I’m Not In America Anymore

Sometimes it is just so hard to figure out what I am. Really, it is a kind of quandary that is sometimes really mind blowing . You see, in America, even after growing up in New York City (well, last time I looked the Bronx was still part of NYC) it was not easy to identify myself completely, especially in the era of hyphenated nationalities.

You know what I mean — African-American for blacks, Asian-American for folks from that continent, and, most confusing, Native American for whom we had always called American Indians. Yet doesn’t being born in the United States make one a native American? Isn’t a white person born on the African continent who immigrates to the USA and becomes a citizen more of an African American than a black man born in Detroit?

Then there is the issue of one identifying as a Jewish American or an American Jew. I mean, which one is for prioritizing because there is a distinct difference in the order of those two nationalities. And, to make it even more confusing, there are millions of Jews, not just in America, who believe that being Jewish is merely an adherence to Judaism. This reminds me of a particularly difficult decision made by the Israeli government some decades ago when the Archbishop of Paris, who had been born Jewish and  who converted to Roman Catholicism after being liberated from Auschwitz, declared his right to Israeli citizenship because, although he was a bishop in the Roman Catholic church, he was still a Jew through nationality. The court, after much debate, agreed with Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Lustiger.

Now, here is the real clincher. I was born in the US, made aliyah and now does that make me an American Israeli, an Israeli American or do I add the word “Jew” in there someplace? I have heard the old saying that in America, I was a Jew, and in Israel, I am an American. There is even a joke that I have heard time after time that in Israel we, all Jews considered “Anglo-Saxon” ( that must make the Brits roll over and cry for fish and chips) can be called “WASHs” — White Anglo Saxon Hebrews.”

Israel, thank G-d, is not America. Sure, there are American movies, products and, more frightening, the price of Elite chocolate is higher in Modi’in  than it is in Monsey. Yes, there is much about America worth emulating, but I didn’t make aliyah to live in a Middle Eastern version of Nebraska. I’ve never been there, but I am sure they eat pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise there. Or worse yet, Miracle Whip. Milton Berle, the late comedian had a quote that whenever someone eats pastrami on white bread with mayonnaise, a Jew dies.

Israel is what being Jewish is all about. It is what we have yearned for. I love not hearing Christmas music from Halloween till the end of December.  And last Thanksgiving, because of family pressure, I went nuts trying to find a butcher that could find an entire turkey! I really don’t want to hear that “Grandma got run over by a reindeer” song played a gazillion times a day!  And a fat man in a red suit holding little kids on his lap in the mall might be fine for some folks, but for me, to see a chanukia wrapped in tinsel on a bed of fake snow just doesn’t cut it. And the ultimate American diaspora obscenity for Jewish kids — “Hanukah Harry” who brings them gifts so they don’t have to whine and kvetch (if they even know the meaning of the word) about all their friends bragging about all the neat stuff that they found under a tree in their living room.

I didn’t make aliyah to eat at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut — not that I abjure those who enjoy that stuff, but I’d rather have a falafel or a sabich sandwich. The privilege of seeing kids having Jewish holidays off without having to explain why they weren’t in school on certain days in September or October is heartwarming and, I must admit, it makes me a bit jealous.

I owe America a great deal. It saved most of my family from certain death in Europe and it taught me the value of freedom, gave me a taste of liberty and educated me in good citizenship. America, in a strong way, provided me with the tools I needed to love Israel.

The late US Supreme Court Justice, Louis D. Brandeis said, “To be a better American, I must be a better Jew. To be a better Jew, I must be a Zionist.” In America, I was a Zionist. In Israel, I am a Jew. They should be, and must be, one and the same-especially if you’re an Israeli Jew-which is what I have become.

No, I’m not in America anymore, I am finally home.

About the Author
Irwin was born in New York City and is now retired. He lives in Maaleh Adumim since making aliyah 7 years ago.