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Diaspora 4:3 1995 Gender and Social Capital among Israeli Immigrants in Los Angeles Steven J. Gold Michigan State University 1. Introduction According to the 1990 census, approximately 90,000 Israelis reside in the United States. While this constitutes a relatively small community in comparison to many other foreign-born populations, the percentage of the entire Israeli population who now live in the United States (close to 1%) is similar to that of other major sources of migration, including Taiwan, the Philippines, Korea, and Vietnam (Y. Cohen 267). Because of their long and self-conscious existence as a diaspora community and their layers ofinvolvement with overlapping ethnic, religious, and national identification, the phenomenon ofIsraeli immigrants residing in the United States offers an ideal opportunity for examining how transnational identities are defined and elaborated within a complex web of meanings, historical events, and structures of opportunity (Safran 83-84). This essay explores the experience of Israelis in the United States and pays special attention to the ways in which Israeli women develop networks in order to cope with the domestic responsibilities and sense of social isolation they commonly encounter as immigrant women. The Origins of Israel's Population. The term diaspora originally referred to the dispersion of the Jews. During that dispersion, Jerusalem remained the symbolic center of Jewish life and Judaic discourse, and the phrase "Next year in Jerusalem" was an emblem of the aspiration to return. While Zionist Jews began migrating to Palestine in the late nineteenth century, it was not until 1948 (when the state of Israel was formed) that members of the world Jewish community had a tangible opportunity to leave the diaspora for the land of Israel. Despite a sizable "ingathering of exiles" into the Jewish state, Jews in general and Israelis in particular hold divergent interpretations regarding the political, religious, and national meaning of Israel , and a majority of world Jewry continues to reside outside of the Jewish state. Israeli biblical scholar Etan Levine asserts that the establishment of the Jewish homeland generated "the Israel di- Diaspora 4:3 1995 lemma" (7-8): how can Jews learn to invest the meanings they have long associated with symbolic Israel in a real nation? For political Zionists, Israel is a place where Jews can cease to be a minority group and defend against the anti-Semitism that has plagued them for centuries. Others identify with the setting as the fulfillment ofa biblical promise (S. Cohen, "Israel"). There are even sects that reside within the nation's borders yet refuse to acknowledge it as a political entity because they believe that the nation of Israel can form only after the return of the Messiah. An examination of the origins of Israel's population since 1948 suggests that most came because Israel offered immediate asylum for Jews who lacked other options. The largest fraction of Israelis hail from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East. They came because political developments in their countries of origin forced them out. In contrast, relatively few of the millions of Jews in the more secure and affluent nations of the United States, Canada , and Western Europe made Aliyah (moved to Israel). Of the approximately 1.5 million Jewish immigrants who settled in Israel between 1948 and 1972, 86% came from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Middle East, or Asia, while only 12.3% came from Western Europe or the Americas (Greenberg 47). Between 1948 and 1985, about 70,000 Americans (about 1% of all American Jews) moved to Israel as temporary or permanent residents (P. Herman, "A Technique" 84). Further suggesting Israel's status as a location of temporary residence is the steady stream who have left the Jewish state for other countries. This group accounts for about 20% of the number who have entered Israel from 1948 to 1976 (Greenberg 49). Demographer Sergio DellaPergola has shown that the post-World War II migration of Jews has generally followed a pattern of movement from less developed areas of the world to more economically advanced regions, indicating that economic improvement ranks with nationalism as a major force behind Jewish migration. Since the United States and other western nations are more developed economically than...


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pp. 267-301
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