I have long been surprised about how little the average Israeli knows about Jewish life outside of Israel. Just yesterday, I was going through a few old pictures with an Israeli friend and we came across a picture of me in a restaurant in the US. This incited a lengthy explanation- yes, that was a kosher restaurant, yes, there is tons of kosher food available in America, in every supermarket kosher food can be found, and in fact there are more Passover products available in America than in Israel. After all this, the inevitable question came up- the question that Americans ask, the question that Israelis ask: " Then why are you here? Why didn''t you stay there?" Or, as one former neighbor in New Jersey asked my mother: "What were you running away from?"
My answer is not consistent. To the Americans, I''ll say that my parents always wanted to live in Israel and I just went along with it, implying that there is nothing wrong with living in America, that these people should not feel guilty for not making Aliyah, that I myself would be happier living in America, if not for my wacky parents and their silly Zionism.
To the Israelis, this answer would never pass. Whenever I would offer this one, the next question would be a variation of: "Would you rather live here or there? Do you like it here, or do you wish you were in America? Where are you going to live when you get married?" I usually attempted to answer these difficult questions with neutral answers, such as, "I like living in both places, school is much easier in Israel, and I would like to have homes in both America and Israel once I get married."
I don''t like giving these answers, and I doubt the questioners like hearing these answers. I want to give the answer that they want to hear, the one that everyone else in my family gives, the one that all my Israeli-American friends give, the one and only acceptable answer: "Israel is the best, it''s the only place for Jews to live, I would never move back to America, of course I want to get married and live here!" But unfortunately, this answer would not be truthful.
My confession: I love America.
Yes, America pales in comparison to Israel in many ways, and there are many aspects about America that I truly dislike, even things that make me sick after living in Israel, but all in all, I still love America. Israel is like a friend that is always there for you, the one that''s always on hand to help out and make you feel good, that''s sometimes annoying but still lovable. America is different. America''s the exciting friend, the fun loving one who gives you nonstop pleasure and enjoyment, but when you need help she''s somewhere else.
America''s the "bad friend," the ones your parents try to pull you away from, the one that is viewed as a bad influence. But like all people who have these "bad friends" you still want to hang on to her, you''re not ready to let go. You enjoy being in her presence, she''s the one that everyone prides on being her friend. You know in the bottom of your heart that it''s wrong, that you should stay away from her, but your love for her overcomes these feelings. Some people have managed to drop the bad friend, and to completely break ties with her to the point that they avoid anything that has to do with her. A family friend who has lived in Israel for the past twenty years refuses to use almost any American products, regardless of if they are better quality or cheaper. A recent olah blogged about rejecting Kedem grape juice and going for the made in Israel one just to show the broken ties with America, the new independence and freedom from the bad friend.
I''m not at this stage, and in fact I don''t think I ever want to be. My Israel friend is slowly creeping up higher and higher on my list, and my American friend lower and lower, but never enough to fully get off the list. I''m going back this week to America, and I''m excited. The friend I haven''t seen in almost six months will be waiting for me, ready to excite me and give me a good time. But I know full well that faithful Israel will be waiting for me when I come back, and this knowledge gives me a sense of well being.