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‘I Speak English, but I Don’t Speak American’

A roundtable discussion with Israeli expats living in the U.S. about why they came to America, how they feel about leaving Israel, the differences in Jewish life between the two countries, and what Americans get wrong about Israelis

Abigail Pogrebin
June 29, 2023
The Minyan
Roundtables on the state of the American Jewish community, bringing together people from a shared demographic or background—everyday people with personal opinions, not experts who earn their salaries discussing these issues.
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Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine
Tablet Magazine

What is it like to be an Israeli living in America?

Over 500,000 Israeli expats live in the U.S., with the largest enclaves in New York, California, Florida, and New Jersey. They often maintain the Hebrew language in their homes and gravitate toward fellow Israelis through social networks, synagogues, Jewish community centers, or more recently, the Israeli American Council, founded in 2007, which is the largest Israeli American organization in the U.S.

Many Israelis came to the U.S. for education or job opportunities; some came because of disappointment in Israel’s schools, economy, or religious/sectarian pluralism. Some miss Israel’s sunlight, its shuk (market), or the ineffable power of living in a country that almost didn’t come to be. Conversely, some prefer America’s diversity, and its invitation to practice Judaism without Orthodoxy. As one participant who lives outside Uvalde, Texas, described it in our pre-interview: “My experience was that there’s just a monopoly on Judaism in Israel. I always felt excluded. When I moved to America and went to my first Yom Kippur service, I was crying, ‘Oh my God, this is what I’ve been missing my whole life.’”

Another who lives in Palo Alto, California, said the countries’ parallel origin stories made him feel instantly at home: “Founded by freedom fighters who fled tyranny, the U.S. and Israel are both immigrant countries.”

What becomes clear, as one listens to Israelis who chose America—at least for now—is that they are at once viscerally connected to the place they left and at the same time immersed in America, acknowledging that maintaining a Jewish identity takes more conscious effort here.


Their ages, locations, where they lived in Israel, and the years they immigrated to the U.S.

Tzippi: 64, Palo Alto, California. Moved from Tel Aviv/Herzliya area in 1985.

Adva: 33, Del Rio, Texas. Moved from Beersheva in 2017.

Miri: 80, Manhattan. Moved from “the heart of Tel Aviv, in Dizengoff Circle” in 1973, “just before the Yom Kippur War.”

Yuval: 46, Philadelphia. Moved from Jerusalem in 2012.

Etai: 55, Redwood City, California. Moved from the Tel Aviv area/Givatayim in 2008.

Ayelet: 53, suburban Atlanta. Moved from Kiryat Gat and Modi’in in 2001.

Dina: 71, Catskills, New York. Moved from northern Tel Aviv in 1980.

Ben: 46, Miami and New York. Moved from Tel Aviv area/Herzliya in 2002.

Elan: 39, Brooklyn. Grew up in Netanya and lived in Tel Aviv before moving to the U.S. in 2014.

Karin: 45, Boston. Moved from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in 2004.

Yoav: 53, Atlanta. Raised in Rehovot, lived in Tel Aviv before moving in 2010.

Rabbi Y.: 37, New York City. Moved from Jerusalem in 2013.

Very briefly, please explain why you came to America.

Dina: My husband and I came to do graduate work. But really, we left Israel because we both felt suffocated in some way. I was already a high school teacher and the whole education system drove me crazy, was so uncreative and suffocating.

Etai: For me, the trigger was a career move: relocation after acquisition of my previous company. I have a big family all around in the U.S. and in Argentina, so the U.S. was always something that I had orientation to. I’d been here many times before. Also, I felt a big disappointment and concern about Israeli politics. It was a long time ago, and mostly triggered by the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin in ’95. That created a big wound that never healed.

Ayelet: My husband got a job opportunity, and so we moved. That’s it.

Rabbi Y.: It was work, in the first three years, at the Jewish Agency, and then afterward it was school. Today it’s mainly spiritual nourishment and a place of professional growth, while knowing and hoping that I will return to Israel, just not yet knowing what date.

