Israeli yuppies are cutting emotional ties to their state

When the method that allows future parents to choose the gender of their baby reaches Israel, a large percentage of the children born in Ramat Hasharon, an affluent Tel Aviv suburb, will probably be girls.

For as a thirtysomething Ramat Hasharon women explained to me last week: "My friends and I would prefer not to give birth to boys who would later have to risk their lives in the army."

While I was taken aback by this "unpatriotic" remark, I guess I shouldn't have been. A good many residents of well-to-do neighborhoods in this country are "spiritual emigrants." They haven't left physically, but their cultural and emotional ties with Israel are apt to be tenuous.

This is evident in the names they choose for their children. That same Ramat Hasharon woman told me that her newborn — a son, as choosing the sex of a baby isn't yet possible — is named Neil.

Rather puzzled, I asked her if Neil is a Hebrew name. She assured me that it is. And indeed, as I discovered when I later opened my bilingual dictionary, Neil means "indigo" in the holy tongue.

Be that as it may, I doubt whether she and her husband chose that name because of its Hebrew meaning. It is far more likely that Neil's parents, consciously or otherwise, thought that their son might decide to live elsewhere when he grows up. Thus he should bear a name that will sound as "natural" in Toronto as it does in Tel Aviv.

Otherwise it would be hard to understand why so many children in Ramat Hasharon and other bastions of Israeli yuppiedom are called Shirley (shir li — "sing to me" in Hebrew) or Tom ("innocent" or "guileless" in the language of the Bible).

Education begins early for the younger generation in Israel's affluent neighborhoods. Many pregnant mothers there firmly believe, for example, that exposing embryos to classical music will help ensure their devotion to Bach and Beethoven when they emerge from the womb. And so, when the future mothers rest, an appropriate disc is playing nearby.

This prenatal education is supplemented, well before formal schooling begins, with a whole series of "study circles" in everything from ballet to English.

The children of suburban yuppies later become acquainted with the culture and cuisine of other lands when their parents take them on overseas vacations. They can look forward to skiing in the Swiss Alps, going on a safari in Kenya and visiting the Louvre in Paris. On a more plebeian level, jaunts to Disney World are also likely to be on the family agenda.

All this presumably makes sense in an era when, like it or not, Israel is part of the global village. But it raises some disturbing questions about the future of the Jewish state.

More specifically, one can't help wondering whether Neil, Shirley, Tom and their friends — having been raised in communities sometimes described as being conveniently close to the state of Israel — will choose to live their lives in a Middle East backwater rather than in the glittering cosmopolitan cities of North America or Western Europe.