While there are plenty of political and social issues involving Israel, in the country itself there is hardly any discrimination, racism, or hatred that is directed at any specific group. This results for the most part from the fact that in order to immigrate to Israel, you have to be Jewish. While there are Israeli Arabs who were granted citizenship when Israel declared independence in 1948, the fact that almost all of the country is Jewish creates a fairly level playing field for most. There are Ashkenazi Jews from Europe, Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews from the Middle East and Spain, Ethiopian Jews, and Latin American Jews all living together.
Among all of these groups I feel relatively comfortable and at home. As someone of Ashkenazi Jewish descent who grew up around Mizrahi and Sephardic Jews at summer camp, coming to Israel I believed that I wouldn’t experience a culture shock when it came to Israelis. However, through my time here, I have found that there is one particular group of Israelis that I have experienced a certain culture shock around. In the 1990’s, after the fall of the Soviet Union and an agreement between Mikhail Gorbachev and Shimon Peres, almost one million Jews immigrated to Israel from the Former Soviet Union. This changed the state of Israel forever.
Russian-speaking Israelis have been one of the main sources of the success of the country as a “Start Up Nation.” Jews from the Former Soviet Union arrived in Israel with advanced degrees in science and technology and quickly flourished in the new capitalist nation they found themselves in. A large proportion of the highly successful tech companies in Israel are founded and run by Russian-speaking Israelis, and the language most often heard spoken among doctors all across the country is Russian. As a result of the size and success of the immigration of Jews from the Former Soviet Union to Israel, across the country there are whole towns with store signs only in Russian, Russian newspapers, Russian television, and Russian as the primary language.
For me, I am comfortable hearing Hebrew and with Israeli culture because it is something I grew up around. However, after spending some time in one of these cities with a heavily Russian population I found myself feeling outside of my comfort zone. I was not used to hearing the Russian language, or seeing Russian shop signs, or eating Russian food. Going into an Israeli restaurant I can count on the fact that most, if not all, of the employees will be able to speak English. Going into a Russian-speaking Israeli restaurant I found that this was not the case, and that I had to use my Hebrew skills as the common denominator. This experience helped reshape my idea of what it means to be Israeli, and the showed me the cultural diversity that exists in this country.