Yuval: I was very involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Jerusalem. And at one point, after also serving in the military in a very painful, complicated unit—identifying the dead bodies of the Second Intifada—and then dedicating 14 years for peace, I just felt the need to heal my trauma and try to find a way to leave.

I had the feeling, raising kids in America, that they would be allowed to be the Jews that they want to be—unlike what I was told when I was raised in Israel.

Yoav: My story is a little bit different. I went on relocation to Africa, met an American woman there, and we ended up being together. And when it was time to wrap up our time in Africa, she wanted to move back here to the States. So I followed her. I never had any intentions to move to America before that.

Karin: My dad was dean of the dental school at Hebrew University, so I grew up in Israel as a sabbatical kid—going back and forth to North America. For two years, we were in D.C., then in Toronto, Canada, and my mom is from England, so for me, it was very natural to say to my husband, “I want to go and study in English in America.” He found a job here in Boston with his company—which was at the time in Tel Aviv. We relocated to Boston, and he opened his own company.

Are you comfortable saying a little more about your family circumstance?

Karin: I’m what’s called in Israel mechoseret dat—“faithless,” not having any religion. My mom’s a Catholic. She never converted. I’ve never converted. I had the feeling, raising kids in America, that they would be allowed to be the Jews that they want to be—unlike what I was told when I was raised in Israel. I think staying in the U.S. was my way of exercising my religious and spiritual freedom, of being in a place where I can be whoever I want to be.

Are your children being raised as Jews?

Karin: My kids just feel more connected to Israeli culture and being Jewish than any other culture that they’re part of. The younger two are going to a Conservative Jewish day school. My oldest is a product of the public school. Like most of you in this group probably, we are in a close-knit Israeli environment and most of our days are spent in Hebrew.

Elan: We came to the U.S. for practical reasons. It was weighing quality of life versus the lifestyle that I was used to, growing up in Israel. I finagled my way into getting relocated at my first job after business school, and I’ve been here ever since.

Miri: I came for a sabbatical and things didn’t work out to go back to Israel, in terms of my husband’s work. So we got stuck in America for many years—really stuck. It wasn’t a choice.

You would have gone back if you could?

Miri: Definitely. Definitely.

Tzippi: I came here for graduate school.

Adva: It was me wanting to experience another way of life. I already knew what life is in Israel and what I expect it to be. Also my husband is a U.S. citizen and he grew up here in the States, so he wanted the career change and it would be making more sense for him to start the career change here.

Even now, after 50 years, I haven’t decided if I moved permanently to the United States.

Ben: I’m an artist and always knew that I wanted to play in a global pool, work with international organizations, museums, companies, and it just seems more logical to do that from a place like New York.

Please raise your hands: How many would say that when you came to the U.S., you expected it to be permanent? I see just two of you—Elan and Ben.

Miri: Even now, after 50 years, I haven’t decided if I moved permanently to the United States.

What is one way that you would say it’s different to be Jewish in Israel and Jewish in the U.S.?

Ayelet: In Israel, I lived in Kiryat Gat, which is very close-knit, a lot of Orthodox. But we ourselves were never Orthodox, even though my grandparents were. So we would go to synagogue on a holiday—usually Yom Kippur—but not more than that. Over here in the U.S., it was much more important for me to embrace Judaism, to actually go on the High Holidays to a synagogue, to show my kids the Jewish atmosphere, the traditions. Otherwise they were never going to get it. So we would light candles on Shabbat with the girls and even with my boy, just showed them that this is a beautiful religion. I actually host a weekly class in my home for Israeli ladies, and we have this great person who comes over and does either parshat hashavua [the Torah portion of the week] or something like that, which I would never even think about doing in Israel, because in Israel, it felt like it was coerced. Here I do it because I want to do it, because I want to show my kids how beautiful Judaism is.

Ayelet, when you go back to visit Israel, are you transporting those American religious ways you’ve developed over time?

