Saturday, February 18, 2012

Where Do The Children Play?

Lately I have been humming an old song by Cat Stevens. The song is called “Where do the children play?” If you don’t know/remember the song, you can listen to it on YouTube.  It is a great song, but what does it have to do with going back to Israel? Well, apparently it does.

The first verse is:

Where do you children "play?
Well I think it's fine building Jumbo planes.
Or taking a ride on a cosmic train.
Switch on summer from a slot machine.
Yes,  get what you want to, if you want,
Cause you can get anything.”

And the chorus:

I know we've come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?

The full lyrics, along with some listeners’ insights can be found here.

In the rush to experience America, develop a career, build a house and venture on sightseeing trips, we sometime overlook where our children play or grow…

Perhaps it is a bit outdated to want your children to adopt a culture and values similar to your own. Perhaps the world is changing, becoming more global. Perhaps our children should be “citizens of the world” rather than be bound to a specific country, or a nation.

As naive as it may sound, I assumed that our children would grow up as Israelis. Perhaps with an understanding there is a big world out there. But a culture is not something you inherit from your parents through genes. A culture is something that is built through education, experiences and the environment you grow up in.

Silicon Valley is in America – duh. When your children grow up in America and go through the public education system, they absorb the local flavor of American culture. If you want them to absorb a different culture – it takes a lot of hard work and time investment that can only be done by the parents, or specialized schools.

The Jewish American community has worked through the culture challenges and established a “system” that includes Sunday schools, Jewish K-12 schools, Jewish Universities, Jewish Youth movements (e.g. B’nai B’rith) and Jewish Community Centers (JCC). Even with that elaborate system, the rate of assimilation (i.e. “loss of Jewish identity) is quite high.

The Israeli community in America has ignored the issue for the most part. Most Israeli-Americans believe they will return to Israel “soon”, so there is no point investing in specialized education for their children. Lots of Israelis do return to Israel before their children grow up, and thus avoid the question of assimilation. However quite a few Israelis stay in the US much longer, only to realize that their children aren’t exactly “Israelis”.

A couple of months ago there was a series of TV ads sponsored by the Israeli ministry of absorption ( (משרד הקליטה. The ads called for Israelis abroad to “come home” and some of them emphasized the risk of children assimilation. There was uproar about those ads. Neither American Jews, nor American Israelis liked them. I suppose they touched a nerve that many prefer to ignore.

I hope that Israelis abroad would not take their children culture for granted. Spending time with other Israeli families, celebrating Passover, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are all great. So is the occasional visit to Israel to see the grandparents and cousins. However if you believe that this is enough to shape your children culture and heritage – then you should listen again to the song. And pay more attention to where you children “play”.


  1. This is a fascinating topic, but I believe it is a sub-set of a larger and more important one. The question of differentiation between Israeli Jews and all other Jews. There is, I believe, an unerasable difference between the two groups that comes from the difference between being a tiny minority (outsider) and an overwhelming majority. Just like the difference between being an African American and being an African, or the difference between being an Anglo-American and being an Anglo-African (Rhodesian / South African / etc.)

  2. The broader issue (as I see it) is related to relations between first and second generation immigrants. My focus has been on the cultural gaps between Israeli immigrants and their "American/Israelis" children. I am sure similar issues apply to Indian or Chinese immigrants for example. Yes, there are some issues/differences between Israelis and American Jews, but that's a whole other topic.