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Far From Home, Sabras in U.S. Reflect on Israel

How Israelis in America are celebrating Israel’s 67th Independence Day

Tal Trachtman Alroy
April 23, 2015
Israeli children watch fireworks in the Mediterranean coastal city of Netanya, on May 5, 2014, during Israel's 66th Independence Day celebrations. Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared the existence of the State of Israel in Tel Aviv in 1948, ending the British mandate. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images )
Israeli children watch fireworks in the Mediterranean coastal city of Netanya, on May 5, 2014, during Israel’s 66th Independence Day celebrations. Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared the existence of the State of Israel in Tel Aviv in 1948, ending the British mandate. (Jack Guez/AFP/Getty Images )

On Israel’s Independence Day, Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israeli citizens gather with family and friends, host barbecues, visit Air Force bases, and party all night until morning; they’ve the next day off from work. It is one of those awesome celebrations of Israeli culture, life, and existence—regardless of political affiliation. But Israelis living in the U.S., it seems, find that celebratory vibe difficult to find.

Since today is Israel’s 67th Independence Day, I decided to reach out to a number of Israelis living across the U.S. to learn how they’re celebrating, and what kind of country they hope to find when they return. Despite how large their bank accounts may grow here, and despite an acknowledgment that living in the U.S. is far less turbulent than in Israel—most Sabras living in the U.S., sooner or later, plan to go back to the Promised Land.

Neta Laufer, 29, an art and photography student at New York’s School of Visual Arts, said she isn’t planning on doing anything special for the holiday and it makes her sad to see how un-celebratory this day is for Israelis in New York.

“Aside from reading Ynet and scrolling Facebook, you don’t feel the celebrations here,” she said.

While she plans on going back to Israel, she said she worries about the prevalence of racism and the lack of acceptance of minorities exemplified by the last election.

“I’m still digesting that Bibi won,” she said. “I don’t understand how it happened. I was sure it wouldn’t happen again.”

Laufer said she is also concerned about her professional future in Israel as she continues to see “a ton of people leaving Israel because it is so difficult to make it there professionally.”

“Living [in New York] as an Israeli is like being a tomato in a salad. We add so much flavor but we are still only one in a million,” she said.

Ayalla Filmus, who lives in San Francisco, said celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut is difficult for she and her husband because they don’t get time off from work. “On this day though, I’m thinking of my family, my friends and our soldiers more than usual,” she said.

Filmus doesn’t expect anything will be different when she goes back.

“The fact is that this (past) election hasn’t changed anything,” she said.“It’s exactly the same country it was when we left two years ago and we don’t plan on changing our plans of coming home.” Filmus added that she still has dreams she will be able to return to a safer and more economically stable country.

Aliza Landes, a dual-degree student at MIT and Harvard said that she planned to celebrate with fellow Israeli students and colleagues with “multiple barbecues” in Boston.

She has no doubt she will return to an amazing country that has a lot to work on.

“I think Israel is a miracle of democracy and stability and at the same time, it is totally insane and deeply flawed, like any country,” she said. “You have all of the classic problems of integrating minorities while the entire region is going to hell in a hand basket. Yet despite these challenges, we have a vibrant, incredible democracy, and a really remarkable country.”

Landes explained that she believed the county had an enormous amount of work to do in rebuilding relations with the Arab-Israeli community as a result of Netanyahu’s reelection tactics. “But if there is anything you can say about Bibi, it’s that he is the only person to have read the tea leaves correctly about Iran,” she added. “He called out how bad a deal it would be.”

Ofir Zigelman, another Israeli living in Boston, said it was difficult to celebrate Israel’s independence there. “It’s one of those days where you feel very far from home,” he said. “In the U.S., everything goes on regularly—you go to Starbucks, people still work, and there isn’t much of a celebratory feeling.”

Zigelman also said he didn’t think he would be returning to a different Israel.

“For the past six years we have had a certain government and I think this election showed that there won’t be much of a difference,” he said.

Zigelman expressed concern about growing intolerance within Israeli society and said he wished there could be more acceptance of different people.

Despite all of the chutzpah, the bad driving, the regional instability, the disheartening national politics and the seemingly insuperable conflict, every Israeli I spoke with wishes they could be celebrating this Yom Ha’atzmaut —munching on some shishlik with a side of hummus, surrounded by family and friends—back home.

Tal Trachtman Alroy is an intern at Tablet.