For those of you who read my last post, I spent a lot of time talking about Givat Shmuel’s evolution into what it is today, which had a few of you scratching your heads, asking: “Who cares? So what if there was this big schism in 2010? Does ‘community cohesiveness’ actually matter?”
In this post, we’re going to take a step back and address the underlying and fundamental question that frames everything the GSC does and the reason any of us are in Givat Shmuel to begin with: “Why do we even need a community?”
[DISCLAIMER: This post has not been approved by the Nonprofit’s leadership, and solely represents the views of the author.]
Determining “Communal Need”
Google defines community as “a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals”. In simpler terms, communities exist to bring like-minded people together so that they can succeed.
“Wait a minute”, you already interject. “I have nothing in common with half these schmucks in Givat Shmuel!” At a quick glance, you seem right: students have different interests than those of young families, and soldiers different needs than those of single professionals. However, this superficial analysis ignores most important unifier there is in this country – we are all lone olim!
Many of us came to Israel without our families, the majority barely speaking a word of Hebrew. Absolutely none of us were prepared to handle the mindf*ck called Israeli bureaucracy. Without the know-how or protexia to grease the wheels when things went wrong, most of the first wave of Gabash Anglos got screwed: we missed the deadline for converting our driver’s licenses, we didn’t graduate on time for lacking certain prerequisites (the Musagei Yesod test, anyone?), we got arrested by Military Police for not having the proper exemptions, and we had our assets frozen after our Bituach Leumi bills kept being sent to our former gap-year programs. Yet these mishaps, in addition to providing colorful anecdotes at Shabbat meals, birthed a communal consciousness, a collective knowledge we gladly passed on to newcomers under the slogan “learn from our mistakes.” As we advanced in Israel, our know-how and helpfulness expanded: we could offer tips for dealing with the Rabbinate, give advice on navigating children’s schools, provide connections for job placement, and more!
For a while, our knowledge-based version of protexia acted as sort of an extended family; we looked after each other as our own and put aside our differences to band against the adversity inherent in the Klita experience. Admittedly, I’m still pining for those days – where commonality was set aside for brotherhood, and everyone explicitly had each others backs. But that’s only one possible manifestation of communal functionality, and its core definition still remains: a successful community is one which provides support for its members in times of need. We don’t have to be best friends.
The Model Works
Sure, I can wax poetic all I want, but to some, they’re still empty platitudes. Let us digress to the simple statistic that makes Givat Shmuel unique:
We have the lowest rate of failed Aliyah – people who after a year or two call it quits and move back to their hometowns – in the country!
This shouldn’t be surprising: the number one quoted reason for Olim ‘giving up’ is their lack of a support system. Why would someone in their right mind leave all of their family and friends behind and move to a country where the culture, the rules, and even the language is so utterly foreign? Yet, as soon as someone integrates into a ‘community’ and gains not just friends, but people he or she can truly rely on, suddenly that person has the strength, the tools, and dare I say the endurance to grab Israel’s bureaucracy by the horns and battle on.
This is why Nefesh b’Nefesh has been such a staunch partner these last few years, and why so many other organizations take an active interest in Givat Shmuel. In a country almost devoid of community – political and synagogue affiliation aside – we’ve done the near-impossible, and we’ve done it way better than anyone else.
A Community of Recluses
What of ye naysayers, the ones who sees the value of Givat Shmuel’s community for others, but feel yourselves immune to the need? For you, I share a radical thought: you’re a part of us, regardless!
The fact that you have your social clique, your go-to meals, your study buddies, and playdates for your kids is due to the community in Givat Shmuel. That you can post to Camp Bar Ilan (or Women of, or Sam’s Hill), and get last minute Shabbat meals, class notes, babysitters, hand-me-down furniture, and job leads are proof! It is enough that you choose to call this city your home.
No one is forcing you to buddy up with those you share no common interests. Diversity is actually a sign of a large and healthy community. But I do have one small request:
Stop being an ass about it!
Sadly, in recent months more and more Gabashers have been shunning the greater community, either ignorant or uncaring about the harm they do to the social fabric on which we all unwittingly rely. These people slowly turn their cliques into insulated bubbles, gladly reaching outward when they need something, but refusing to reciprocate the goodwill.
Just last week, I heard the following anecdote. After finally getting married and moving into a new apartment, this person (let’s call her Allison) and her husband decided to host their first Pesach in Givat Shmuel. Knowing the amount of Anglos always searching for last minute holiday plans – remember, most have no family in Israel on whom to rely – Allison posted on Facebook and offered a meal for whoever still didn’t have a place. Shortly thereafter, Allison received a message from a close friend – herself someone who quite often was in search of meal-hosts when she first came to the area – commending her for her “courage.”
That’s right, readers – in this era of Givat Shmuel life, some people believe you need to be courageous to invite people you don’t know over for a meal! They feel no responsibility for other community members, and express no gratitude to even those who have helped them personally get to where they are today. The success of the Givat Shmuel Anglo community has made these people spoiled with indifference.
The good news is that things don’t need to stay this way.
Reversing the Trend of Indifference
Someone recently asked me, why, if the GSC’s goal is to empower its members with the knowledge to succeed, do we waste so much time on social events “geared towards making everybody friends”. In my mind, the answer was simple: by encouraging people to expand their social circles, we’re able to strengthen the camaraderie shared among community members. When you acknowledge the ‘other’, you’re suddenly that much more receptive to lending them a helping hand.
In many ways, we are fighting a trend of apathy that victimizes Givat Shmuel for its success, and it is a long and upward battle to rebuild the trust and fellowship that was once shared by the various demographics. But, it is one that we are committed to fighting.
So live in your bubble, stay in your insulated friend groups, and ignore any Facebook posts from people you don’t know. Right now, you can afford to do this because you’re still a part of a strong community that, like a Jewish mother, loves you no matter how much she bitches about your life decisions. Rest assured, that while you’re fragmenting and pulling away, The GSC is doing everything to fill in for you and still provide you and everyone else in the community the tools they need to succeed.
And, maybe one day you’ll wake up and realize that you are a part of the community. You’ll recognize that our successes are your successes. Perhaps, you’ll even decide to pay it forward and lend support to the next wave of lost Anglos that wash up on Givat Shmuel’s metaphorical shores, just as you yourself were supported. If, nay – when that happens, we’ll still be here, ready to accept you with open arms as you help to define what community can mean.
Dovid Levine is a long-time resident of Givat Shmuel. When he isn’t alienating his friends with condemning diatribes, Dovid volunteers for the GSC, and is determined to continue until he dies of (most-likely) sleep deprivation.
Please send your thoughts on the content of the article or topics for future posts to him directly at [email protected].