Ayelet: No, I just go back to being the regular Israeli I’ve always been. Even here in America, I take what I want from Judaism. I don’t do everything. I’m not shomeret shabbat [Sabbath observant]. I drive on Shabbat, I work—I’m a Realtor there’s no way not to work on Shabbat. And so, I take what I want and feel comfortable with.

Yuval: I grew up in a Hasidic community in Israel—B’nai Brak—and then I was in the yeshiva world in Jerusalem. When I left the ultra-Orthodox community, I was put under the box of “secular,” which definitely doesn’t work for me. I’m neither, and I don’t have energy to invest in explaining, because life is much too short for me personally. I think what I found in America is that my Jewishness is much more private. I’m living these days in an intentional community—with a big kibbutz of seven adults, kids, cats, and a dog. I don’t care who is Jewish there—from a DNA point of view. We are only two Jews by blood in the community, but everyone celebrates Shabbat, everyone celebrates Passover in the way that fits us. And I think this is such a celebration of Judaism—much outside of the categories of how it “should” be.

Over here in the U.S., it was much more important for me to embrace Judaism, to actually go on the High Holidays to a synagogue, to show my kids the Jewish atmosphere, the traditions. Otherwise they were never going to get it.

Miri: For my generation—the people who started the country, our religion was the nation. Jewishness was nationhood. So by saying, “I’m an Israeli,” it was very strong loyalty to say, “I’m Jewish.” It was like secular Judaism. Very, very powerful. So still, when I get up in the morning, the first thing I want to know when I open my eyes is if my children are OK, and the second—before I think about work or anything, I check the news to see if Israel is OK. It’s amazing—how the country is like God. Everything that happens in the country is as painful and relevant for me as my children. There is such a degree of caring, understanding, and even forgiving things—like you forgive your children. I feel that people judge Israel. Not that the situation there is good; it’s horrible what’s going on now with the judicial revolution. But I think that anybody from outside cannot understand what’s going on. It’s like judging a marriage from the outside. So I think that it’s very important to come back to nationhood. Nationhood is also a very powerful way of feeling Jewish.

Rabbi Y.: As a queer person growing up in Jerusalem in a very secular family, I did not have a sense of belonging—not with the default Jews, which is the Orthodox, or with those who are traditional or inclusive. I was only in a few spaces in Jerusalem that were progressive. Coming here to America, I really feel that there’s something universal. There’s something that taps into different identities that is not really felt in Israel, meaning that you could be Buddhist, Jewish, queer, nonbinary in America, and nobody would really care. Nobody would really ask me, why am I this or that? Whereas in Israel, with all my love and challenges of the country, it’s very blunt, very upfront: “Why are you not raising up a family?” The ideal in the Jewish Israeli culture is raising up a family. And I don’t yet know if I want to raise a family. Here in the U.S., nobody dares to ask me what type of relationship I have. Whereas in Israel, they would ask me not only if I’m married—and why not, if I’m not yet married—but what I’ve done in the army and how much rent I pay. There is something very powerful in being able not to answer, or for me to say, “This is what I want to share about myself. You’re not in a place of asking me.” I’m in the place of power, of sharing what I want to share in America.

Yoav: For us Israelis, there’s no difference between being Israeli and being Jewish. It blends together. Whereas here in America, you have to work at—or consider, or be aware of—the fact that you are also Jewish besides being American. I had this realization when I was 9 years old. A little bit like Karin, I was a sabbatical child, so we went to France for a year or two. And only then did I realize, “Hold on a second; there’s a difference between me being Israeli and Jewish, because there are French people here who are Jewish as well but not Israeli!” So here in the U.S., it’s a distinction that we have to make. In Israel, until you’re in your teens, most kids don’t really have this distinction. There’s another aspect that I wanted to touch on: In Israel—and it has increased lately with the recent events and governments—religion has been highly politicized. It has created a kind of a countereffect for people who are not religious: the way they perceive Judaism. Only by taking a step back and coming to a foreign country, at least for me, it made it easier for me to reconcile myself with Judaism, getting away from this discourse that is highly politicized.

