I thought being away for Pesach was going to be hard, and it was, but I wasn’t prepared for my reaction to a Yom Ha’atzmaut in the diaspora. This time last year I was in Gan Sacher having BBQ and beer with the rest of Jerusalem. Israelis know sorrow and they equally know joy. It was a carnival. The Ethiopians across the way taught us how to dance with them, teenagers ran around causing mischief with Israeli flags covering different parts of thier bodies. There was an Iraqi family serenading the assembled with an Oud and, as at any festival with Israelis, people on stilts (??).

My friends and I chilled on the grass, eating, of course, or jammed on guitars and beat-boxed, humming Shlomo tunes, singing Marley and free style rapping about Hashem, peace and Israel. Another friend got on stage and participated in a Humus shaping contest against the Mayor of Jerusalem while another friend curiously continued to juggle while simultaneaously wearing his tefillin and hitting on some girl. It was one of those time I looked around I realized I was actually a part of the giant insanity that was this country we were all here to celebrate.

The sense of revelry was palpable as we took that day to step back and appreciate the glory of what was ours and who we were within Israel.

Today however, I was not in Israel. And the feeling, as you can imagine, is quite different. Today I listened to cheesy Jewish music with people draped in the flag of a country they have no real immediate stake in. “What are you celebrating?”, I couldn’t help but think “the fact that a theoretical ‘homeland’ exists which is not your home?” It’s like celebrating a sport you don’t play.

Theoretical Israel is easy to love. It’s low maintenance, and you can do it a few days a year on your own terms while still calling yourself a supporter of Israel because you read the occasional Alan Dershowitz article. You get to think you’re all ballsy cause there is the ‘threat’ of a dirty look from the anti-israel demonstators . But really, there’s no real risk or commitment.

I have heard North American Jews speak of how they are happy Israel is there just in case, like they want to be able to cash in on the advantages of Israel, if the cossacks return, but they have no interest in putting in the work. They will complain that it’s not the country they want it to be, but they are not prepared to give much more than their $18 for a nice little JNF tree to make it better.

Yom Ha’atzmaut in Canada was like “Jews come out and show ’em we’re still here” day. Celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut in Israel felt like celebrating something authentic. Empowered by knowing our fate is communally made by the daily decisons we each make that determine just what kind of country this is, it was one of those magical moments of clarity that it was best decision in the world for me to have chosen to live in Israel.

Jews in North America lack edge. Israel has it in spades, and its sexy and relentless all at the same time. But it certainly makes life feel real.

Maybe I’m being cynical, or maybe I’m just homesick.

About the author

Laya Millman


  • No, you’re not being homesick. You’ve quantified everything I hate about convenient/professional Zionism. Giving to JUF or JNF and doing a low-risk Walk for Israel with middle-aged suburbanites, while eating dumbed down “ethnic” food and listening to folk songs or klezmer tunes that are as archaic as Pat Boone doesn’t give a North American Jew a stake in Israel.

    What gives NA Jews a stake in Israel is to:
    a) Visit there several times in your life, particularly when there’s a national holiday. I’m miffed that I missed out on Birthright by being born 15 years too soon
    b) Learning real, live, modern Hebrew and speaking it with your friends to help build a Jewish identity — or making friends that would do that
    c) Reading Ynet or Jpost to keep up not only on the politics but the culture. Maybe NOT Ha’aretz, but the Underground is OK
    d) Invest in the Israeli economy, whether it’s owning stock, buying Israeli products, or maybe buying property there
    e) See Israeli music artists like Ethnix and Idan Raichel when they come to your town, college, local synagogue, whatever. Not Broza or Noa — they’re too Western
    f) Learn to love Sabra humus and schug! It’s awesome

    Don’t even start me about intermarriage.

    And yes, I’m learning to appreciate Arik Einstein. When we eventually do aliyah in 10 or 15 years, I guess I’ll have to learn all his songs. I draw the line at Moshik Afia’s cover of “Ani V’Ata”, though. It’s vile.

  • maybe both.

