From: Kfar Saba, Israel
Living: Park Slope, Brooklyn
I’ve always felt sort of trapped in between cultures whether it’s Russia, Israel, or the US.”
I was one and a half when my family moved to the US. My mom is originally from Long Island, was in Young Judea growing up and made aliyah (Hebrew: immigration to Israel) for Zionist, secular, idealistic reasons. My dad grew up in the former Soviet Union and was among the first to make aliyah from there in 1978. My dad scoffs at me when I call him “Russian.” Jews living in Russia were not Russian; they were Jewish. It’s what was on his passport and it’s why he had to give up his citizenship and move to Israel.
My parents met at Tel Aviv University and I was born in Kfar Saba. We came here in 1985 but the idea was always to go back. I was raised with this idea that Israel is our home and I felt special because I was born in Israel. I was raised with Israeli videos and Hebrew songs. My home was secular, culturally Jewish. It was not even a question that we would celebrate holidays. We always had a connection with the Jewish community but it was always cultural and not particularly religious.
I went to Habonim Dror’s Camp Moshava and fell in love with it. I really liked the whole kibbutz structure. I was raised to know that a kibbutz was this utopian place. Habonim was a good fit for me and I started learning more about the politics of Israel and the culture and everything. For me, camp was this magical place, it was so sacred. When I was 16, I spent the year in Israel on kibbutz Beit Hashita. The kibbutz was always this thing that had been up on a pedestal in my family, this amazing place. A lot of my “firsts” happened in Israel. I was born there and came of age there.
New York is an amazing place because I’m always running into camp people I haven’t seen in 15 years. Just the feeling of people you know and grew up with walking around. There’s something to be said for belonging to a community. I just have connections from all parts of my life. I’m realizing a lot of my friends are Jewish or Israeli or Russian.
When I’m in Russia I feel really American or Jewish, and when I’m in Israel I feel more American and Russian. As much as Israel is a part of me and who I am, I’ve never been 100% at home among Israelis. But when I’m here I don’t feel American, I feel drawn to these other cultures. It’s like this strange in-between.”
My next chapter is moving to Israel after all these years but it’s not going to be easy. I’ve always felt sort of trapped in between cultures whether it’s Russia, Israel or the US. When I’m in Russia I feel really American or Jewish, and when I’m in Israel I feel more American and Russian. As much as Israel is a part of me and who I am, I’ve never been 100% at home among Israelis. But when I’m here I don’t feel American, I feel drawn to these other cultures. It’s like this strange in-between. In Russia, Judaism is just an identity, not a religion or a culture. In the US, it’s mostly considered a religion but for me it’s really just the culture. Sometimes I wonder why it matters so much to me because I don’t identify with so many facets of it but I’ve always been interested in culture in general and so having something to connect to and that history–the only way I’m going to feel emotional at the Kotel is by thinking of all the people over thousands of years who have been going there and my connection to those people rather than any holiness in the stones.
I’m doing a Masters program in Migration Studies at Tel Aviv University. I studied anthropology in college, I think because of the whole betwixt and between thing growing up between cultures. I was always observing from the outside naturally. I’ve wanted to study the anthropology of Israel and specifically immigration because that’s what Israel is and what my story is. That’s always what I was fascinated by, even going back to 6th grade when we had this little orange book about all the different communities in Israel. I’ve always wanted to try living there. I’ve always felt more alive, more engaged when I’m there. It feels more vibrant. You’re in this small country and part of a community and everyone has there own voice and their own say. Here in the States there’s so much going on that you can say, “I’m never going to affect that.” It’s just so much bigger than you and might not even affect you. In Israel things are going to affect you and you’re going to care.