Etai: I can maybe offer a different perspective—a little bit less about the religious part of it. As we grew up in Israel, it comes with the territory: Being Jewish is being Israeli and vice versa. You tour the places that you read about in the Bible, you learn them in school; the Jewish holidays are national holidays; on Yom Kippur, it’s empty in the streets. That’s how you come to be raised in Israel. The other part is that you are on a mission. We came from grandparents, parents, who came from Europe to revive the Jewish dream. They came after the horrible Holocaust sacrifice in all families. Then they made more sacrifices during Israel’s wars. That’s what being Jewish means to most of us. The religion part of it is very, very minimal to us people who are secular, but we’re not secular; we are Jewish, just in a different way. Here in the U.S., it’s far closer to religion on one end and to peoplehood on the other end, much less connected to the land and to that story of, “We went through the horrors of the Holocaust and we came back and said, ‘We’re saving the day.’” In America, it’s a very different ethos and story.

I think what I found in America is that my Jewishness is much more private.

Elan: I fully agree with what both Etai and Yoav just mentioned. I think the nationhood, statehood, and religion is intertwined in Israel. Growing up in Israel, you’re Jewish just by being Jewish. You could even be a passive Jew and you’d be considered Jewish. Here in America, you have to be much more proactive to work on that side of your identity. For me, having a family with two little kids, we have to make plans of doing something for Shabbat. We have to be considerate about sending our kids to some form of Jewish schooling, beyond what my wife and I can provide to our family. You really have to work your identity here, while as in Israel, just by being you, you are Israeli and Jewish.

Dina: For me, it’s never about religion at all. I don’t come from a family that talked about religion because we are masorti—we are from the Spanish Inquisition and from Baghdad and Egypt; there we did not have the categories hiloni [secular] and dati [religious] at all. We were all Jewish. I come from a very high rabbinical lineage. And yet I do not care about any of the religious things, other than the spiritual depths of humanity. I myself am practicing Buddhist, but what I find in Kabbalah, which I’ve been studying for many years, is the depths of wisdom. That’s what I care about: the wisdom, deep humanity, heart-centered human. But I don’t have those names in my life—dati, hiloni, la-la-la. It’s not where I live.

Because Dina brought up these Jewish labels, can I ask each of you how you identify your lineage in terms of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, or Mizrahi?

Tzippi: Ashkenazi.

Adva: Mizrahi.

Elan: Ashkenazi, secular. But there are so many fissures—how do you say in Hebrew shesayim, so many subcultures.

Ben: I’m Sephardi and spiritual.

Etai: Ashkenazi.

Dina: DNA: Jewish. My family is Sephardi and Mizrahi. And I’m spiritual.

Yuval: I am Jerusalemite. From Jerusalem.

Ayelet: I am Sephardi and definitely spiritual.

Miri: I am Ashkenazi. It’s not what I feel; it’s a fact.

For us Israelis, there’s no difference between being Israeli and being Jewish. It blends together. Whereas here in America, you have to work at—or consider, or be aware of—the fact that you are also Jewish besides being American.

Yoav: I consider myself Israeli. I am mainly Ashkenazi with a little bit of Sephardi, but I consider myself Israeli.

Karin: I’m a Yerushalmite, Jerusalemite, but I’m also a shiksa-Yerushalmite, which is a whole category of its own. My mom is not Jewish, so when I fill out the forms here in the U.S., I’m like, what am I, Middle Eastern? Am I “other”? It’s an interesting question. But definitely I am from Jerusalem.

Rabbi Y.: I’m more and more just trying to say that I’m a human being lately, but I’m also a JewBu [Jewish Buddhist] and a believer. I really appreciate people in this roundtable saying “Jerusalemite” as opposed to “Israeli,” because it entails, as Elan was saying, the diversity and the different voices. But I am first and foremost a believer in humanity.

