On one hand, there’s the legacy of the Holocaust, 6 million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany, an attempt just 70 years ago by a society gone mad to eradicate a people and their culture. On the other hand, chocolate pudding is really cheap here.
While it may sound like a bad joke of a comparison, just such an observation has brought new attention in Germany and Israel to the perception that when young Israelis think of Germany now, they’re increasingly weighing the second fact against the first – and deciding the better life option is in Berlin.
The fact that Israelis are moving to Berlin has been reported, repeatedly, in German media for several years. The exact number is in dispute: German media put the number at 25,000, while Israeli outlets say it’s closer to 11,600. In either case, however, the trend is undisputed.
Germany makes passports available to any Jews whose parents or grandparents were German, and it’s seen a steady flow moving into the country since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Berlin – whose thriving Jewish community was wiped out under Adolf Hitler – proved especially attractive to artists, who found it welcoming, tolerant and affordable.
But the controversy exploded in recent weeks when a Facebook post actively encouraged Israelis of all walks to consider Berlin. The post featured a shopping receipt and asked Israelis to compare what they would have spent on a similar shopping outing.
The post appeared on a Facebook page administered by a still-anonymous 25-year-old Israeli expat who lives in Berlin. The title of the page, Olim Le Berlin in Hebrew, draws an ironic reference to the immigrants (olim) who make “aliyah” – the move to Israel. The page attracted more than a million visitors in four days.
The page’s posts began simply, with the administrator snapping a photo of his grocery bill from a midtown Berlin Aldi, the German discount grocery. The bill showed prices that had Israelis drooling, with orange juice, bread, spaghetti sauce and chocolate pudding all about a third to a fifth what they would cost in Israel.
Germany has a reputation, at least in Europe, for inexpensive groceries. The pudding, which cost about 24 cents a cup in Berlin, is reported to cost about 88 cents in Tel Aviv. Pudding quickly became an online symbol for the high cost of living in the predominantly Jewish state.
“This is about more than pudding,” Der Spiegel magazine’s online edition quoted the page administrator as saying. “I’m part of a generation that does not see any future in Israel.”
The administrator said he’d started the page with the intention that it would be seen only by his parents and a few close friends. He told German media that he’s seen his parents struggle to afford an apartment despite both spending their lives employed in Israel. He said he’d made his decision to leave Israel when he was standing in a Tel Aviv grocery one day and realized he couldn’t afford chocolate pudding for his child.
The reaction was furious.
“Are the gas chambers in Berlin also cheaper than here?” one visitor to the page asked in a comment. No matter how many excited Israelis might return to the land their ancestors called home, the commenter said, “they’ll have the crematoriums waiting for you.”
A former Israeli Finance Ministry director general, Doron Cohen, said in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that the idea of Israelis moving to Germany appalled him. Israel, after all, was established as a Jewish state in 1948 in the wake of the Holocaust.
“Those who want to leave Israel, and pick Berlin of all places, descend to the lowest possible moral level,” he told the newspaper. “This website wants to ruin the reputation of our country. I don’t think there is anything more abominable than that.”
The reaction among many is particularly negative because they see the idea as appearing to cast relocating to Berlin as moving to the promised land.
The Facebook page operator sees no point in backing down. “We will help hundreds of thousands of Israelis to escape the high cost of living in Israel,” he posted. He said the Israeli political obsession with threats from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah to the nation’s future had meant there was no meaningful discussion of the reality of living there in the present.
He told German media he’d received more than 10,000 requests for assistance in moving to Berlin after his posting. He said that many included resumes and asked whether he could help them find work in Germany.
One of the posts on his page says, “Please help us escape the impossible high cost of living that our government has created. We have no future here. We will do anything for a temporary working visa in your conditions.”
The posting was signed, “Kindly, the young generation of Israel.”