On one of my visits back to Atlanta, I went into the Starbucks just up the road from my parents’ house. I wanted to order some delicious drink with even tastier whipped cream (let’s be honest—it’s worth the calories), except that for some reason, when I actually got to the counter, I ordered in Hebrew. To make matters worse, I had no idea why the barista was staring at me until she finally said “I’m so sorry, but I have no idea what you just said.” I proceeded to exit the store and reenter two minutes later, with both the barista and I pretending that this was my very first time in the store.
As I spend more time in Israel, am I becoming more Israeli or just less American?
I moved to Israel when I was 18, and I think my absorption into Israeli culture has been successful. I’ve learned Hebrew quite well, completed my BA and started an MA program, and work at an Israeli organization. I’ve always tried to blend my Americaness and Israeliness, trying to take the best of both cultures. I want to be honest like Israelis, polite like Americans, creative like Israelis, organized like Americans. But somehow I can’t help but feel that I am kidding myself: Is it possible to be the best of both, or will I just spend the rest of my life being in limbo?
It was Aliyah Day recently in Israel, and politicians across the political spectrum were celebrating Olim. The celebration made me reflect on my experiences: I realized that while becoming more Israeli doesn’t always mean being less American, I am less American than my childhood friends, and that’s not a bad thing. I don’t always understand the subtleness Americans use, preferring the straightforwardness of Israeli culture. It’s difficult for me to grasp my friend’s college and work experience, because they immensely differ from mine.
I used to think that Israelis could never understand my challenges. But the truth is, Israelis tend to understand me more because I can explain to them what it’s like to move away, to give up the private college in Manhattan and Sunday brunches with my grandmother. I can communicate the sadness I feel when, on my nephew’s birthday, instead of celebrating with him I receive pictures via email or the guilt I feel not my visiting the grandparents often enough. It’s my American friends who find it difficult to comprehend—not the love for Israel, but the choice to move away.
My younger sister jokes with me that I am “no-lingual.” Apparently, I speak both languages backwards. I’ve come to accept that, and I just pray that my dear mother will keep correcting me. But I’m no longer saddened by the thought of not being so American. As I celebrate seven years in Israel, I am finally ready to shed my self-consciousness and be proud of my unique personality. I’m a mishmash of cultures, traditions, languages, and the exact breakdown of my identities will probably shift more towards the Israeli side of the spectrum over time, and that is fine with me.