    I’m also homesick. Lately I’ve been filled with love of israel and I yearn to return.(that’s why I was hoping to get on birthright). I must thank you (or blame you?) for this. Your connection to Israel is very powerful and was very apparent to me (and probably everyone else) at the Jewlicious conference. and this blog confirms that.
    Here in California life seems very artificial and I anyway can be a winemaker in Israel. I knew when I got into winemaking the plan was to end up doing it in Israel.
    Both my brothers are in Israel and both plan on living there. My Rabbi who just passed away is now buried in Jerusalem. Most of my relatives live in Israel. There’s really not that much left for me in the US. It’s time to go back home.

  • well good, if your mind is made up, you don’t need birthright anyway, you can just hop on that free Aliyah ticket instead…

    and, like, yay! dude, you can come to shabbos and bring lots of wine!

  • Cynical or homesick? I pick yes. I mean, both. Obviously I don’t believe that the only way to support Israel is to live there. The party where I was last night had about 3000 young Jews in one club, the product of an estimated 80 organizations that banded together to plan it. It wasn’t Israel, true. But almost everyone knew the words to Hatikvah (you know, the spankin’ new national anthem, and I believe that the people who thought ahead and brought their Israeli flags with them to wear were authentic in their happiness.

    For me, it’s always hard to turn off the feeling of loss and the destruction of families that is marked by the grieving over lost soldiers on Yom Hazikaron. At my advanced age, I look at those faces of people who died so young, and it fills me with awe at the sheer waste of it all. I know, magash hakesef and all. It’s one of my favorite poems, that description of how the young people of Israel are the silver platter on which the State was founded. For better or for worse, that’s the way it is. And it tends to bog me down, making the transition to Yom Ha’Atzmaut difficult.

    Maybe I’ll write more about this tomorrow. But Laya, I do agree that there’s no place like Israel to celebrate Israeli Independence Day. Maybe we’ll all celebrate together there next year. But no Jews beatboxing. That makes me nervous. Or nauseous. Can’t remember which.

  • If you want a “new”, relevant Hatkiva, how about the Subliminal version? Any anthem that could have lyrics like “the son of a bitch hasn’t been born who could destroy Israel” (I’m paraphrasing from something I read) is my kind of Zionist!

    Esther, you mean I’m not the only 30+ here? Maybe you’ll learn to love beatboxing the way I’ve learned to appreciate Hebrew rap.


  • Laya,
    every time I get to visit ‘home’, I feel this way too. Living in Israel, (and without getting to spiritual) we must get some super-power that let’s us see ‘reality’ much clearer. Nonetheless, you’ll find myriads of Israelis who can’t stand that ‘power’ and move overseas to forget about it, and/or run from some creditors they’ve defaulted on. Virtually all other galut Jews have no idea what they are missing.

    Even a semi-affiliated Jew identifying with Israel on a passive basis is somewhat meaningful, but it’s too bad they don’t understand that they could amplify this feeling a zillion times by coming to Israel more often or if that isn’t financially feasible, move permanently.

    I don’t know how you can handle it for so long. My longest stay was last year, the whole month of May. After ten days, my wife and I were, like, disgusted from the ‘soullessness’ of the whole culture. On one hand, we were encouraged by the love for Israel and that there are some people that know the truth beyond Haaretz and jpost, but the whole ‘American’ consumer pop-culture, and the conveniently easy Israel ‘events’ are, I dunno, easy. Sure it was sad to say goodbye to family, but we were so happy to get on the plane home. In Canada, everything has to be packaged, whereas in Israel, you create to product. Want to BarBQ, just find some grass and shade like on the 40 highway at the Kiryat Gat intersection, and you create your own yom haatzmaut.

  • Oh I don’t know if I should say this, since I’m, you know, just a soft, American pseudo-Jew, but I dare say, you’ve become quite the Israeli, laya – pompous, arrogant and holier-than-thou. Congrats.

  • first of all, Geoff, don’t be so hard on yourself. Second of all, please , show me wrong. I would love few things more than to have more faith in the North American Jewish community. But in the mean time, I will not apoligize for the fact that I find living in Israel to be a more authentic, more empowering experience than being a Jew here.

