In a casual conversation with two young Americans in Tel Aviv about the pros and cons of moving to Israel, one told Andrew Jacobson that he could never do it because his degree from Columbia University “doesn’t mean anything here.” Jacobson believes his interlocutor hit on something important about Israeli society:
It’s true that a Columbia degree doesn’t carry the same prestige points or brand signaling here [in Israel]. Most people haven’t a clue about [the university’s] acceptance rate or perceived exclusivity. To be clear, the degree is valuable for what you actually learned: the knowledge, skills, and “education” part of “higher education.” But not the brand name.
All this got me thinking: prestige—the social prestige from association with Brand X or Club Y—seems to exist less in Israel. Nobody seems to care. More than that, many Israelis resent it. I want to understand why.
Jacobson recalls an invariable pattern he encountered while working as a consultant, visiting different Israeli firms and asking their managers to talk about themselves:
We would ask [the managers] to explain their professional experience and credentials, how many years they had been at the company, etc. Without exception, the first thing each member of management would say is the name of his or her marital partner, how many children they have, and where they live. For instance: “I am married to Yifat. We live in Hadera, and have three beautiful children.” Sometimes they would say [the children’s] names. But only then, after providing bigger context of Things That Actually Mattered to them, would they continue to list their PhDs from Hebrew University.
This isn’t to say that they thought their job was not important, but that there were things that mattered more: . . . deep, unchosen identities—people, religion, family, maybe nationality, to name a few—[that] remain at the center in Israeli life.