Avi Rockoff

Those Americans

The man looked haggard. “My son is in Gaza,” he said. “He’s an officer in a combat unit. I get a word from him every two weeks. Our daughter works in the bor in the Kirya in Tel Aviv. Plus a bunch of nephews and nieces, in the regular army or in milu’im. I may be getting more sleep than they do, but not much.”

“Things are getting bad in America,” someone said.  “More of them may come on aliyah.”

“Americans!” said the man. “They didn’t come after ’48, They didn’t come after ’67. They didn’t come after ‘73. They’re never going to show up.”


On a Jerusalem street, we ran into a fellow we knew, with an Israeli friend of his. Our friend was working with an American group organizing shipments of equipment for IDF soldiers.

“Those Americans!” said the Israeli. “They throw money at things. Most of what they send ends up unusable. They don’t even bother to check what the IDF will actually accept.”

His point seemed clear. But he repeated it a few times, just in case.


We were back in the US for a family simcha. I called an old friend in the city we were heading for.

“Sorry, I won’t be here,” he said.  “I’m going to Israel for a month to volunteer. Whatever fruit they tell me to pick.”

“You’ll be away from work for a month?”

“I took a leave of absence,” he said. “My boss is not Jewish. At first he didn’t know what I was talking about, but when I explained, he was supportive.”

“That’s nothing to take for granted these days.”

“Tell me about it,” he said. “Right after October 7th, I saw my neighbor. We’ve been friends for 20 years, or so I thought. He looked at me. ‘You people,’ he said. ‘You people.” Then he shook his head and walked away. My friend.  I was so upset that I told myself–I have to get the hell out of here.”

“Out of where?”

“Out of the US.”


Since October 7th Israelis have had a lot more on their minds than the inner lives of American Jews. Still, I thought that I might shed some light on that matter, as a public service. I am well-qualified for this, having lived the first 97.7% of my life as an American Jew. That’s till now – the number goes down a bit every day.

We all pride ourselves on our free will, perhaps failing to note how constrained our will is: by personal flaws that we didn’t ask for, by the time and place of our birth that we didn’t pick. What we think and do depends a lot on our situation, where we are situated.

I was born in the US After World War II, a very clever move. I don’t recall my parents consulting me about when and where I would show up.

When you are born, never having lived anywhere, you hear what people say and figure that is how the world works.

Some of our elementary school teachers came from Israel, recently founded as a state, or “from Europe.” (In those days the words “Shoah” and “survivor” were not yet used.) Some of these teachers said, “The whole world is always against Jews.” Or: “They blame us for everything, then they spit us out. It’s just a question of when.”

We indulged them, politely. What did they know? They were from elsewhere, from there and then. We were from here and now. Now was different. America was different. Everyone knew this. Our parents said so.

Time passed. Things happened. There were intimations, but they were easy to ignore, like intelligence reports from the border.

And then came October 7th. And its aftermath. When barbarity too grotesque to imagine was either dismissed or actually celebrated, by some of the best and the brightest. Jews looked around at their institutions—when had this happened?—and saw schools and shuls barricaded by bollards, enveloped by chain-link fences, bristling with security, professional and volunteer, sometimes augmented by uniformed police. And they saw Jewish college kids mocked and spat on, Jews beat up in the street.  Those things happened in old books and movies. A long time ago, elsewhere. Not here. Not now. Where on earth were we, anyway?

It honestly was enough to make you consider getting the hell out. Of course, there is a difference between thinking about getting out and actually doing so. I don’t how many American Jews will now come on aliyah. I also don’t know how successful Israelis will be at sustaining their wartime unity in the face of all the social schisms on vivid display right through October 6th.

The current hell in Israel will end, hopefully soon and victoriously. Then there will be time to mourn those who passed, to bind the wounds of the injured and traumatized, to celebrate heroism and resilience, to figure out how to reshape the nation’s central institutions, the government and the army.  Israel will succeed in doing these things.  As Israelis say and sing: There is no choice. And we have no other country.

And there may even be a bit of time to consider Jews situated elsewhere, who found the bedrock assumptions of their lives swept away like sandcastles by a sudden wave. People like those Americans, the ones for whom the concept of klal Yisrael was more than a pious slogan, who channeled their love for the People of Israel and its State and tried to transcend their own situation, helping what they could help and doing what they could do.

About the Author
Avi Rockoff came on aliyah with his wife Shuli in March 2022. They live in Jerusalem. His new book, This Year in Jerusalem: Aliyah Dispatches, has been recently published by Shikey Press.
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