How many of you have kids? I see 10 hands raised: Elan, Etai, Ben, Dina, Tzippi, Miri, Yoav, Karin, Adva, and Ayelet. For those who do have children, how many speak Hebrew to themit doesn’t have to be exclusively, but regularly? I see all of you except Yoav and Elan.

Yuval: I don’t have kids, but I’m raising a kid and I speak regularly with them Hebrew.

I apologize. I should have phrased the question, “If you are a parent at all.” Thank you.

Now, turning to a different question: Miri and Etai spoke earlier in this conversation about “the project” or “mission” of Israel that you were all part of, or were raised with: the idea of what it means to be part of this nation and then to choose not to stay. I heard several Israeli Americans talk in my pre-interviews about the feeling of guilt at leaving Israel. Is there anyone comfortable talking about whether that was ever an emotion that you wrestled with, even if you no longer do?

Adva: I’m facing guilt every day when I’m talking with my mom or my grandma on the phone because they always give me the Jewish mother guilt of, “You took our granddaughters away,” or, “We have granddaughters or great-granddaughters and we never see them.” I think that’s always permanent. The fact is that my family is in Israel and they just want to be present and they’re not. So there’s always that little pinch, thinking about my kids growing up and not being with my family, when all my family is in Israel. Also we’re far from any other family because we live in the middle of nowhere in Texas. Other than that, I really don’t have any other guilt about leaving and not living there right now.

When I left Israel, it was considered a betrayal, a terrible thing to leave. And I still feel this way—not only because of the family, but because of the country.

Karin: I wouldn’t call it guilt necessarily, or even regret. But there is this emotion that I can’t really name—more of a pining, sadness, or sorrow—for my kids not experiencing that type of belonging to a home. I want my kids to grow up in the way I did; I thought Jerusalem was the best city to grow up in. Leaving it was very hard for me. I really wanted my kids to grow up in that same kind of carefree atmosphere. Especially with what’s going on now in Israel, it feels very similar to how I felt when I first left: You’re kind of dissociated from the place that you were born in. It’s very difficult to reconcile that for me personally. So, it’s like pining.

Is there anyone who feels like they let down some idea of an important, historic project?

Miri: Totally. It’s generational. I’m the oldest one in this group and when I left Israel, it was considered a betrayal, a terrible thing to leave. And I still feel this way—not only because of the family, but because of the country. It was so hard to build it. What was important at the beginning—the utopia—was the collective and not your personal career or interests. I feel very guilty, all my life, about the country, not only about the family.

Dina: I am in the generation in between the beginning of the country and the young professionals that came to America. I just want to say that when we left, we promised our parents—we were very young, going to the U.S. to do Ph.D.s—we promised our parents to come back. And some of my friends got very angry at us that we left. There was a guilt they put on us, but we didn’t really take it on because we came to the U.S. to be educated, and we were thinking we would come back and give our gifts back to Israel. Because I’m here in America now for many years, since 1979, there has been very much a wave of the guilt.

Please raise your hand if you went to synagogue while you were living in Israel. I see two: Dina and Rabbi Y. Please raise your hand if you go to a synagogue in the U.S. I’m seeing five: Ben, Ayelet, Yoav, Dina, Rabbi Y.

Rabbi Y.: I used to go—and still often go—to Nava Tehilla and Kehilat Zion in Jerusalem. Both are progressive, inclusive, and have very inspiring female role models. Unfortunately in Israel, there’s not enough visibility to women rabbis in general, so that was also important for me. I must say that in neither community is there as much inclusivity to LGBTQ people or singles. This is not to undermine those beautiful communities. It’s just really to show, even in the progressive spaces, the lack of visibility and transparency toward the LGBTQ community of Israel.

Generally, since you’ve been in America, has it been important to you to connect with other Israelis in America? Raise your hand. I see seven: Yoav, Ben, Etai, Tzippi, Elan, Ayelet, and Rabbi Y.

Adva, can I ask why you didn’t raise your hand?