    And Josh, you’re right – everything here is prepackaged for your ease and convenience. I mean, this supermarket has potatoes pre-wrapped in tin foil. Looking at it now thru Israeli influenced do-it-yourself eyes, if feels almost crippling.

  • I was at a Yom Ha’atzmuat party in DC. I was around Jewz mostly Israeli Jewz. I never felt more at home. I hate not being surrounded by my botherin. You ask what stake I have for a country that is not my home?

    1st: israel is my home, i might not be a citzen right now, but my heart is in israel. My soul is in israel. Body and spirit is for only israel.
    2nd: what am i celebrating? Freedom. The Jewz are finally free, to rule and govern themselves. I love israel as i would a parent.

    I did take offense in this post. You say you miss being in Israel for holidays. So do i. Even tho i never been in israeli during a holiday. We are a ppl. When you grieve so do i. when u celebrate so do i. I am as you are, a part of the Nation of Judiasm.

  • zeevi, we love the emotion. We love the sense of unity. However, it is a totally different trip to feel solidarity with israel than to put your fate in its hands. Its like a fan saying he knows what the pain of the game is cause he watched the injury happen on tv.

    The freedom you are celebrating is theoretical, because you don’t live under the reality that happens when Jews decide their own rules for the first time in 2,000 years (to sometimes mixed results) . I don’t mean to offend, i really don’t, but it’s a totally different thing to celebrate Jewish freedom in DC vs. Israel.

  • Soullessness was never my problem with Israeli culture. I’m connected by blood to some of the most soulful, committed naturalized Israelis you could ever hope to meet, and I know that they’d embrace my arrival with open arms, hearts and sofabeds.

    But truthfully, I’ve never lived there long enough to know if I could really live there, if that makes any sense. In addition to all the mechanics of moving into another culture (job, residence, language, cultural behaviors, finances etc), and even with the prospect of being touched by terrorism aside (because we all know that can happen in New York, too) there’s another kink for American Jews, no matter how close their ties to the homeland. If our parents and siblings (and nieces and nephews) are here, it’s that much harder to leave for the unknown, even an idealized unknown. And if there are illnesses in the family, God forbid, it’s that much harder.

    I know Laya left, buoyed by her commitment, and that CK has declared his intentions to go. I won’t enjoy the 7-hour time difference or the distance, but I’m supportive of them in whatever their hearts truly desire if it makes them happy, because true happiness is really hard to find. But for me, family is a major detractor against moving anywhere, let alone another country, across an ocean and several time zones. I’ve thought about this lots, and am envious of the kind of commitment to a place that inspires (in times of non-persecution) the complete uprooting of your life to start again as an outsider in a foreign land that also doubles as our people’s homeland. And as much as I might like to travel, see the world, or start over somewhere, I don’t think I could ever leave my family behind, and I’m not sure I understand how people can. (My brother did it for four years, met someone, married her and then the two of them came home because my mother wasn’t in the best health.)

    I hope that doesn’t sound disrespectful to anyone. This is a really hard issue for me to talk about, because I can’t afford to go to Israel several times (or even one time) a year, and because I can’t give substantially beyond a ring of trees, and because I’ve felt alienated by the reaction I receive as a foreigner when I’m there–as a result, I feel like I’m being a bad Jew or Zionist sometimes.

