For the 100,000-plus American citizens living in Israel, the Fourth of July is a time of pride and nostalgia. This year, many reflected upon their former life in the U.S., their new life in Israel, how they are acclimating, and their personal journey to where they are today. Here are a few of their stories:
“I was running the Tel Aviv marathon in February and I borrowed my wife’s grandparents’ car. I filled it up with what I thought was regular gas but turned out to be diesel, a really bad thing to do in a car that doesn’t take diesel. I didn’t know what the word for diesel was in Hebrew. It turns out that not all gas stations use the word is ‘diesel.’ Some gas stations use the word ‘solar.’ I got stranded in Tel Aviv three hours before Shabbos but it worked out. I will never forget the word for diesel in Hebrew now.”
“My dad, who passed away a month ago, had really pushed me towards representing my country in any way that would help Israel and show some honor and friendship. For me, football is a way to do this. I can develop a sport in Israel along with the Israel National Football League of the Judean Rebels National Team. Now it’s small, but in the future it will be big. When we were in Spain and we won last summer, we sang the national anthem. Spain is a place where Jews were persecuted, but we came back and sang the national anthem in front of Spaniards. That was such an honor. I am American, but Israel is my nation. I hope to represent both countries and be a good person.”
“September will mark 37 years since I made aliyah. For the last 21 years, I’ve been a practicing lawyer here in Jerusalem. One of the things I’ve done over the years since passing the bar exam, is volunteer with newer olim, either through AACI, with Nefesh B’Nefesh, or with friends of my kids. They know they can come to me to read leases, get out of trouble, translate and certify documents – just to ease their acclimation to Israel. When I came, many people helped me to adjust. My way of thanking them is paying it forward to those who are coming now, to make sure they are able to get acclimated and stay here. If you come to Israel wanting to make it, being flexible, and not expecting that everything will be like it was back wherever you came from, you’ll make it. It just takes time, and you have to know that you can count on help from more veteran olim who have been here varying amounts of time, who have been through it.”
“I was arrested in the States. I was standing up for Israel at a Student Senate meeting at Ohio University. They were trying to boycott Israel on our campus and we stood up and peacefully protested, just speaking at the Senate meeting. All the anti-Israel protesters came and they got up on their benches, started to shout us down, and were calling us Nazis and fascists. It was really intimidating and I was scared. I was 22 or 23. They called the police because everyone was screaming. The police told me I had 30 seconds to stop speaking. Although I stopped within 15, they handcuffed me, led me out of the room, and put me in a squad car. I asked why I was being arrested and they said, ‘We will talk about it at the station.’ We were charged with disrupting a public meeting, but we weren’t disrupting — we were just talking. I was trying to graduate at the time, and the university was pressing charges against us. It was a nice feeling walking across the stage with my diploma, going, ‘Bye, I’m going to Israel!’“
“As a young person, I was always spiritual. And the Jewish education I got was very dry. I was always a seeker. When I was in college, I got introduced to Buddhism and I was a Buddhist for 10 years. It was my segue into Judaism. The object of devotion was a scroll with teachings on it and had interesting concepts like the 10 worlds: you can go from hell to enlightenment in the blink of an eye. During the time I was a practicing Buddhist, I had thyroid cancer and found it very helpful to understand that it isn’t up to the doctors what the result was going to be. There was a force in the world that was in charge. And then I started to feel like I wanted to raise a family and get married and somehow be Jewish. I did marry a Jewish man and we went on a journey of learning about Judaism. If it weren’t for him I don’t know how I would have found my way.”
Eliana Rudee is a fellow with the Haym Salomon Center and the author of the “Aliyah Annotated” column for JNS.org. She is a graduate of Scripps College, where she studied international relations and Jewish studies. Her bylines have been featured in USA Today, Forbes, and The Hill. Follow her column on JNS.org.