The ethnic, national, and racial diversity in the Ulpan (intensive Hebrew) class I attended shortly after becoming a citizen of Israel, is a legacy of the cultural diversity and far-flung nature of the Jewish Diaspora: it is said that Jews have come to modern Israel from 103 countries and speak more than 70 different languages. In my class alone, there are Jews from Ethiopia, Peru, Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, Russia, Belarus, Moldova, the UK, Italy, Germany, and the U.S.
In addition, other nationalities represented in this global melting pot of Israel are Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Algeria, Tunisia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Libya, Syria, India, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Canada, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, South Africa, and others.
Because our instructor used English while conducting class, she would, throughout the day, when explaining something of special importance, often ask the Russian speakers in the class who are fluent enough in English to translate what she said for the Russian non-English speakers, and would ask the same of the Spanish speakers. In the case of those who speak other languages that don’t have a companion national compatriot in class, they had nobody else to rely on other than whatever little English they knew and whatever body language and other non-verbal communication the instructor used. For instance, the Ethiopian in our class, Hanoch, who spoke hardly any English, had nobody else in class to ask for assistance, as nobody speaks his native language of Amharic.
However, on the first day of class, when we were all gathered into the assembly room for an introduction to the Ulpan and to the staff, and we sang Hatikvah, Hiney Ma Tov, and Oseh Shalom, almost everyone was familiar enough with the tradition and spirit of the songs, if not the Hebrew lyrics, that it was as if we were all speaking the same language – the language of the dream we all had to live in Israel, to make Aliyah, and to fulfill the ideals articulated in Hatikvah of being “a free people in a free land.”
The unity of the Jewish nation, which often eludes many Jews and non-Jews alike, the common narrative we share – despite our differing languages, cultures, religious affiliations, and nationalities – of thousands of years of struggles, dreams, and destiny, makes Israel, by almost any measurement, among the more unified nations in the world.
(Indeed, in a 2009 survey, 88% of Israel’s Jews said they were proud to be Israeli, and 95% of them were willing to fight for their country, according to the patriotism survey, making Israel among the most patriotic nations in the world. Indeed, such results places Israel second only to the United States in surveys measuring patriotism and overall sense of national purpose. While Israelis, like citizens in all countries, differ on my things, there simply is no crisis in Israel on the meaning and significance of being an Israeli.)