From 'Russianness' to 'Israeliness' through the landscape of the soul: Therapeutic discourse in the practice of immigrant absorption in Israel with 'Russian' adolescents

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This article explores the increasing incorporation of professional therapeutic knowledge and practices into the state-led apparatus of absorption of new immigrants in Israel. Singling out this phenomenon is the seemingly unexpected alliance between the therapeutic ethos, which leans on individualist, a-national and universal values, and state-led absorption practices, based on a Zionist, collectivist and local ethos. According to the Zionist ethos, the newcomer 'returning to an historical homeland' is expected to become part of a territorially bounded collective entity and to adopt a new national identity that will predominate over other identities. The therapeutic ethos undermines moral authorities promoting collective redemption through identification with community goals and challenges a patronizing attitude towards new immigrants. Analysing the rhetoric and practice of Na'aleh - a decade-and-a-half-old project for adolescents immigrating from the former Soviet Union, characterized by a 'therapeutic absorption policy', this article examines the meaning of 'therapeutic' absorption in shaping a new Israeli citizen within the current social context. In order to clarify the historical uniqueness of this phenomenon, Na'aleh's absorption paradigm is compared to Youth Aliyah - the project that absorbed youngsters in a distinctly different ideological period of Israeli history (early 1940s), particularly with regard to the status of Zionism. A locus of comparison is the perceptions of the absorbing personnel and the absorbed immigrants in both ventures. The main claim of this article is that the psychologizing of the absorption apparatus both challenges and fortifies the traditional role of statist Zionism under global, postmodern conditions, typified by the erosion of the nation-state and questioning the moral status of its constitutive ethos. Therapeutic absorption transforms the newcomer into the object of therapeutic intervention rather than assimilative education. However, it simultaneously enables the 'Russian' teenagers from a 'pre-therapeutic society' to internalize a 'therapeutic habitus', which grants them the skills and competency to become a 'local' and to attain symbolic goods significant in their new social environment. Therapeutic personnel, characterized by emotional skills and cultural proximity to the absorbed pupils, rather than ideological identification with Zionist project, serve as a newer version of traditional agents of Israeli socialization, by virtue of their own unique course of absorption in Israel that blends the process of 'becoming Israeli' with socialization into a professional/ therapeutic culture.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)739-761
Number of pages23
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number6
StatePublished - 8 Dec 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Identity construction
  • Immigration
  • Nationalism
  • Therapeutic discourse


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