Pesach or Passover? Thoughts about identity

“Every person must see themselves as if they left Egypt”- is one of the most important things we say every year on Seder night. This year I am able to give this phrase new meaning.

On Passover we celebrate our freedom, our identity, and our becoming a nation.  Around the Seder table, we tell the story of how we left Egypt for Israel and we end with our yearning to be in Jerusalem, next year.  Many families who live abroad get very emotional when finishing the Seder, in the hope that someday they, too, will live in Israel.  In 2004, my family did just that, we made Aliyah, and as an 8 year old I was uprooted from my own “Egypt”, the United States, and flown to the State of Israel.

The majority of my schooling was in Israel, I completed all the usual matriculation tests, just like all of my friends.  I then served in the IDF for two years like most Israelis and am now studying in the Hebrew University, like many other Israelis in their twenties.

In the beginning of March, I flew to the States for the first time since I made Aliyah, 13 years ago. I had not been back and always found the excuses not to return.  My life is in Israel. My family and friends are in Israel. I had school. I had the army. It was complicated logistically.  I guess that over the years it wasn’t so important for me to go.  Until now.

Before I drafted into the army, I had a few English speaking friends with whom I spoke only Hebrew, with my siblings and my Mother I still speak mostly Hebrew. I didn’t like the Americans who constantly emphasized they were American and I purposely chose to be Israeli on the outside. And yet, I have never listened to Israeli music or particularly liked it, mint chocolate chip has always been my favorite ice cream flavor, and I read quicker in English than Hebrew.

I was drafted in 2014 into the IDF Spokespersons Unit and worked with American media and served with lone soldiers from English speaking countries. Therefore, I found myself speaking English constantly.

Towards the end of my service, I was an IDF soldier on a Birthright trip. After speaking only English for ten days and mostly talking about Israel and Judaism, I realized I’d found my calling. I knew that I wanted to work with the Jewish diaspora in the U.S., which is also why I chose to study Jewish History at the Hebrew University.  Since then, the English language and the American culture have become more prominent in my life.

Before my recent trip to the U.S., I was expressing my excitement about the trip when a close friend asked me if I was completely at home in Israel; my immediate response was ‘no’.  I was very surprised and taken aback by my own response. Israel will always be my home.  How do I not feel completely at home in Israel? That response remained in the back of my mind when I flew.

My first time back at my childhood house after 13 years

I felt like a tourist seeing the sights, but I also had the opportunity to go to the AIPAC Conference and to talk about my life and opinions with friends and family members. The answer to that lingering question came to me when I was in Boston for a day.  I was with a cousin who showed me around the historical areas in Boston and I found myself getting excited and talking about the paper I once wrote on George Washington and my 50 page high school thesis about the American Constitution. And then it hit me. The reason I responded that I do not feel completely at home in Israel was because I am also American.  As much as I love Israel and am proud and inspired every day that I live in the land of my forefathers, proud to represent it and talk about it to anyone who wants to listen, I am American as well. I can’t push it away or deny it. It is a fact.

I returned to Israel after my two week trip and on my first day back, I found myself walking towards the Kotel, the Western Wall.  Once I arrived and my hands touched the wall, I closed my eyes and listened. I listened to the birds chirping, listened to the prayers and felt the powerful emotions that could only be felt there. There is no place in the United States that can compare to the Western Wall, and to the unique and powerful feeling of Jerusalem.

So this year, when I sit at the Seder table and say “Every person must see themselves as if they left Egypt” I will not only think about the fact that I left my own Egypt and am lucky to be in Israel, but the fact that every day when I am in Israel, I deal with my two identities who will always be a part of me.  When I finish the Seder and yearn to be in Jerusalem next year, I will think of the incomparable feeling of this city and its holy sites, which remind me why I chose to be in Israel.

The Western wall on the day I returned
About the Author
Netta was born in Silver Spring, Maryland and made Aliyah with her family in 2004. She finished two years of IDF service in April 2016, where she served in the IDF Spokespersons Unit working with American media in Israel such as The New York Times and CNN. She is currently a student at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem majoring in International Relations and Jewish History. She is also the co-founder of SIACH (students from Israel and America CHat), an initiative to create deep conversations and connections between American and Israeli Jewish students