  • Esther-
    I loved your post. You are so right on in so many ways. As an American Jew who’s never even visited Israel, I have so many conflicting thoughts about my relationship to the country and the people who live there (and even those who visit often). My husband and I have toyed with the idea of spending a few months to a year living there- but it’s kind of like we need to go there in order to perhaps feel a sense that we should be there (italics on “should” for emphasis).
    A little background: I started out as a mostly secular kid- went to a Jewish university but hung out mostly with the non-Jewish jocks. This is ironic, since my grandfather had been the director of an urban JCC for 25 years… We went to a Conservative shul, but there was nothing consistant or substantial going on.
    After a bad experience with some frummies that I got mixed up with after college, I swore off Judaism forever and met an amazing non-Jewish guy. We got married and had some kids, yada, yada, yada.
    One day when the kids were little, reality hit: egads, they’re JEWISH! Having become more practical over the years, we realized that we had responsibilities toward our Babies of the Book, and boom, here we are now- shomer Shabbos, keepin’ kosher, kids in an orthodox dayschool…
    I’m still at a loss, though, with how to reconcile my connection to Israel. My aunt lived there for several years when I was young but we never visited, so I don’t really have a familial link. My husband is a GIT (Ger in training), so his ties are solely through several wonderful touring musicians that we’d met over the years. In addition, we see the local Federation’s education allotment shrinking even as the Israel budget items increase, making it very difficult for our local day schools to function well financially. This seems counter-productive.
    In addition, while I feel a kinship to Israel in a spiritual sense (whatever that is…), I have a hard time reconciling that with the Israelis I’ve met who see Yom Kippur as a great day to go the beach and the food reviewer for Haaretz that seems to go out of his way to find the most treyf-layered-on-treyf restaurants in the country. Where do I fit into the equation? By the way, that’s not a hypothetical question- I really am interested in hearing what others have to say.

  • laya, of course celebrating israel in israel is authentic…I’d even say it’s easy. But to my great disappointment you make it seem that because I don’t live there I have no right to celebrate the country and enjoy “cheesy” jewish music. So maybe the turn out in Montral wasn’t so great, but consider the community. In fact, I was proud to be standing as part of a jewish gathering, surrounded by Israeli flags, jewish music and dance.
    Who wouldn’t want to be in Israel on Yom Haatzmaut? But am I at fault because forty years ago my parents decided to leave…a decision they practically cry about every day. Not because they hate it here, or because they can’t be real jews here…but because to them Israel is home. And they are homesick,just like you. Should I be blamed because I grew up here, was educated here, got married here and had a family here? Does that mean I can only ever be a “visitor” in Israel? And according to you, does “putting in the work” mean eating chummus and chilling on the grass or beach…. Please, don’t hate on me cause I love Israel from afar. Please don’t stain my celebration of a country I love because it didn’t hit the authentic meter in you mind. And if all I can do to show my love is donate to JNF and visit practically my entire family there every year…well, maybe that’s ok for me. But to you it seems unauthentic. And cheesy. And it makes Esther feel like a bad Jew.
    Since I was born I was taught to love and care for a country with a passion I could never understand. The love is unconditional because I am a jew and Israel is a country for jews.

  • sigh, all of y’all are just making me homesick for a place I’ve never lived! I want to make aliyah in the near future (read next 10 years), I wish we would just up and do it now, but the DH isn’t quite “there” yet if you know what I mean, but he’s coming along. I also have this, erm, small, issue of probably not being able to immigrate as a Jew do to a non-ortho conversion (that’s another ongoing story) combined with not being affiliated.

    So far I’ve got a 5 step process for the next 10 years:
    1. birthright, learn, listen, question, study
    2. move to local ortho town, affiliate, study, question
    3. study, practice, study, practice, study, question, va’ad, practice, study
    4. question, take deep breath, cry a lot, get the most scared I’ve ever been and make aliyah.
    5. promptly have a nervous breakdown, when the bank account hits 0 (or lower) and the only jobs I can get are for 15 shkaliim an hour. husband’s an honest carpenter, will that help? (darn, that joke won’t be as funny anymore, will it?)

    I guess the question though is why do I feel this desire to pick up and move away from my entire family, one of whom will not be supportive or happy and may even not speak to me again? All I can come up with right now is that I believe in Israel, that it has a future that doesn’t include violence or hatred, but that does include Judaism and respect. If I felt that the best thing would be staying in the US being an advocate (or is that devil’s advocate?), or working for local organizations, I would, but that’s not the way I’m feeling. Hopefully this will flesh out better in the near future. I need more dwelling time.

    Maybe I’m used to these sort of unexplainable feelings, I did convert and that desire/need is nearly unexplainable. It feels like coming home (like the movies, sunset, porch-swing, morning coffee in a sunroom, beautiful sunrise) to a place you never knew existed, like your whole life has been living in a series of hotels, and you just found out what a home is. You just “know” and then you have to discover why you know. (which generally includes learning all the stuff you don’t want to know about yourself and your desired end)

  • Tanya,

    you parents decided to leave, and you decide to stay. I wouldn’t call it “fault” like you do, but if you feel the pull to be there and you don’t go, yourself, as an adult, it’s no longer your parents responsibility. Lech Lecha, you know?

