This has been jiggling around in my brain since I made aliyah two weeks ago. When I started to write it yesterday, I was pretty sure what direction I was headed in thinking about olim who might be reticent to say they are Israeli while traveling outside of the homeland. Although this was the topic of a piece by a fellow blogger this week, I had been thinking about this reticence long before I read it. I bear no criticism against anyone; I’m too much of an Israeli newbie to judge anyone’s choices.
My best friend, who is not Jewish, has visited Israel several times and is coming back next week to help me fix up my affordable but old school apartment in Jerusalem. She owns a business in a tourist area and happens to be quite accurate in recognizing accents. On the occasions when she has asked customers if they are Israeli or said “toda” during transactions, she has received different responses. Sometimes they don’t respond, sometimes they ask why, sometimes they ask if she is Jewish, sometimes they ask or she offers that she has visited and loves Israel. Now that I have my brand new Teudat Zehut, I started to think about how I would respond if this comes up in the future.
There have some periods in my life when being a citizen of the United States could draw criticism or even scorn. I remember being in the Arab quarter in the Old City a few years ago buying spices. The vendor asked where I was from. When I told him, he asked if I was from Michigan; when I said Massachusetts, he asked if that was close to Michigan. I said yes because it was easier. My takeaway was that he was not crazy about Americans, but I was buying his wares and maybe because Massachusetts was close to Michigan, I was not all that bad. I never once thought not to say I was an American.
In 1979, I was in Curacao on vacation. It was during the period when American hostages were being held in Iran. There were few Americans there and we kept to ourselves. The highlight (I digress here) was the visit to the lovely sand floored synagogue for Shabbat and a later visit to the old Jewish cemetery. The not so highlight was that some of the other guests clearly did not like Americans. But a hotel employee brought us a little radio so that we could get English language news from Venezuela and stay updated on the crisis. Again, it never entered my mind to say I was anything but an American. Canadian, ay? I think not.
So here is the dilemma, or not, for olim. We all came from somewhere else. We all retain our native language and accents, even after living here for many years. Many of us retain dual citizenship. And many of us will travel to countries other than our country of origin. And with dual citizenship, we have the option of using either passport for entry into a third country. Many of us have been subjected to anti-Israel comments in person or social media even before making aliyah. It is not pleasant and my tendency is to respond directly to the comment, as opposed to the political leaning of the person (when I hear “You people” as a precursor to a statement, I grit my teeth). Of course, fighting myth with truth is exhausting and there is a point when it is time to write the person off because who wants to have this conversation over and over again.
But now it is different. Olim are no longer outsiders looking in to the complexity of Israel and the varied opinions about her existence. We are an intrinsic part of the complexity. It does not matter where we land on the political spectrum, we are now Israeli citizens.
Again, I am a newbie Israeli…just out of the Misrad HaKlita birth canal. When asked by people in the United States about which citizenship I would hold, I did not hesitate to say both. That is not to say that there might be a time when I relinquish citizenship in the United States, but I have no plans to now.
What I do know is that I have not experienced what some Israelis might experience when traveling abroad, especially in this time of increased anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel for continuing to exist. It is easily understandable that being subjected to this is not something enjoyable on a vacation or a family visit. I get it.
There are many things I have learned in the past two weeks. When seeing the garden that comes with my apartment, I asked the landlady if I could garden. When she said, yes, but it is shmita. Next year you will plant. Those words told me, as many other words have, that I am home. I am a Jew living in a Jewish nation and that I have been graced with the honor of Israeli citizenship. And that is why anytime and anywhere I am asked, I will say I am Israeli.