Israeli Immigrants Play Growing Role in American Jewish Community

Lag B'Omer Bonfires and Hebrew Get-Togethers

American Jews and Israelis march in the annual Israel day parade down Fifth Avenue. Up to 500,000 Jews with ties to Israel now live in the U.S.
Getty Images
American Jews and Israelis march in the annual Israel day parade down Fifth Avenue. Up to 500,000 Jews with ties to Israel now live in the U.S.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 13, 2014, issue of January 17, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 4 of 4)

“The word ‘synagogue,’ the word ‘religion,” aren’t good words for Israelis,” said Sarit Ron, director of Israeli Outreach Initiative at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in Manhattan. Last March the synagogue launched the program for Israeli Americans in a way that bypasses these stumbling blocks. It offers the opportunity for free tickets for holiday services without a need to become a member, and organizes special programs. “We want Israelis not to feel alienated,” she said.

“Will Israelis come and join the traditional suburban synagogue? No.” Mallach said. “But can we develop programs that will connect them to the community? Of course we can.”

Serving as an umbrella organization for Israeli groups in New York is the Moatza Mekomit, Hebrew for “local council.” The IAC’s expansion plans have already led to some turf wars when it turned down offers to join Moatza, and instead it is leading its own expansion efforts in the New York region. While the Moatza prides itself on being a grassroots organization that accepts only small donations and is driven by the needs of local Israelis, the IAC has shaped itself as a top-down group where big donors play a larger role.

Beneath this internal struggle, the bigger challenge facing Israelis in the United States lies in asserting their identity as Jews who left Israel on their own and now seek a new community outside the Jewish homeland.

For years, Israeli emigrants carried the stigma of “yordim,” a derogatory term used to describe those who had ”gone down” by leaving the country. This sense of guilt of abandoning the struggling homeland led the first generation of Israeli immigrants to lie low and refrain from taking an active rule in the Jewish American community.

“The whole notion of guilt doesn’t exist anymore,” said Evenhaim, who noted that the influx of Israelis traveling and studying around the world and the constant movement of Israelis, mainly in the high-tech industries, to and from the United States have eradicated the negative feelings toward those who left Israel.

Lev Ari, who researched the issue, believes this is only partially true. She noted that while resentment toward “yordim” is not as fierce as it was several decades ago, it still exists. A harsh reminder of this reality came last October, when Israel’s finance minister Yair Lapid reignited the discussion by stating that those who leave Israel “are willing to throw to the trash can the only country Jews have just because life in Berlin is more comfortable.”

In the debate that ensued, Israelis living abroad, in the United States and in Europe, responded to Lapid angrily, making clear that while the issue is far from dying down, the new generation of Israeli expatriates feels strong enough to answer back.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.