    Your parents could even move back. They already speak Hebrew and already have family there, which is a head start at re-acclimation that me and most of my friends never had. Plus then I could still come over for shabbos.

    By “putting in the work” I don’t mean Hummus and chill time. Those are the little rewards for the ridiculous daily insanity and stress we all go through to be in a country where waiting in line at the post office is practically a combat sport. Our rewards for being there to build something that hopefully one day we can all be proud of, not just waiting for other people to do it.

    Yes, Yom Ha’aztmaut is an “easy” day for us, if by easy you mean natural. Isn’t it supposed to be?

    I’m not trying to hate on you for loving Israel from afar any more than I’m trying to make Esther feel like a bad jew. However, there is a severe qualitative difference I was trying to point out with this post. Many many Jews in the diaspora are very content with a diaspora Judaism and a theoretical Israel. The fact that both you and Esther take umbrage here and feel the need to defend your love for israel and the reasons you don’t live there already puts you ahead of the curve.

    If JNF trees and visits are indeed enough for you to feel you have a complete Israel experience, then great, It really takes all kinds. But don’t call it authentic. And come on, that music was cheesy. Fun, maybe, but cheesy.

    Esther – the family thing is tough. I was never too emotionally close with my parents, the upside of which was that it allowed me a certain fredom of mobility because I found I never missed them. Once in Israel I also got hooked up very quickly with an amazing group fo people and have rarely felt lonely since. For whatever thats worth.

    Conservagirl – yes, there are Israelis who go to the beach on Yom Kippur, proudly eat trief etc, and they do represent a portion of society. But not all of it by a long shot. It’s one of the things I like the most about Israel; the fact that its all jews and jews are pretty community-oriented people make it so that you can generally find a shade of observance that suits you among the plethora of social communities that form within the country. So where do you fit? hard to say without knowing you, but you can always come check it out and see what you find.

    lynn – rock on. come visit in the mean time.

  • all i’m saying is that was a cynical post from someone homesick…and that just cause it may not have been the greatest israel day celebration, at least there was an israel day celebration. I do not hide behind my parents choice to move to canada…and when the time is right and the drive is there maybe I will go to israel for good. But until then, I am proud to celebrate and supprt the country in any and every way that I can. Anyway, we could all do a lot better without the judgements and criticisms…you’re my sista! And you better be good cause my momma made some killer VEGGIE couscous just for your skinny, vegetable lovin’ cynical diaspora jew hatin’ tachat. AND NOMATBUCHA FOR YOU!

  • For the record, I never meant that you, Laya, made me feel like a bad Jew. An old Jew, yes, but it’s the situation that makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. The where do I fit issue is an issue for me wherever I go, so I doubt that would change on arrival in Israel.

    And maybe I’d find a niche there, a haven of friends and family that wouldn’t make me feel like I’d left everything behind. But until I’m ready to do that, or absent a spiritual or romantic awakening that supersedes my love for my family, I will probably remain anchored here for a while.

    Lynn, a beautiful analogy. I hope that the Jewish people will never give you reason to feel anything other than the sense of wonderment and endless discovery that you’ve already encountered. I’ll meet you at Laya’s for dinner and we can discuss it. 🙂

  • “skinny, vegetable-lovin’, cynical diaspora Jew-hating tachat”

    I think I just fell a little bit in love with Tanya.

  • Tanya, no matbucha? now you are being unreasonable!

    And esther, as a fellow gemini, you may one day find you need the opportunity to leave it all behind, change everything and reinvent yourself. and your niche can be my futon sofa.

  • Matbucha has to be the coolest name for any edible source of nutrition

    it’s Mad!! Bucha!! yo

  • schav, kishka, cholent… Ashkenaz food names aren’t too appealing. sorry

  • Laya, The reason people don’t move there in massive numbers is that obviously there is something wrong w/ living there, otherwise, why are there so many Israelis in North America, wherever I go, in Vancouver, in Winnepeg, Toronto, Utah.

