When I decided to make Aliyah and come live in Israel, one of my main reasons was to live with my people- the Jewish people. As a minority in the U.S., I’ve been subject to a great deal of antisemitism throughout my life and while there are some beautiful things about being a minority, it can also be extremely hard. I often felt, even in good circumstances with good people, like I had to explain who I was and what I believed in. Having talked to other minorities in the U.S.- Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, etc.- I know that my struggles were shared by many people.
Part of the reason I came to Israel was to not be a minority anymore. To live in a Jewish-majority state and in Tel Aviv, where the LGBT community is so numerous that even if it’s not a majority of the city, it’s a very high percentage. Where my identities would be validated.
This has been true for these identities in many ways. I am constantly surrounded by hot Jewish men who I glance at- and often glance back! I am surrounded by street signs with the names of Jewish leaders on them and I hear my favorite Israeli music blasting out of the windows of cars passing by. In many ways, I couldn’t ask for a more validating space to live in.
At the same time, I’ve discovered I have a new minority identity that I didn’t fully expect when I moved here: American. It never seemed particularly noteworthy or clear to me in the U.S. that, even as a double minority, I was also part of the majority as an American. Never has that been more clear to me than in Israel.
The other day, I was talking to a gay guy who noticed all my pictures on Facebook of me going around Israel. He knew I was an American oleh chadash (new immigrant). He told me I looked like a “tourist” and laughed. I told him I didn’t find it funny- that there are many other ways I could’ve visited Israel, but I made a very tough decision to uproot my life and live here as a citizen. He told me “not to take it that way” and thought it was funny how I was “such a new immigrant”.
Last night, I was at a board games night and this guy told me that in English, “peaches” means “boobs”. I told him I was American and that’s not a thing. He told me he was in front of the White House two weeks ago yelling at Trump so he “emmmm, reeeeeally knowwwwz Eeeeenglish fluent”. Just to clarify this for everyone- I had an Israeli correct me on my English- after I told him I was American.
I was sitting in a cafe with a new friend talking about Israelis’ favorite complaint about Americans- that we were too “PC”. I asked him to explain exactly what he meant by that. The friend, a well-intentioned and left-wing guy, told me “you guys have this whole debate about using the word n*gger and I don’t understand it”. I proceeded to summarize the 400 year history of this racist term after which, to his credit, he finally admitted there are legitimate reasons why people don’t like this word.
Today, however, may just take the cake. I was at a gay Torah study and this older man, seemingly out of nowhere, starts telling the group how all the “kushim” (an Israeli word somewhere between “colored” and “n*gger”) in the U.S. are homophobic bigots even though gay people always supported them. My blood pressure shot sky high. When I wanted to respond, the young rabbi in the room told me I could do so in “one sentence”. I said “sorry I’m going to take a few”. I tried to explain that not only is this a gross overgeneralization and racist, but that there are a ton of LGBT black people too and “black” and “gay” aren’t mutually exclusive categories. I also mentioned that the NAACP, among other groups, actively supported the LGBT community’s fight for marriage rights. Instead of any sort of acknowledgement of my much needed nuance, I was shouted down by younger participants who told me, the only American in the room, that black people in my country are homophobes. Because I suppose when watching rap videos on YouTube is your only reference point for actual African Americans, you’ll come to such thoughtful conclusions.
I could channel my legitimate anger, sadness, hurt, and loneliness into a bunch of sweeping generalizations about Israelis, but then I’d be just like people who stereotype me and my (other) country. Instead, I’ll say this: some Israelis are raging racist anti-American bigots. Others are open-minded, eager to learn, and sweet. And many fall somewhere in the middle. People, in the end, are people. You can find good and bad ones (and mediocre ones) any and everywhere. It takes some filtering, but I hope I get to the point where I’ve built a really solid social circle here that validates all my identities: gay, Jewish, Reform, progressive, and yes, American.
To Israelis’ credit, even if their main point of reference about American culture is a trip to New York, Lady Gaga, and Game of Thrones, at least many are trying to learn about my other culture. Most Americans know much less about Israel than Israelis know about America. That being said, I’d encourage Israeli to dig a little deeper about my country. It’s one thing to know the pop culture of another place and quite another to understand its social intricacies. Ask me questions, dive in- don’t be afraid. I’m open to talk, just like I was with my friend who didn’t understand the word n*gger and was open to listening to me. That’s dialogue. I’m eager to learn about you and eager to share about me.
In the end, I came to this country to be changed- to grow, to experience, to live in a new part of the world that is deeply connected to my identity. I thank the Israelis who are making this journey possible. At the same time, I am an oleh chutzpani – an outspoken new immigrant. I didn’t just come to be changed- I came to change. There are things about this society that must evolve, and that includes the way it treats its minorities- Arabs, Druze, Russians, French, and yes, Americans.
You can count on me to raise my American-Israeli voice. I’m just getting started.