June 5, 2012
Communication and Migration: Re-insertion in a new Jewish community
In an increasingly globalized world, migration has become a common and ever-changing topic. Reinsertion into a new community, a process that is not always easy either for the migrants or the communities involved, is a key issue in terms of bonding and identity.
The following article contains some tips on how to pass through this process swiftly and harmoniously by opening up opportunities for dialogue and cooperation.
by Daniela Rusowsky
Emigration is a situation that may give rise to elevated stress levels, both in terms of the complexity of the logistics implied by moving house, and of the associated emotional factors. Moving implies severing ties with our past and forming new ones in a place, which, in many cases, is totally unfamiliar. The search for people with whom one has something in common, be it the language, country of origin, religion or profession, is key in putting together a social and emotional network that is vital for one to feel at home.
Migration is no new phenomenon for the Jewish people, whose history was sown with tales of exodus and return from Biblical times onwards. One key factor in their survival throughout history is the existence of communitarian organizations and solidarity networks. For centuries, communities and other organizations associated with Jewish life have come up with mechanisms of integration into and adaptation to different social and cultural situations. These kinds of dynamics have played a key role in the process of integration of migrants, whether they are just passing through, i.e. people moving due to temporary circumstances, or seeking to build a new home on a permanent basis.
But as in all human groups, where there are similarities there are also differences dating back to Biblical times, when different religious practices already existed among the Israelites. For navigating the waters of community life, it is recommendable to use your common sense and intuition. Certain key pieces of advice can make reinsertion into a community an enriching experience, helping to avoid frustrating situations that might open up unnecessary wounds in moments of great emotional vulnerability.
Migrants and visitors
Every community faces different migratory realities. Certain small communities located in isolated areas suffer from a continuous decline in the number of their members and need to attract new participants in their community life. Others, by contrast, experience an active, massive, and dynamic process of migration that is difficult to handle at times. Whatever a community’s situation, the rotation of its members is something that exists and that must be approached in a strategic manner and with vision to the future.
Before setting up an integration plan, communities should identify the characteristics of their potential new members: whether they will be permanent or transitory visitors, whether secular or practicing, whether they strictly observe the kashrut or not, Whether they are families or singles, whether they speak the language, and taking into consideration which are their interests outside community life. This information is key for understanding the needs of potential members in order to integrate them into community life and discover the ways in which they can contribute to it.
Some communities may already have a significant throughput of visitors, for example in connection with tourism. Whether on business or pleasure trips, many seek out for a synagogue where they can attend a religious service, while others are interested in learning about places of interest in Jewish history, museums or in cultural activities. Access to information on opening hours and religious services, security features, and a brief description of the religious affiliation of the synagogue can be very useful in drawing visitors and making them feel welcome. Having access to the communitarian cultural agenda can also be attractive for visitors. Some cities have internet portals featuring information on tourism, including contact details and the time schedules of religious services of different credos.
A database of families willing to provide people with accommodation or invite them to a Shabbat supper may also be created . Some communities organize community kiddush, where attendees can meet after service in a relaxed social environment, and where the rabbi (or rabbis) customarily receive visitors and introduce them to other members with common interests. Some communities receive visits from “seasonal” members every year, who, although they do not always become members, usually contribute a voluntary donation and receive the title of “honorary members.” This is also a delicate gesture to show appreciation for one’s presence in the community and to strengthen one’s ties with it. There are communities that also offer the status of honorary member to people moving away, thereby leaving the door open in the event of their return.
Communities that receive waves of migration have organized networks of social assistance and absorption. Social networking meetings, professional contact networks, grants and funds available involving projects for new arrivals and integration courses, are options that communities might want to consider placing as part of their offer for new members. In some cases, free or discounted memberships are an incentive for the first year of belonging to a Jewish organization. Affording people the possibility of forming part of community work groups can also favor participation. Many migrants are shy or reluctant to participate in community life for fear of being excluded.
One of the most frequent mistakes communities make when they receive migrants is to block off channels of institutional support, overlooking the fact that – whether economic pressures are present or not - the stress of moving tends to severely overwhelm people and affect their integration skills. Affording the migrant access to emotional support is key in this process. Sometimes a simple phone call or personal email can make all the difference in helping someone to feel integrated and valued. A group of volunteers interested in providing help in the form of simple services like a day of babysitting, helping to unpack boxes, translating documents, an afternoon of legal orientation, an invitation to supper, or a phone call inviting a person to come along to a cultural event – all these things can make a difference in times of great stress.
