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!
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • 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.