Making Israel - US Jewry relations cool again

Noa Tishby - "Israelis don't understand the antisemitism that American Jewry is dealing with." (photo credit: SHAI FRANCO)
Noa Tishby - "Israelis don't understand the antisemitism that American Jewry is dealing with."
(photo credit: SHAI FRANCO)

“Reclaiming what it means to be Jewish in the cool crowd”.

The first of a series of articles that will be published in the next several weeks, as part of a special project with the Ruderman Family Foundation recognizing the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel and its relations with US Jewry

Both Israeli media personality Noa Tishby and social media influencer-hasbara activist Emily Austin hit it off from the second they both appeared on the Zoom screen. They never met or spoke with each other, but they both followed the other on social media and said they appreciated each other’s work.

Tishby grew up in Israel and only moved to the US later on in life; Austin’s parents were born in Israel but grew up in the US, as did she.

Noa Tishby - Israeli born and raised, is an Israeli actress, writer, producer and activist. She resides in the US and in Israel. Former Special Envoy for Combating Antisemitism and the Delegitimization of Israel, a position she was appointed to in 2022.

Tishby said of her childhood that she “grew up in a very kind of culturally Jewish secular Israeli family, with roots in the Kibbutz and in the [Israeli] Air Force; celebrating holidays, just because we're celebrating the holidays. My father didn’t have a Bar Mitzvah, we always did Shabbat dinner but never with the religious aspect of it,” she explained.

“If you would have asked me: ‘Who are you?’ when I was 17, I'd be like: I'm a woman. I'm Israeli. I'm a citizen of the world. Being Jewish would have been like maybe number seven or 10 on the list. I would have said literally everything before saying that I'm Jewish.”

It was when she moved to the US and, as she tells in her book (Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth): “a couple of months after I moved to Los Angeles and I was hanging out with my boyfriend at the time, who was an Australian actor. It was morning at his house and the phone rang. I pick up the phone and my family is all on the line yelling ‘happy holiday’ and I'm like, ‘Happy Holiday’, back. I asked what holiday is it? And they said ‘it's Rosh Hashanah.’ My heart sank. I had a panic attack. I was so shocked. I walked out to the balcony of his house. Literally his house was underneath the Hollywood sign. So I walked out looking at the Hollywood sign and I'm thinking: What the heck is going on? I was mortified. I completely forgot that Rosh Hashanah was coming up, completely.”

Austin actually grew up with a strong Jewish identity: Her grandparents are from Turkey, Bulgaria, Iraq, and Yemen, who made Aliyah and had their kids in Israel, but later moved to the US. “They all moved to Brooklyn,” she explained. “My parents are very secular: My mom's an attorney and my dad is a very big real estate guy.” She explains that even though they grew up in the US, her parents are very Israeli: “When they switch to Israel mode, it's like phistukim [pistachios], Shesh Besh [backgammon]. We do Kiddush all the time. It's very Israeli; very American.”

Even though she grew up in a semi-traditional but mainly secular home, Austin was always 200% into her Judaism, “in pre K, I would walk around school and I'd be like, ‘Hey, guys, I'm Jewish’.” She said that people would respond that “‘no one cares.’ It was a public school.” 

She also decided to keep Kosher on her own, even before she understood why. When her friends wanted to eat with her, she wouldn’t unless the food was in a box and had a Kosher symbol. “My family doesn't keep kosher like that, But I was just a kid. And I thought everything was extreme.”

“My block is full of Jews that are huge Zionists, but don't actually observe a thing, which I don't judge. I never missed a Kiddush in my life and I light Shabbat candles weekly.”

Tishby said that in a certain way she envies Austin: “living in the diaspora you understand that you are a minority. I not only grew up in Israel, as majority Jewish, I literally didn't realize that antisemitism was still a thing.”

Austin: “But Noa, I'll tell you why you're mistaken. Because we grew up in the diaspora. [My friends] don't know [what is considered antisemitism]. It's normalized. So when I tell my friends: ‘Post this,’ ‘this is going on,’ nobody cares. And it's right.”

