Putting out the welcome mat for Israelis in the Bay Area

The figure simply astounds: 40,000. That’s the approximate number of Israelis living here in the Bay Area, according to the S.F.-based  Consulate General of Israel.

They are a subset of the huge number of Israeli expatriates currently living in North America — 700,000 according to the Jerusalem Post, less according to other sources. That’s up to nearly 10 percent of the entire nation of Israel.

As our cover story (pages 6-8) this week explains, Israelis come here seeking opportunity. The locus of that opportunity resides up and down Silicon Valley, where most people from the startup nation have settled.

We’re thrilled to have them.

In so many ways, this is a charming story. Ever  resourceful, the Israelis have built for themselves a community within a community, utilizing grocery stores, schools, restaurants, coffeehouses and community centers as gathering places.

This is not only good for them. Their presence brings a measure of Israeli culture to the broader American community, Jewish and non-Jewish, which goes a long way toward mutual understanding and good will.

However, it’s not strictly a feel-good story. Many Israelis here feel conflicted. On one hand, they remain loyal to their country, miss it dearly and promise themselves that someday they will return.

Indeed, the Israeli government, while acknowledging the Silicon Valley connection remains vital to the economy of the Jewish state, wants its people to come home. It has made a concerted effort to sell that message to Israelis living abroad.

Yet the message often falls on deaf ears, as Israelis grow used to the California good life and put off their homecoming.

Equally frustrating to leaders in the Bay Area Jewish community is an often-fruitless effort to bring Israelis into Jewish life, American style. For mostly cultural reasons, a majority of Israelis here seem to want little to do with it.

American Jews most often affiliate through synagogue membership. Naturally, that makes sense to us, and fits in our comfort zone. Not so for Israelis, who generally cannot relate to denominational Judaism.

That doesn’t mean our great local Jewish institutions — from synagogues to JCCs to Jewish day schools — should abandon their outreach to Israelis living here. We all benefit so much from the mutual interaction, especially our children.

Whatever comes of this in the years ahead — whether a permanent Israeli-American community evolves, whether the Israelis gradually assimilate into American Jewish life, or whether they all go home — we should continue to roll out the welcome wagon and make our Israeli cousins feel at home.

Because this is, indeed, their home.