The complexities of Israeli society are so huge, so diverse; there are so many different Israels. But I don’t think that the average American Jew really understands the intricacies of all these different frictions.

Adva: I never did look for Israeli friends or companionships or groups. They somehow were handed to me. And I can tell you that the only times that I had uncomfortable situations were with Israelis—I didn’t enjoy the interactions. I didn’t find myself there. I just don’t choose them as friends to begin with.

This is a question for any of you: What do American Jews get wrong about Israel?

Tzippi: The American Jews I know here go a lot to Israel back and forth. They visit. They are very involved. They know a lot. They have opinions. For me, what they get wrong is the old-fashioned idea that it’s not for us to intervene in what’s going on in Israel. “We will donate annually or monthly and maybe have an idea about where we want our money to go, but when it comes to real decisions about what the country is—about the heart and soul of the country—it’s not for us to intervene because we don’t send our kids to die in their army, because we don’t live the daily hardships.” And especially today, I feel that this is really wrong. It’s very important for Jewish Americans to get involved, to voice their opinions and to fight for the soul of the country.

Ayelet: I think Americans as a whole—not necessarily American Jews—think Israel still lives in the dark ages; there are camels roaming the streets. And I’ve made a very conscious decision to go to Israel with only American ladies, because I wanted to see Israel through their eyes, which was very enlightening because they had very different thoughts than what I knew about Israel. They just cannot understand how forward Israel is, with technology, with all of that. That’s why I’m laughing. They were like, “Oh my God, Israel has all this technology, they have Waze!” Nobody even thinks that Israelis came up with Waze, or WhatsApp or so many other things. So it was really funny.

Yuval: First, I don’t like to speak about “American Jews”—there are many American Jewish communities. Some of them have a hard time to understand what does it mean to be Jewish-majority. In America, the whole idea of Judaism is about being a minority, which is a huge gift. But they need to understand what it is to be a majority in Israel. The second thing is that some American Jews, I think, understand Israeli minorities much better than many Israelis. There are many American Jewish leaders who go to Israel and meet with European Israelis, Arab Israelis, they meet with Druze, ultra-Orthodox. But not all Israelis know them so well, these minorities inside Israel. Because American Jews are a minority, they have this sensitivity to other minorities. And I really think that they need to be vocal. Any Jew can say anything about Israel.

I wish that American Jews and American politics will understand better what’s going on in Israel. I think that there is a huge misunderstanding, and a lot of criticism is based on ignorance and misunderstanding.

Karin: I think for me, there’s a loss of translation. Israeli Jews in many ways have the misconception that because we’re from Israel and we come from a different culture, that we will come to the U.S. and the Jews will open the door and accept us. Unfortunately, in many cases—especially I see it in the New England community—the doors and the places around the table where discussions about the Jewish world are happening are not open for Israelis. We look at every Jewish board in our region and especially New England, most of it is dominated by American Jews, and Israelis are not there to help in that conversation. I think, because of the language barrier, American Jews miss that our Hebrew culture, which evolved in Israel, is so rich and it’s so beautiful. We basically do not share the same cultural language. I always say, “I speak English, but I don’t speak American.”

Etai: The two Jewish communities—Israeli and U.S.—are growing apart in a dangerous way, to the point where I think we’re losing the cohesiveness of the Jewish people. The Jewish community in the U.S. was pushed away [alienated] by the Orthodox power in Israel. And I think also some American Jews are losing interest in Israel, and some that do have interest don’t understand the Israeli politics, don’t understand the complexity of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. So they can actually go in different directions that are not accurate. The net result of that is that we’re losing interest and even losing the feeling of legitimacy to have an opinion, be active. It’s dangerous, horrible.