Emily Austin - Born in the US to parents who immigrated to the US as children. An actress, sports journalist, model and TV host. Has over 1.5 million followers on Instagram and TikTok. An intern in the Israeli Mission to the United Nations.

Tishby: What I’m saying is that your Jewish identity is something different; it’s something that is built in. To me, [growing up] I felt as if I was like everybody else - growing up in Israel. Then I started traveling the world and I'm like, Oh, they look at me differently as a Jew and as an Israeli.”

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 Emily Austin - Miss Universe / Emily Austin   Emily Austin - Miss Universe / Emily Austin

Austin said that when she was younger she had a nose job, but before this, she competed in the Miss New York pageant and that she only reached the top 15. When she took a selfie with a friend of hers that was second place, “this guy came up to us and goes: ‘You know why she won and you lost?’ I was like, ‘Why?’ Because she's from Nazi Germany and you're a Jew. You'll always be the Jew.” She was 17 at the time, “my dad was there and his jaw dropped. I think that was the first antisemitic thing I've ever heard in my life.”

Austin told Tishby she receives antisemitic remarks when covering the NBA. “I love when people see my Star of David and they say, ‘are you Jewish? Because you don’t look Jewish. I would have never guessed.’ So that makes me upset because they're not even trying to be antisemitic.”

Asked about the animosity and hostility towards them from people online and physically because they are pro-Israel activists, Tishby answered that “the truth is, I don't give a shit. I don't care. I've been at this for so many years. I got my first death threats in 2011.” Tishby added that she has friends “that were woke before there was a name for it. I've seen this happening for over a decade.”

Tishby: “Israel is such an uncool cause, we have been relegated, we have been marginalized and pushed out to the uncool crowd. And that is one of the reasons I wanted to have this conversation with you Emily, because I believe that what we're doing is that we're reclaiming what it means to be Jewish in the cool crowd. Because it's freak’n cool to be Jewish.” 

Austin: “I always thought it was cool apparently.”

Tishby pulled on her shirt, to show a huge amount of Star of David on her neck. “I walk around like this and I can't wait for more Stars of David on my neck. I’m flooded with them.”

How can we get more Israelis to know more about American Jews?

Austin: “I think engagement is key. I will stand by that till they die. We can be the bridges between Israel and America, because we are both. And if Israelis actually try to put the effort into understanding Americans, and Americans can do the same.”

Tishby: “I couldn't agree more that we would need to communicate, we need to have a dialogue. And I don't think that on a profound level, Israelis can understand the Jewish Diaspora and vice versa. And I think that it's okay. I just don't think that an American Jew can understand what it means to live 30 miles from Hamas. Israelis don't understand the antisemitism that American Jewry is dealing with. They don't understand what it's like to wake up in the morning and have fliers praising Hitler spread on your doorsteps.” 

Austin: “I wish Americans would understand that It's okay to agree to disagree. And that's something that people struggle with today more than ever.”

Asked what she loves about the American Jewish community Tishby said that she loves everything. “The most extraordinary part of it was to me, the pluralism and the diversity. So when I came to America, as an Israeli who never had been to a synagogue, I saw men and women sitting together and a woman with a tallit [prayer shawl] and a yarmulke and I'm like, ‘oh my god, I never grew up knowing that this is even a possibility.

“What American Jews can learn from Israelis is mostly how to make decent chicken soup and matzah balls. The American version is so bland and not tasty.”

Tishby concluded that she thinks “we're going to overcome this hurdle as well, whether it's antisemitism, or all the rifts and issues that are happening in Israel, because that's what we do. We are a community, we constantly battle each other, overcome, learn and grow.”

Austin: “I firstly love the solidarity in Israel, especially in recent times. However, we do need more. My second favorite thing is the Israeli spice that I wish Americans could get a little bit of, not too much of it, but just a little bit. We [in America] were never the victims. We don't live in a victim mentality. We always face some sort of horrible atrocity in history, and like Noa said, we overcome.”

The interview is a joint project of the Ruderman Family Foundation and The Jerusalem Post in honor of Israel’s upcoming 75th Independence Day, and recognizing its special connection with US Jewry.

For more information: Ruderman Family Foundation

A special project of the Ruderman Family Foundation