My Haaretz Interview With Joel Schalit

Over at Haaretz I interviewed author Joel Schalit on the politics of being an Israeli in the Diaspora. While we covered many subjects, here is my favorite response from Joel:

Me: Do you consider yourself a ‘yored’? Or has the term become simply anachronistic?

Joel: No, I don’t. It’s intellectually and politically indefensible as an idea, especially if you take Zionism seriously, and understand how profoundly effective it has been as a form of political education. How can you ‘step down’, so to speak, if you carry Israel with you everywhere you go? How can one feel guilty about being apart from something that is inescapable?

This is Zionism’s inherent paradox: Israel is a state of mind as much as it is an undeniable physical reality. If we are not reminded of it allegorically, through worship, we are confronted by it nearly every day, in the form of tragedy, on the news. As that dreadful Eagles song, “Hotel California”, goes, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”

To read more of my interview, and please do, click here. Also keep your eyes out for my new Jewcy column (beginning September) which will explore the subject of Israelis living in the United States.


3 responses to “My Haaretz Interview With Joel Schalit

  1. You know, this was a very strange interview to present as one about Israeli-Americans. Schalit was distanced enough from Israel and from Israeli-Americans to write in Jerusalem Calling that he deliberately forgot the Hebrew language altogether. And his Web site tells us that he earned two-and-a-half degrees in religion — surely something that readers of his views on how being a yored affects his views on religion, deserved to know!

    Mr. Schalit is an interesting guy and I enjoy reading what he has to say. But it was strange to present it as typical or characteristic of Israelis abroad. It is easy to retort that nothing is typical of anyone and that everyone is unique. But the fact remains that there exist significant communities of Israeli-Americans and Israeli-Canadians in many cities. These communities are constructed of social ties, institutions, Hebrew-language newspapers, hanging out in certain places and in certain social circles. Mr. Schalit is not an example of these communities.

    It is nice that he is rediscovering and reanimating an Israeli-American or Israeli identity, but it is more fairly presented as a particular person rather than pretending that it applies to some abstract group of people that doesn’t really exist.

  2. great interview — I look forward to reading more of Roi’s writing, as well as Joel’s.

    If I can make a good thing even better, the joke about the Israelis in the elevator in New York lost something in translation. It actually goes like this: the elevator door opens in the Jewish Agency building in NYC and the person waiting for it asks the people inside: “Yordim (in Hebrew: “are you going down?”, but also, “are you Israelis who abandoned Israel, can’t hack it, etc.” )? They answer: “Lo, Mishtalmim” (no, we’re only here temporarily, doing a post-doc, etc.).

    Kol tuv,


  3. When it comes to Schalit’s work, Serge has a fairly selective memory that’s well-suited to his purposes. Especially in regards to Schalit’s Jerusalem Calling. At the end of the book, he confesses his failure to fully forget his Hebrew.

    I’d like to think that comments like Serge’s are a little more civil than what Isseroff did to Ben Yehuda, but in they end, they’re not. They’re just more deliberate and subtle fabrications than Isseroff’s balls-to-the-wall method.

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