    There are many problems there, and that is an unfortunate fact. Many people did leave there myself included, and while I would like in fact to live there, I am aware that I felt complete w/ leaving when I did some 20 years ago.

    If I could afford so, I would definetly go more often than the once a year I do go. I would send my children and we would spend the summer months in our second home.

    I am working on the financed part.

  • what about cous cous, pastilla, dafina, moufletta, shbakiya (that’s a good one!), nana, sheba, jdiddle me’ara…..(heehee)

    and what’s with all the israelis in wildwood…can nj really be better than the holy land?

    ck, where are you and how are you and the ladies getting to chomedey? laya is sleeping in the bathtub.

  • moxie’s friend – You make it sound like there is something fundementally wrong with living in Israel. I object. Clearly, there are problems and room for improvement, but we don’t make the country any better by simply leaving it. There will be things you don’t like anywhere you live. It’s a cost/benefit analysis. Israel is a really difficult place to live in many respects, but its the hard that makes it great. Its real and full of substance in a way I personally never felt in America. But It’s not for everyone.

    Tanya, you just made me so hungry, and I don’t even know what half of those things are. Becca has a car, we’ll be driving up. Bathtub it is.

  • outhouse? hey, there may be farmland in chomedey, but gosh darn, we don’t live on no farm…we’s gots toilet paper an’ running water, an’ even purty little soaps for washin’ up after…ya’ll come around now, y’hear! good shabbos to all you jews.

  • No Tanya – I’ll be sleeping in the bath tub. Laya is coming with Rebecca AND Danielle – a veritable Teen Frum Grrl Squad…

    “My Neshama Hurts!”

  • Uh between my old room and Sandy’s old room, that’s three – that takes care of the Teen Frum Grrl Squad. Me? I’ll sleep on the sofa? Or camp out in the backyard? Why are we discussing this here??

  • “Teen Frum Grrl Squad!?” i’m reform, remember? Oh Hashem…

  • Laya, I feel your pain. I’ve been in both the situations you describe more times than i care to remember. yom ha’atzmaut in israel is the best, though i’m partial to sultan’s pool over gan sacher, but to each her own. and your critique of north american jews for being a bunch of softies is dead on. still, israel continues to be strengthened by the abundance of wealth and political clout of the american jewish community. those softies, who are so unsexy and have no edge, still make shitloads of money, are more informed and politically active than the average north american gentile softy, and have consistently used the power and influence that money begets to Israel’s benefit. that was true in the earliest days of the state and it remains so today. of course, being a wall street fat cat and writing your annual check to UJA or JNF or whoever is a far cry from putting your life on the line for three years serving in the IDF and that’s why for Israeli, yom ha’atz is a genuine celebration and in north america it’s a social event. that’s why life in israel feel’s ‘authentic’ and ’empowering’ – because you’re experiencing it every day instead of living vicariously through the sacrifices of others. but lets not be toooooo contemptuous of the fat cats. they have their place too.

  • Test her: place shrimp encrusted fish sticks in front of her and see whether she drools.

  • Esther,
    …there’s another kink for American Jews, no matter how close their ties to the homeland. If our parents and siblings (and nieces and nephews) are here, it’s that much harder to leave for the unknown, even an idealized unknown. And if there are illnesses in the family, God forbid, it’s that much harder.

    I understand this, and family is very important, but if you are a sincere person, then you will probably be able to find friends in Israel that are better than family.

    I’ll try to get into this tomorrow morning.

    israel continues to be strengthened by the abundance of wealth and political clout of the american jewish community

    A relative of mine is convinced that he should stay in America so A) he can continue to send big checks to Israel, B) fear that Israel will be wiped out and he’ll be around to replenish the Jews.
    Given that hogwash, What if: America’s business elite moved to Israel (like Stanley Fischer) ? Instead of making ‘America’ great, why not make Israel great? When 1 000 000 Russians moved to Israel, the economy gained tremendously. What would happen if 1 000 000 American Jews moved over?

    Wealth is fleeting. Here today, not tomorrow.