April 25, 2011
Israelis R Us
I wasn’t always as proud to be Israeli as I am today.
I never hid that I was born in Israel — not that I could, with a name like mine. And I wasn’t embarrassed by my mom’s harsh Israeli accent, because she didn’t have one — she spent the first 10 years of her life in New York. I didn’t have to eat my school lunches surreptitiously. My sandwiches looked like everyone else’s.
When my friends came over, there was no foreign-sounding music playing, no Hebrew books scattered around the apartment. My French stepdad listened to Rod Stewart and Celine Dion, and my mom read Danielle Steel romance novels.
Coming from our home, where being Israeli was a vague concept, I wasn’t rejecting my identity — I was indifferent to it.
I moved to Los Angeles when I was 6, and in the 17 years that followed, I only visited Israel twice. It wasn’t until I was 23 and on a Birthright trip, surrounded by a busload of American Jews, that I suddenly felt Israeli.
I spoke Hebrew to the Israeli soldier guarding our group — terrible Hebrew, with a terrible accent — but it felt wrong for me to speak to him in English. When we got to the Roman ruins in Bet Shean, a tiny town in the north, I felt a strong duty to visit my one remaining grandparent — my grandmother — who lived nearby and whom I hadn’t seen in years. I managed to get permission to leave the group, something Birthright hardly ever allows, and the exception served as further proof that I was different from the others. Everyone else was a tourist; I felt like I had hitched a ride home, though I didn’t realize it until I got there.
Being Israeli is not a matter of fact, I came to realize. It’s a matter of feeling. Something about that trip turned a switch on inside me and changed the entire course of my life.
Since then, I’ve been to Israel every year, sometimes twice in one year. I’ve learned to speak Hebrew fluently. I married an Israeli, in Israel. I listen to Israeli music in my car — before my son was born, it was Idan Raichel; now it’s “Ha’oto Shelanu” and other Hebrew nursery rhymes. Most of our friends are Israeli, and like nearly every Israeli living here, I vow that before my child starts first grade, we will move back to Israel.
I recently had coffee with an ex-boyfriend, whom I dated before my Israeli renaissance.
“You pretty much surround yourself with Israelis nowadays, don’t you?” he remarked.
“I’m Israeli,” I said, with pride.
This issue is dedicated to my fellow proud Israelis, here and back home.