service