Opinion

What’s So Bad About Assimilation?

Lucy Aharish and Tzachi Halevy may actually spawn a much more moral and civilized race than the one that has arisen here so far

Lucy Aharish and actor Tzachi Halevy at their wedding party, Hadera, October 11, 2018
\ STRINGER/ REUTERS

The fear of assimilation is something we’ve all imbibed with our mothers’ milk. Annihilation, destruction, Auschwitz, something like that. Even as proud Israelis with our own country and army, many among us were afraid to enter a church. Long before the latest wave of religious coercion while we were still fearfully kissing bibles that had fallen on the floor, we the children of the false secularism of Tel Aviv would sometimes play with fire: We’d cross ourselves, sort of as a joke. It was a test of courage and test of fate, no less than jumping from a roof or touching the flame of a burning candle.

On Jaffa’s Yefet Street there’s a threatening school, and we were told it belonged to the “Missionaries.” Missionaries then sounded like the Gestapo. Whenever we’d walk pass it, even when we were already a little older, we would fearfully ponder what was going on within its walls. There was a rumor that a child from our school went there and was never heard from again. We never forgave. We suspected his parents of being Christians. It really frightened us.

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That’s how we grew up, the first generation of the rebirth of the Jewish state – that’s how they brainwashed us with fear. We were never taught a single word of the New Testament. Impurity. “The Narrow Path: The Man from Nazareth” by Aaron Abraham Kabak was the only sliver of information we got about Jesus in the secular, liberal, official school curriculum, long before the advent of Naftali Bennett. We of course heard nothing at all about Islam or the Koran. When Arela (Rela), the daughter of a close friend of my mother’s and a cousin of Benjamin Netanyahu’s, married Donny in San Francisco, we said, it’s not so bad, Donny is nice despite his being a gentile. That’s the way we were.

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We’ve grown up since then and gotten more powerful. Israeliness took root in the country, the world went global, and weddings with gentiles become more common and less threatening at least among a substantial minority of liberals. But the national narrative stayed the same: Mixed marriages are an existential threat, assimilation means destruction. We don’t need an excoriating Oren Hazan to understand how deeply rooted this narrative remains in the Jewish Israeli experience. Ask almost any parent, including most of those who regard themselves as enlightened and secular, and they’ll reply that they’d “prefer” that their son marry a Jewish woman. Why, for God’s sake?

The opposition to assimilation is racist and purely nationalistic. Again it’s the superior and pure Jewish blood that mustn’t be mixed, heaven forbid, with any Christian, Muslim or other impurity. After a long history living as a minority under threat, the people can’t shake that survival instinct. But let’s advance on step and ask: What for?

The state of Israel is the embodiment of Judaism and its values. Here the Jews are a majority, they’re the sovereign, there’s nothing to stop them from achieving their wishes.

If Israel were a model society or moral country, we could understand the need for the struggle against assimilation for the sake of preserving lofty values. But look at the disaster: Gentile Canada has in the past year absorbed some 3,000 Eritrean asylum seekers fleeing Israel where they were shamefully rejected. Netta Ahituv recently described with what humanity the unchosen country has treated them, and what memories they have of the Chosen Land (Haaretz, September 21). That’s just one example.

Is the struggle against assimilation a struggle to preserve Jewish values as they’ve been realized in Israel? If so, then it would be best to abandon that battle. The gefilte fish and hreime (spicy sauce), the bible, religion and heritage, can be preserved in mixed marriages as well. While Western countries are becoming multi-cultural and mixed marriages routine, here we fight against any mixing. We view it as an existential threat, with one of the ministers even threatening the children of mixed unions.

The Jewish state has already crystallized an identity, which can only be enriched by assimilation, which is a normal, healthy process. Lucy Aharish and Tzachi Halevy may actually spawn a much more moral and civilized race than the one that has arisen here so far.