Announcing a visit
Luckily, most waves of Jewish migration are not the fruit of a sudden persecutory attack, where there is no time to pack, or to get informed on one’s next destination. On the contrary, most migrations are motivated by searching new work-related or academic horizons. And thanks to present-day information and communications technologies, it is possible to learn the facts very much in advance and prepare for one’s arrival.
It is advisable to surf the web, make a selection of institutions of interest, and get in contact with them by phone or email, even months ahead of moving to a new destination. This initial approach can help resolve problems of a practical nature – like how to reserve a place in a school or sign up for a language course – and will help you to get an idea of the receptivity of that community, while facilitating the insertion process. These initial, long-distance ties are key in setting up face-to-face meetings – because somehow they create the feeling of already having met.
Most community institutions have their own web site that gives one some idea of the profile of these congregations, but a web site does not always fully reflect the reality, which in some cases may change relatively swiftly, especially in cases where there is frequent rotation in the membership. There is no reason to be afraid of personally visiting several communities before becoming affiliated with one, in order to avoid becoming committed prematurely to a community in which, after a time, you do not feel comfortable. Never forget that it is the new arrivals who must adapt to their new community and not the other way around.
Those travelling to small places where there is only one community, will doubtless be welcome, since such communities need new members in order to ensure their survival over time, but one also require extra effort in terms of integrating into their communitarian culture. Small and isolated communities involve tight bonds that are difficult to penetrate; one therefore has to go one step at a time without trying to force this process, which may take years to consolidate, but after which time profound, lasting ties are forged.
Communities – usually though their web portals – offer information on courses, schools, activities for children and young people, cultural events, sports centers, and in some cases assistance with submitting documents or administrative procedures. Getting an idea of these kinds of services on offer, or even signing up for an interesting course, can make the start-up of your new routine easier , as long as you take care not to overload your schedule of activities. The first weeks or even months of adaptation usually require a heavy load of activities for organizing everyday life. In some countries new arrivals are required by law to register with the local police or the municipality, to register with a primary care physician and sign up with the tax, immigration or social security offices.
Getting some idea of the location and how to access synagogues, community centers, and schools via public transport can be a good departure point in the search for housing. Not everyone is interested in maintaining a religious affiliation, but communities usually offer activities of interest for different age groups, making them a good alternative for establishing contact networks and opening up new social and professional ties.
People with children should anticipate the difficulty in many places of getting a place in a day care center or public school. Jewish education centers, although mostly private, usually offer support to families with economic limitations. Jewish schools are a good option academically speaking and open up the doors to getting to know other Jewish families with similar interests. Other parents possibly also live in areas with easy access to the school, synagogue or community center, or may provide sound orientation on day-to-day issues. A good tip is to hold off making a decision on a place of residence for a couple of months, rent a furnished place, and evaluate on-site which neighborhood is most accommodating for you in terms of logistics, social networks and budget.
Participation is the key word for successful integration. When looking for groups of like-minded people, social networks are a good place to start. Subscribing to community newsletters or mailing lists is a good way to remain informed on upcoming activities. Attending events, such as book launches, the inauguration of a photo exhibition, or a debate, are excellent opportunities for starting to integrate. An open-minded and participatory attitude is the best way to understanding the workings of the community, to personally get to know its leaders, and make the first steps towards contributing to the communitarian arena with knowledge and skills. Nevertheless, before assuming positions of leadership, it is a good idea to understand and respect the existing community system.
Learning about the services offered within a Jewish collectivity is a good place to start, but let us not forget that we live in societies that are increasingly multicultural, where contact with others is not only necessary, but enriching. Moving to a new country is an opportunity to discover other ways of life, learn new languages, develop new skills, and enhance our own identity. Establishing bonds and participating in circles outside community life is a revitalizing experience for maximum enjoyment of community situations in equilibrium with broader social and work-force insertion. To integrate into groups of newcomers or “ex-pat” communities should not represent any threat to or rivalry with Jewish community life. It is everyone’s responsibility to decide within which networks of community and religious activity to operate. But whatever they may be, entering into contact and cultivating bonds with a Jewish community will definitely make a contribution to your lives and the lives of your families.
Did you know…?
- According to a recently published study by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life, 25% of the global Jewish population lives in a country other than the one they were born in – a significantly higher number than among other religious groups.
- The largest Jewish population having migrated to the European Union hails from Israel.
- The main country in the European Union to which the Jewish population migrates is Germany.
- The most common destination of Jewish emigration is Israel.
Migration, Communication & Home
Jewish tradition, change & gender in a global world
Edited by Tania Reytan-Marincheshka
LIK Publishing House