Elan: I don’t want to be too controversial, but I think what Americans here misunderstand, the misconceptions of Israelis, it’s huge. When I have conversations, there’s a lot of surface-level questions about what’s going on with the politics or what’s going on with the Palestinians. The complexities of Israeli society are so huge, so diverse; there are so many different Israels. But I don’t think that the average American Jew really understands the intricacies of all these different frictions. Let’s not forget that Israel is a melting pot of so many different societies, so many different Judaisms, so many different levels of Judaism. All of these are not one uniform type of Israeli Jew. I am not sure that the American society here understands how, even in a forum like this conversation, you have 12 different people who come from very different backgrounds within the same small Israel.

Dina: I think no one mentioned that the American Jew does not know the depth of racism against the Mizrahi and the Sephardim in Israel. Sorry to say, they were against me. I was the dark, black sheep of my school, of the university. I was the only Iraqi there at that time. And the American Jew does not know that Israel was actually a racist country from the beginning, when Ben-Gurion decided to force the Jews from Morocco and Iraq to leave their country so they will be a workhorse for the Ashkenazi. Even the Israelis themselves do not know. Really, they have no idea.

Etai: Dina, they were jealous. You were the most beautiful there, I’m sure.

Dina: Thank you. I was also the most smart. It doesn’t matter. I was dark.

Does anyone want to weigh in on the converse questionwhat Israeli Jews get wrong about American Jews?

Rabbi Y.: As someone who worked for Hillel three years and for the Jewish Agency, I think that one of the most important things that young adults in Israel don’t understand about American Jewry is the way that they celebrate the diversity. There’s something in the notion that it doesn’t matter what identity you have or where you come from, so long as you have belief, passion, the will to be a part of a community. I think there’s so much for Israelis to learn about the pluralistic approaches to Judaism here in America. I was suggesting to the CEO of Birthright years ago to allow young Israeli adults to come to America to learn about American Jewry, something that I think would not only help young adults in Israel with their Judaism, but actually help change the social cultural context of which this country is constituted on.

Just to get the temperature of this group, can you raise your hand if you have been part of the recent protests about the current government in Israeleither here or in Israel? I see seven: Etai, Karin, Dina, Tzippi, Yoav, Miri, Rabbi Y.

Yoav: I think that Israel is in its biggest crisis since the creation of Israel, maybe bigger than the ’73 war. Whatever will transpire from the events or decisions that come down from this government can define the future of Israel for the next few generations. We’re at a very critical moment. I was in Israel twice since the beginning of the protests—I went twice and participated—and I sometimes participate here in Atlanta in front of the consulate.

I think it’s important to think about Israel as one of your siblings, your family, who you might not always have a good relationship with, but you still need to love them, care for them, and be involved in what they decide.

Miri: Not all Israelis go to synagogues, but so many Israelis go every week to the demonstrations and don’t have fun on the weekend. Everything is dedicated to the demonstrations, to the protests, because it’s a way to fight, to preserve the character of the country if we want to have it as a democracy. There is a loyalty to the ideas on which the country was based and to fight for them.

Tzippi: I talked earlier in this conversation about what Jewish Americans don’t get about their right and prerogative to voice their opinions. Like many Israelis here in the Bay Area, I’m terrified for the future of the country. I agree that it’s one of the worst crises ever. We Israelis in the U.S. have a very important role both in supporting our friends and family in Israel who were demonstrating weekly and even daily, and even more important, by putting the Jewish Americans into the conversation and getting them to get off the fence to help us save the country.

Does anyone in this group want to talk about why they think the protests are problematic?

Tzippi: Who dares to say that?

This is a safe space. Anyone?

Elan: I don’t think they’re achieving their purposes.

Tzippi: The protests have been effective.

Elan: I hope so. I support them a million percent.

Karin: I think the challenge here in the U.S., especially here in the Boston area, is that it took a turn to a very leftist, anti-occupy Palestine voice—which should be addressed, obviously, but it’s hard to rally a people toward that end of the spectrum. I think that’s one of the challenges: What voice are we using here?

Last question for everyone: What is one thing that you would like Americansnot just Jewish Americansto understand about Israel?

You just need to remember that the U.S. and Israel are both built on similar values.

