My grandma and me in Israel
“So when are you moving back to Israel?"
Taken aback by this assumption by a group of Israelis I had just recently met—complete strangers—I responded hesitantly, “Hopefully I’ll visit soon, but I don’t think I’ll be moving back.”
Apparently, that answer wasn’t satisfactory.
“You’ll be back soon enough,” they assured me.
To these Israelis, there was no simple or compelling reason for permanently residing anywhere but the Holy Land, the land of milk and honey, while I couldn’t think of a reason I should.
Although I’m an Israeli native, my family moved to Chicago before I could even walk, and I was raised in the city. Despite my dual citizenship, Israel was always a land containing a people and culture that seemed distant and even unrelated to me or my life in Chicago. This distance was somewhat bridged by the Israeli food my mom cooked, the Hebrew spoken fluently at home, and the Israeli music my parents listened to.
When we finally returned to Israel for the first time since immigrating to the U.S., I was eight years old. Seeing my extended family for the first time in years, some for the first time ever; seeing my parents’ childhood homes and friends and seeing everything Israel had to offer that I had missed out on growing up was one of the strangest, yet most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. After our first visit, I couldn’t wait to go back again and awaited each visit with more excitement than the one before – that is, until our next trip became a permanent one.
When my mother informed me that we would be moving back to Israel halfway through my freshman year of high school (I had just started at a new school), I sulked for days. I had always loved visiting Israel, but could never imagine living there and adapting to a culture that I had barely been exposed to growing up. Israeli kids my age had grown up a world apart from me, and the thought of this culture gap was terrifying.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to attend the American International School, where I could safely meld my American and Israeli identities while living in an American “bubble.” Within my bubble, you could incorporate “sababa” into an English conversation and you could be worshipped for bringing your friends EasyMac after visiting the States. Living in Israel and attending an international school allowed me to restore my connection to my Israeli roots and to adopt a new, third identity – a combination of both my American and Israeli identities.
Celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel with my friends
When I returned to Chicago to finish my senior year of high school and to attend college at the University of Michigan, I realized what a gift it was to have discovered this “third culture,” and I realized something else too: my generation has a very different connection to Israel than those before us.
Many Jewish kids, born and raised in the U.S. don’t consider Israel a home, or place high importance on living there someday. They go on Birthright Israel, have an amazing two weeks and then Israel becomes a fond memory somewhere in the back of their minds – a place they would visit again, but never move to. But the thought that Israel will always be there for us to visit is comforting.
That’s what makes the recent escalated attacks from terrorists and those who wish to eliminate Israel’s and the Jewish people’s existence so discomforting. I do not feel comforted by the thought of my grandparents and friends remaining in Israel running to bomb shelters on a daily basis. I do not feel comforted whenever I see the names of IDF soldiers, most of who were barely out of high school, who lost their lives to protect our people. And it is not comforting seeing hateful words about Israel on social media, coming from people who understand little to nothing about the conflict in the Middle East, and feeling like they understand little to nothing about me.
For so long, as an Israeli that grew up in America, I have identified with American culture and given little thought to Israel. But each day the conflict continues, I feel a stronger sense of national pride, Israeli national pride, and a stronger connection to the country that I was lucky enough to call home for two years.
The way I look at it now, I will always and forever be an American and a Chicagoan, but Israel will always be more than just that place I was born and lived in for two years in high school. Will I return to live in Israel? Probably not. But will Israel always be my second home? Definitely.