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Reviewed by:
  • Immigration to Israel: Sociological Perspectives
  • James Armstrong
Immigration to Israel: Sociological Perspectives, edited by Elazar Leshem and Judith Shuval. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1998. 569 pp. Selected bibliography. $49.95 (c); $24.95 (p).

This is the eighth volume in the Studies of Israeli Society publication series of the Israeli Sociological Society. As in previous volumes, the edition under review gathers together recent articles from a variety of professional journals. The focus of this collection is on recent trends in Israeli immigration covering the period from 1980 to 1995. During this period the most significant wave of newcomers came from the former Soviet Union, with almost 700,000 arriving between 1989 and 1995. Needless to say, this aliya has made a marked impact on Israeli society. Today almost 40 percent of the total Israeli Jewish population are immigrants. Russians have overtaken Moroccans as the largest “ethnic” group. The new immigrants, especially those from the former Soviet Union, have followed a different pattern of integration into the existing social and political framework of Israeli society than previous immigrants have. They brought with them professional skills and political savvy, making an almost immediate impact on the receiving society. Given the magnitude of immigration from the former Soviet Union it is understandable that they would receive the broadest coverage in this volume. Still, other groups, whose immigration and absorption diverge from past trends, such as the Ethiopians and Iranians, receive some coverage. The demographic, cultural, and political impact of recent immigration makes this is a timely contribution and a valuable addition to the libraries of everyone interested in understanding Israeli society. [End Page 129]

The essays are grouped in sections by category: two introductory chapters, followed by sections on Migrants in the Occupational Structure, Migration and Health, Formal and Informal Mechanisms of Integration, Ethnic Identities and Processes of Integration, and Processes of Emigration and Their Implications. The two introductory chapters, the only two original pieces, are especially valuable. In the first chapter the editors, Shuval and Leshem, provide a wide-ranging critical assessment of the last twenty years of the sociology of Israeli immigration. They contextualize current scholarship in the history of the development of Israeli sociology and within the theoretical framework of international scholarship on migration. I was pleased that, while not ignoring the uniqueness of some aspects of Israeli immigration patterns and immigrant integration, they acknowledge the comparability of Israel to other immigrant receiving societies. In the second introductory essay, DellaPergola provides a comprehensive view of the context Jewish migration patterns that is both globally comparative and particular to Israel as an immigrant receiving society. These two essays taken together provide a useful framework for the book.

As in most volumes of this nature, the twenty-two essays that follow are uneven in quality and usefulness. Some of the articles, because of their specialized subject matter or complex statistical methodology, will be of little interest to anyone but the few who share the authors’ particular expertise. Still, there is enough of general interest to preserve the utility of the volume. I was especially impressed with the section on Ethnic Identities. In particular, I found Kaplan and Rosen’s article on Ethiopian immigrants to be revealing. The authors provide an intriguing analysis of the history of the redefinition of Ethiopian Jewish ethnicity from Beta Israel to Ethiopian Jew in Ethiopia to Ethiopian Jewish Israeli. In this same section Goldstein’s article on how Iranian immigrants are consolidating their ethnicity by using definitional ceremonies is illustrative of the processes of identity formation of immigrant groups. Furthermore, this section provided general comparative data on the integration of a variety of immigrant groups.

I believe that American readers will find the section on Israeli emigration of general interest because the articles reveal the barriers to integration of Israelis into the American Jewish subculture. The dilemma of leaving Israel, the motivation for yerida, and the various forms of Israeli ethnicity that emerge in the American context inform the reader about both Israeli and American culture. Taken together they make for an interesting contrast to the previous section on identity formation in the Israeli context. This is especially true of the Shokeid article...

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