Rabbi Y.: You can’t criticize Israel until you live in it or experience a long-term connection with it.

Yoav: I would say you can’t criticize Israel until you fully understand it. You don’t have to necessarily live there. But what I want Americans to understand about Israel is that like America, like American Jewry, Israel is a canvas of a lot of different views, opinions, and ways of life. You cannot categorize Israeli society as one thing. You have to understand the nuances in order to be able to talk to it, not even to criticize, but to comment about it.

Ayelet: As long as American Jews or Americans as a whole do not study Jewish history and do not know what we had to endure in order to get to that state, then they don’t really have a right to criticize us. I’m sorry.

Etai: You just need to remember that the U.S. and Israel are both built on similar values. It’s the job of both these countries to work very hard to keep them up. It’s dangerous here. It’s dangerous there. America has the right and responsibility to criticize Israel. By all means. Of course, we need to stand up for our values, all of us.

Just to clarify, when you say “dangerous,” do you mean physically dangerous, or do you mean the “danger” of losing its democratic values in both countries?

Etai: What’s happening with the indictment of Trump is the exact same story of what [happened] with [Prime Minister] Netanyahu. In 18 months, you’ll see exactly the same thing.

Miri: The propaganda about Israel is very bad. I wish that American Jews and American politics will understand better what’s going on in Israel. I think that there is a huge misunderstanding, and a lot of criticism is based on ignorance and misunderstanding.

Ben: Israel needs great PR. Whether we are Israelis living abroad or Jewish Americans, there’s so much beauty to promote. And we should really focus on the amazing things that Israel has, that Israel is doing, the innovation that comes from Israel. Maybe we should focus a little bit more on that.

Yuval: America needs to understand that Israel is becoming part of the Middle East and therefore democracy is not something that you need to take as obvious. It’s very fragile. Israel is an ally, but Israel is also part of the Middle East and there are a lot of implications to that.

Karin: A nondemocratic Israel is going to be a detriment to the whole Jewish people. We need to show some arvut hadadit—solidarity, like we are all in this together. A nondemocratic Israel is a danger for all of us. I’m worried about my kids growing up here in the U.S. without a democratic State of Israel, this thing that everybody should be proud of.

Adva: We are more than a conflict-ridden country, and our nations are very similar, especially when you consider that we both started our homelands in a war for our independence. Our stories are not that different in their core. We are the younger, troubled sibling, who needs help sometimes, as we are going through what you already had a chance to experience. I think it’s important to think about Israel as one of your siblings, your family, who you might not always have a good relationship with, but you still need to love them, care for them, and be involved in what they decide.

Elan: Within the global turmoil that’s going on, Israel should be seen as the good guys. And helping Americans understand that Israel is such a young democracy that went through so much conflict within 75 years, not to lose patience. Help Israel see what it takes to belong to the good guys in today’s world.

Dina: Americans need to understand that a strong, democratic Israel will strengthen the Jews here in America and the Jews all over the world. If Israel will fragment—the way it’s going, it will fragment Jews here. We will be in danger, all of us. I think there’s something about a strong Israel that makes us feel strong here.

I just want to make sure you mean Americans generally.

Dina: If Israel is strong, then America will be stronger. That’s what I’m saying. There is a relationship of strength. If Israel will discombobulate, the American Jew will discombobulate.

Tzippi: I’d like to push back a bit on the notion that you cannot criticize Israel until you live there, study it, have your Ph.D. in Israeli history. We criticize everybody all the time. I criticized the Sudan for what happened in Darfur, and I have to be honest, I hadn’t learned much about Sudan when I had my opinions. Everybody can have opinions about Israel.

And what is one thing you would want Americans to know about Israel?

Tzippi: That we are not so special. We are complicated, just as every other country is complicated. There are great things, bad things, and we welcome criticism because we want to get better.

Abigail Pogrebin is the author of Stars of David and My Jewish Year. She moderates the interview series “What Everyone’s Talking About” at the JCC in Manhattan.