A View From the Diaspora – What Does Israel Mean to Me

Lately, I have been thinking long and hard (cut out the snickering) regarding just what Israel means to me as a diaspora Jew. I mean I have been blogging about Israel a lot lately, reading the daily papers (online English editions – my Hebrew is not that great), practicing Israeli Martial Arts, and re-learning a lot of forgotten Hebrew. Later this year I am bringing my entire family to visit this very important place.

Thirty years ago, I lived in Israel for a year as an exchange student with the University of California. At the time I had a mixed experience with the country and I left with mixed feelings. On one hand, (and remember I have an American Perspective), I really hated the abruptness, the simple incivility, and complete lack of tact on the part of the Israelis I met. Everything was a hassle, and everything was a freakin’ fight. It was always about being pushed rather than being asked.

At the same time despite that, I came to really love the country because of it’s personal directness and honesty (though I have to say not in business dealings because it really is not the most honest place to do business), because of the passion and deep humanity of the people I met, I loved the fact that people cared for their culture and that people were proud to be Jewish. Really it was more nebulous than that… I simply just loved the country – I can’t explain it really in certain terms, but I just admired what people oppressed throughout history, surrounded by enemies, against all odds, were able to accomplish.

When I lived in Israel, I played Rugby for the Hebrew University Club team. At that time (at 20 years old), I decided I might want to make Aliyah. Most of my friends on the team where Olim who had been in IDF Combat Units. They left me with a very honest picture of how truly awful combat was. YET for some reason (maybe being young and dumb), I wanted to be just like them. It turned out that because of my vision, I have a problem with my right eye, I would not have been able to serve in either a Golani or Tzanchan unit. So, rather than be a desk worker or something, I bailed on the idea. I figured, that I would not have been contributing what I could to my new nation. I realize now that this was silly at best, but, I was a kid and as such we don’t always make the best decisions at 20 years old.

After returning to the U.S., and living in beautiful California, Israel pretty much slipped away. It’s not that I was not supportive of Israel but, honestly the nation and even being Jewish just didn’t cross my mind. There simply wasn’t an effective connection there for me to hold on too.

The years went by and I got married (interfaith) and had two very wonderful children. My wife is amazing, my kids are great. Life has been good and I love it here in beautiful California and in my home and country I love, the United States of America. I am very proud to say I am an American and I think the USA represents the best in humanity for all our mistakes and/or misdirections.

BUT… somehow, some way, my heart also turns to Israel. My heart turns to the Jewish community, and I believe Israel is at that center of worldwide Judaism. I am proud to say I support Israel and while I may be critical of certain things it does (as I am regarding America), on the whole I think Israel adds to, and makes the overall world a better place.

So what does Israel mean to me… as a Jew, Israel will always be the National Homeland and State of the Jewish people. My personal homeland is the United States and at this point I am not leaving, but I have no illusions that I live in the Diaspora.

The thing is, that as an American Jew, I don’t have to try to feel like some “Keyboard Commando” disparaging all of those who don’t share the same ideology as me. I don’t have to demand solutions from a nation where I don’t have to be the person who has to live with the consequences. I am not the arbiter of what a “brave Jew” is and neither are any of those “chicken hawks” in the U.S. who are not and will not make Aliyah, and who won’t ever either serve in Tzahal, or send their children to do that service.

So what is Israel for me? For all of it’s problems and messes, it is and always will be “HaTikvah”. It will always be a place that I love, and it will always be a part of who I am as a Jew. Israel will always have a special place in my heart. And Israelis.. well they are like everyone else. BUT, they also are those who have the courage and the bravery to stand for the Jewish People of the world. And for that – I have to say “Thanks”


About the Author
Jon Segall is creator of the blog The Progressive Zionist. Jon has lived in Israel and studied Israeli and American Policy in the region. Currently Jon, is re-learning Hebrew, and is an active practitioner of the Israel Self Defense Martial Art Krav Maga.