555043_flying_geese_3Perhaps only migrating birds know–
Suspended between earth and sky–
The heartache of two homelands.
—Leah Goldberg, 1970
 
 Leah Goldberg’s
poem ‘Pine’ poignantly captures the ambivalent position of many Olim caught between two countries and two identities. For many, negotiation of a more complex, integrated identity that sits between two cultures is realisable. For others, finding a comfortable way to be is more difficult.

  
 Research shows that when we are able to create a multi-faceted identity, which integrates the original and new identities, we are more likely to feel well both mentally and physically (e.g. Berry & Kim[1]). Living in a new culture is always a challenge. It brings with it the exhilarating and the exasperating. Garza-Guerrero[2], says that one of the main difficulties is that the continuity, confirmation, and consistency of our sense of self become threatened. In other words, without the feedback we were used to in our old cultures, we can become less sure of who we are and feel less good about ourselves.

  So how can we try to create a healthy, multi-faceted identity? Walsh and Shulman’s research[3]with young Russian immigrants in Israel gives us some interesting ideas. After interviewing each participant twice, with a year interval in between, about their Aliyah experience, they found that immigrants who tried to form a complex identity early on were less comfortable, functioning and satisfied one year later.

  What does this mean? Perhaps we can hypothesise that although trying to integrate ambivalence between two cultures is helpful in the long-term, in the short-term it seems to be important to hold on to ambivalence. It seems important to experience the conflict of leaving home and settling into a new culture. As Pianta and colleagues note[4], we need to give ourselves the space to mourn the losses and learn a new reality in order to allow an integrated and coherent story to emerge. Despite the rich and often wonderful culture, heritage and opportunities that Israel offers, each Oleh will have lost: people, language, music, food, cultural norms and so on.

  We can probably all think of the days when we have had enough of ‘using our elbows’ or dealing with the humidity; the days when we miss our loved ones, a favourite TV show, or a bar of Dairy Milk. There are also the days when we are relieved we don’t have to bear our own culture’s annoying habits; or we are moved to tears by a national ‘tekes’ or by our bravery for simply doing this. At the start these, often quite dramatic, splits and even shifts between the old or new culture being ‘all good’ or ‘all bad’ are normal, even healthy, according to the research. Then, as time goes on, we can more easily accept that neither our old home nor our new one is perfect. We then somehow find a way to join the culture more fully and re-create ourselves as an Anglo Israeli – or is it an Israeli Anglo?


[1]Berry, J. W., & Kim, U. (1988). Acculturation and mental health. In P. R. Dasen, J. W. Berry, & N. Sartorius (Eds.). Health and cross-cultural psychology: Toward applications (pp. 207–236).Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
[2] Garza-Guerrero, A. C. (1974). Culture shock: It’s mourning and the vicissitudes of identity. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 22, 408–429.
[3] Walsh, S. D. & Shulman, S. (2007) Splits in the Self following Immigration: An Adaptive Defense or a Pathological Reaction? Psychoanalytic Psychology, 24, 2, 355–372
[4]Pianta, R., Marvin, R., Britner, P., & Borowitz, K. (1996). Mothers’ resolution of their children’s diagnosis: Organized patterns of caregiving representations. Infant Mental Health Journal, 17, 239–256.

 

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