Things I Learned about Leaving Israel for the ‘American Dream’

After seven years of living in the US as a returning American who lived almost twenty years on a kibbutz, I knew that readjusting to American life would be hard, but didn’t realize how difficult it would be to find a home again. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

1.I don’t know my neighbors.

The Israel Defense Forces brings people closer more than any other country in the world. As one who served in the IDF at age eighteen, I wasn’t your typical soldier who came with Zionist motivations. Instead, I found a unique and different tribe who didn’t care if I was a college dropout with failing grades. In Israel, service takes a special recognition.

When there’s a terrorist attack or when the country’s under siege, the entire country is on the radar. Especially during a war, people open their homes. You can talk openly with your neighbor. In fact, there’s no such thing as living in anonymity. Here, I still don’t know the neighbors. My children continue to stay “locked” on our small two bedroom apartment – cut off from the two worlds I know we know. Here in Pittsburgh, I still wake up to smog, congestion, buses and garbage trucks. Everyone says, “Have a nice day,” with a polite smile, but it still does not evoke the same feeling of connection.


2.It’s not safe for my kids to play outside.

One of the nicest things about living on a kibbutz situated alongside the Jordan River was the access to green lush open spaces. Our backyard was paradise against the backdrop of the Hermon Mountain that reminded me of the Swiss Alps. My son ran wild and free down the cement path, past the neighbors who called him, “gingi” for redhead and loved him and could always point him back in the right direction if he went astray

Although our neighborhood has a low crime rate, I still wouldn’t send my son to the local park by himself. I’m afraid of child molesters and abductors and the scary little things he might encounter along the way.

3.I work on all the Jewish holidays.

In Israel, I’d never have to worry about taking off for a holiday because I was off as a teacher. We’d head off to the communal dining room where my son would prepare a menorah for Chanukah and we’d eat real jelly donuts, not the Dunkin donuts kind. The community came together especially on Jewish holidays. In fact, the entire country including businesses, banks and government shuts down.

Here my husband works through almost every major and minor holiday including weekends (He works in retail) and we hardly spend time together as a family. I often feel lonely.

4. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not in abundance. Our kibbutz was paradise for grapefruits, apricots, avocados, lemons, oranges as well as pomegranates, figs, dates and the locally grown fruit that cannot be bought here known as “shesek” known as loquat. Mint leaves are grown in abundance. Just a few meters outside the kibbutz, we’d dig up cucumbers and pick tomatoes from a local vine. Our produce section of our local supermarket is a sorry sight of wrapped cucumbers and tomatoes in plastic that have probably been shipped on a truck for a good few days.

5. I don’t have family nearby. Israel is a traditional society and family is an integral part. My brother lives in San Diego and we get to see each other a few times a year. With the US being such a vast country, it’s often hard to feel a connection. Skype sessions with family help but there’s nothing like spending time with the ones you love in person to validate that connection.

6. It snows for practically six months out of the year. There is no changing of the seasons in Israel making it a temperate climate. The brutal winters here make it especially hard to go outside especially with a baby.  When I hear the snow pelting against my window, I wish I could magically be transported back to the kibbutz – without the hassle of snow days, snowsuits and boots which never seem to warm me.

The upside to all of this is that the “American Dream” opened the door to many professional opportunities for us and especially for my husband who worked as a security guard on a kibbutz for below minimum wage. The “American Dream” will always be for us a sacrifice, but knowing we are on the track to professional success is what keeps us going.

About the Author
Dorit Sasson is the award-winning author of Accidental Soldier: A Memoir of Service and Sacrifice in the Israel Defense Forces and the forthcoming memoir Sand and Steel: The Spiritual Journey Home.