Ever since my family left the country in the summer of 1998, my identity was strictly defined by my Israeli passport. Every summer I returned to our beautiful country to visit family, travel the land, and strengthen my bond with the place of my birth.
I could have seen more of America. I could have lobbied my family to vacation elsewhere. Or — like my siblings — I could have stayed in Los Angeles with my friends.
I chose to come home.
I chose to spend my summers in the sweltering heat of the Krayot, swimming in the sea of humidity that threatened to drown my sensitive lungs. I was an Israeli, even though my family had chosen a new base of operations.
But now I am on the cusp of assimilation. For two years my application for American citizenship has gathered dust in my desk drawers; I was frightened of becoming a hyphen. Accepting American citizenship, pledging allegiance to my adopted country, would make me an Israeli-American. No longer would my identity be defined by a single passport.
And why should it be?
I have been in Israel for under a week, yet I could not count the number of times my opinions about the state of the Jewish state have been discounted because my interlocutors labeled me as an American.
I may have been citing Berdichevsky, Gordon, and Mohilever — early Zionists to which we all owe a great deal of gratitude — in my arguments, but because I went to an American university and spent half my life abroad, the refrain remained the same: you don’t live here, you don’t understand.
It’s true. I don’t understand.
I don’t understand how the Jewish state has such sickening levels of social and economic inequality.
I don’t understand what is so urgent that an Israeli would risk a fellow countryman’s life because he was driving only 130 km/h in the left lane on the coastal road.
I don’t understand why the news is filled with fear-mongering about our foreign enemies while our dissolving Jewish identity is swept under the rug.
What I do know is that after years of doing hasbara abroad, I am sick of being treated like a foreigner in a state built for the purpose of protecting and invigorating the Jew. I make a choice to return here instead of exploring the wider world. But the cold reception tempers the enthusiasm for the cause. In the long run, it may lead this ardent believer to embrace the American dream and discard the fragments of the fading visions laid forth by the great Zionist thinkers.
In his written address to the First Zionist Congress, Rabbi Samuel Mohilever tried to reconcile the rift between the religious Zionists and their secular counterparts using a simple analogy: if your house is burning, do you spurn the aid of those who come to your rescue because of a difference in opinions?
In these troubled times, swamped by existential crises from within and without, can the State of Israel and its citizens risk alienating activists because of their place of residence?