Akiva Gersh

Being Israeli in America

I just spent seven weeks traveling with my family in the old country. The place that birthed me, raised me, nurtured me. That shaped my thinking and my being for the first 28 years of my life. A place that made me an American before I realized my true home was elsewhere and I began the process of trying to become an Israeli.

It’s certainly not the first time I’ve returned to the states since I made aliyah in 2004, but it is the first time with two of my kids being 8 and 10 years old and having a more developed sense of observation and a heightened awareness of the differences that exist between people, countries, and cultures.

On this trip that took us to both the west and east coasts, my kids have seen the beauty that America has been blessed with. Endless beaches on the Oregon coast and towering edifices of power and prestige in Washington, D.C. They have seen the golden bounty that some Americans enjoy as we passed by mansions and estates unmatched in size by any house you can find in Israel. And they have seen more than they ever expected of homeless people begging for money and sleeping on sidewalks. They have come face to face with the beautiful diversity of America, an ingathering not of exiles but of immigrants, and they have also become much more aware of its problems with racism, hate and intolerance. They have listened, as we scanned the radio stations of rural America, to many a Christian radio host teach about “the Bible”, quoting verses, in English, that they have learned at home or in school in the original Hebrew. And they drove by hundreds of churches, prompting questions like, “Is America a Christian country?” or “Did America ever have a Jewish president?”

They have seen a lot of America and they have learned a lot about America, and for that alone our trip was a great success.  But probably their greatest take-away from our summer family adventure is this: the realization that they themselves are not American. That the history they learned, while interesting and important, is not their history. The land they traveled through, while majestic and breathtaking at times, is not their land. And though their fluent English and American mannerisms and food preferences that they inherited from their parents make them seem American, they…are…Israeli. Fully Israeli. Not half-Israeli and half-American like they sometimes thought because of the two passports they own or the two languages they speak or the side of the family that still resides over there. No, they are Israelis whose parents left America and made aliyah in order that they would be full on, native-born Israelis. And they know it. Now more than ever.

My 10-year-old son Shaiya shared with me the following as we were driving back from a nighttime food shopping: “Americans are nice, but I connect to Israelis more. Wherever there are Israelis there’s always a balagon, there’s always something interesting happening. Americans are nice, but they’re kinda boring.”

Though this summer reminded me that a society can indeed function with lines that people actually wait in and without other drivers honking you the split second the traffic light turns green; if forced to choose between boring and balagon, I would also go with balagon.

I guess it’s because I’m Israeli now, too.

About the Author
Akiva Gersh has been working in the field of Jewish and Israel Education for over 20 years. In 2020 he founded @Israel to share his love and passion for Israel with students, schools and communities around the world through his online classes, courses and virtual tours of Israel. Akiva is also the editor of the book "Becoming Israeli" (, a compilation of essays that gives an inside look at the unique experience of making aliyah and the journey of acclimating to life in Israel. Akiva himself made aliyah in 2004 with his wife Tamar and they live in Pardes Hanna with their four kids. You can learn more about his work at as well as about his work teaching about Judaism and veganism at
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