By Matan Rudner
I have a complicated relationship with America. It’s the place where I was born and raised, where as an impressionable youth I first began to understand the world, and it’s the country I left for good just months after graduating high school. Since making aliyah, I’ve worked hard to become a full-fledged Israeli and to leave the United States behind.
As a result of my purist Zionism, I tend to operate in a binary system. I live proudly as a Jew in the Land of Israel, and I’ve always believed that Hebrew culture and American culture are mutually exclusive. I adopted my Hebrew name as my legal name and listen to nothing but Hebrew music, all in an attempt to counteract the impact that 2,000 years of exile have had on our people.
My remaining ties to the United States felt even more thoroughly severed after the 2016 presidential election: The country chose hatred and regression over compassion and progress, it rejected the values I hold dear and it felt like the final nail in the coffin of my identity as an American. I was horrified, and still am, by the direction the United States has taken these past three years, so when I left my country of birth for the country of my destiny I was content to leave everything behind.
But despite my best efforts, nearly two years have passed since my aliyah, and like the faint hints of English in my Israeli accent, vestiges of my American past remain. So I’ve decided, this July 4th, to face the facts and try, albeit begrudgingly, to make peace with the American in me.
At first glance, America stays with me most in the memories (and the Whataburger number) that I brought with me over the ocean. America is my constant craving for Tex-Mex and it’s the endless sky on the drive between Dallas and Austin. It’s the walk between my home and my grandparents’ house down the street and watching “Saturday Night Live” with my parents.
The American in me sees diversity of race, religion and nationality as something to be cherished. Though I deeply love Israel’s variety of Jewish experience that I lacked growing up, nothing can compare to the diversity of the checkout lines at Walmart, where you can hear any language at any time of the day. Only in America could I laugh with peers from six continents, and learn from them to be more open, more compassionate and more in touch with who I am and where I come from. On days when Israeli society devolves into sectarian conflict between Arab and Jew, secular and religious, I’m grateful to be have been born in a country where diversity is not a weakness to be overcome but a strength to be celebrated.
Before the re-establishment of our state, our people relied on others to protect us. In the decades before the Holocaust, as pogroms swept Eastern Europe, millions of Jews fled the continent for the safety of America, the goldene medina, before the gates were closed. My family was lucky enough to be let in.
And in the century that’s passed since my great-grandparents got their first glimpse of Lady Liberty, this country has given us everything.
In three generations, America has provided my family with stellar opportunities for education and employment. It’s given us the chance to participate fully in a triumphant democracy, through the ballot box and through protest. It’s embraced us in every sense of the word and granted us the liberty to express our Jewish identity, a liberty that we had been denied for centuries in Europe. It was here in the New World that I attended Jewish summer camps and Jewish day school, that I first learned of my own heritage and of the State of Israel, a country reborn across the sea.
It’s hard for me to admit that I’m not a native Israeli, that I spent 19 years being shaped by the culture and values of the United States. But I am the Jew that I am, the Zionist that I am, the diversity-loving, democracy-defending, Tex-Mex-eating man that I am, because I was born an American. I wouldn’t have it any other way.