Scars, Roots and Hope: Latin American Emigrants in Israel

September 20, 2006

Tamara Melnick is an Israeli psychologist who was borne in Prague but lived in Chile for 13 years before emigrating to Israel. Cousin to Marjorie Agosin, who participated in the Ethics Center's "Telling the Story" conference, Melnick used the images of scars, roots, and hope to depict the experiences of emigrants. Scars can be viewed as reminders of wounds, but also as medals for resourcefulness, flexibility, and healing. Roots represent the aspects of the culture that emigrants bring to their new country, with hope for the future.

Even though Israel is populated with many different emigrants from around the world, Latin American emigrants face particular challenges. In the country of Israel, with its nearly 7 million inhabitants, only an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 are from Latin America, spread throughout the country. Other cultures have sufficient numbers to congregate in certain areas and form their own subculture -- such as Russian Jews, who have gathered in certain areas and even have their own doctors and theater.

Despite the challenges, most Latin American emigrants move through the cultural adjustment phases of honeymoon period, then reactive depression, and eventually adaptation, integrating their customs and culture from their home country with the new culture: cherishing their scars, remembering their roots, and looking forward with hope.