Absorbing the Exiles

Israel worked to absorb massive numbers of Jewish immigrants during the 1950s.

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Economic Challenges

Israel's early absorption policy must be seen against the economic challenges of the time. To cope with the lack of resources, the need for developing infrastructure and industry, as well as the necessity of providing for the rising immigrant population, the government was forced into a policy of "monetary expansion" (i.e., the printing of money). In order to prevent a steep rise in prices and to ensure that the entire population would be able to obtain a minimum of basic commodities, an austerity plan ("Tochnit HaTzenah") of price control and rationing was initiated in 1949.

The problems inherent in this policy ("suppressed inflation" which created a black market, hurt exports and subsidized imports, leading to a depletion of the country's foreign currency reserves) brought about its collapse at the end of 1951. The New Economic Policy introduced in 1952 by Israel's Minister of Finance, Eliezer Kaplan, and continued by Levi Eshkol, combined rapid devaluation of the Israeli pound, abolition of price controls, and encouragement of exports. During this period, increased sums began to come in from various sources: the United Israel Appeal, Israel Bonds, the United States (economic aid), and the Federal Republic of Germany (reparations agreement). By 1953, the economy had entered a period of considerable growth.

Development Towns

With the renewal of large scale immigration in the mid‑1950s, mainly from North African countries which were undergoing nationalist struggles for independence from colonial rule, immigrants were no longer channeled to ma'abarot, but directly to moshavim or "development towns," new settlements that were created (some out of former transit camps) in remote areas with the express purpose of dispersing the Israeli population. Thus, in effect, the process of separation and isolation of immigrants from developing countries continued into the second half of the decade. In the remnants of the ma'abarot and in some of the development towns and new moshavim, the traditional social and occupational nature of the immigrants, the lack of resources, high unemployment, and isolation contributed to the evolution of serious social problems and the formation of slum neighborhoods.

Culture Shock

The "culture shock" for immigrants from developing countries of particular significance was the shock and disorientation that the new immigrants from developing countries faced upon arriving in Israel. These people came from pre‑industrial societies in which the large extended family was an important social unit. The father tended to wield considerable patriarchal authority, and women played traditional roles in running the household and raising children. Few had extensive general education or modern vocational training. Most of the immigrants had been religiously observant before coming to Israel, but their religious orientation resembled neither the modernist neo‑orthodoxy nor the anti­modernist ultra‑orthodoxy that developed in Europe as alternate observant Jewish responses to modern society. The immigrants carried with them their own social and cultural conventions, which had been influenced by the surrounding culture of their former host societies.

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Jonathan Kaplan is administrative director at the Rothberg International School, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.