These are things I've heard Americans say about Israelis

Americans care about Israel and their care manifests itself with many opinions about the Jewish state.

 THE WRITER goes to Washington. I enjoy taking my students to Capitol Hill and the White House where we fulfill our civic duty by lobbying for the issues that concern us. (photo credit: SARA GELRUD)
THE WRITER goes to Washington. I enjoy taking my students to Capitol Hill and the White House where we fulfill our civic duty by lobbying for the issues that concern us.
(photo credit: SARA GELRUD)

I was with my students in a congressperson’s office on Capitol Hill waiting for the representative to return from a committee hearing and her chief of staff was addressing our group until her boss returned. Trying to connect to our group and show a familiarity with Israel, the chief of staff said, “It’s understandable that during this latest wave of terror, Israelis are scared.” 

I normally never talk in these meetings; my role is an educator and I want to empower my students to advocate, not me. But I interrupted our speaker (politely) and said, “Israelis feel safe.” I then stood back and allowed the chief of staff to continue. The next day I wrote to her and reiterated that Israelis aren’t living in fear.

Americans care about Israel and their care manifests itself with many opinions about the Jewish state. While some Israelis find American opinions about Israel annoying and intrusive, there are those who understand American opinions as a sign of affection towards Israel and her people. Americans see themselves as semi-Israelis, with their destiny tied to Israel. Many Israelis appreciate American concern for Israel and look forward to hearing their perspective.

The assumption many in America have that Israelis don’t feel safe stems from believing the media reports seen on television, the Internet and social media. Videos of terror attacks posted everyday make it seem like Israelis face terror attacks everywhere and every day. After watching this constant stream of terror, the assumption that constant terror brings constant fear is understandable but incorrect.

Terror in Israel

ISRAELIS HAVE been through many terror waves before. We have survived wars, rockets and intifadas, are prepared for our enemies attacking us and don’t cower in fear from their attacks. Israel is a safe place. 

 Palestinian Hamas terrorists attend an anti-Israel rally in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip May 27, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA) Palestinian Hamas terrorists attend an anti-Israel rally in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip May 27, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

Terror attacks in Israel make headlines around the world but don’t reflect the reality of life in Israel. Israelis are prepared to stop terror and keep themselves safe. The Israeli ability to stay aware keeps them from being scared.

I was visiting my American bank and a stranger asked me if I lived in the neighborhood. I told him that I did a while ago, but had moved to Israel over seven years ago. He said, “You must love to fight, Israelis are always fighting.” Not one to miss a teaching moment, I told him his comment was a generalization about Jews, was false, and was antisemitic. I didn’t have time to sit and explain that Israel has repeatedly reached out in peace to both its Arab neighbors and the Palestinian Arabs within Israel.

I would’ve loved to share with him the multiple peace plans Israel has suggested, and that it only goes to war when attacked or when it’s about to be attacked. 

The Israeli army isn’t called an army, it’s called the Israel Defense Forces, because their only task is to defend Israel; it has no ambitions of capturing land. Israeli Jews pray for peace three times a day, reflecting their value of peace. Israelis place peace as a top national priority, they’ve signed six peace and normalization treaties with Arab countries and are looking to sign even more.

“So many Israelis visit America, you must love coming back here!” I’m grateful to the United States for providing me a place to grow up, and shelter to my family both before and after the Holocaust. I enjoy taking my students to Capitol Hill and the White House where we fulfill our civic duty by lobbying for the issues that concern us. I also enjoy the creature comforts of America; the Big Gulp at 7-11, the Amazon two-day delivery, and the customer service. Yet, with all the things I love about America, Israel is home – and nothing beats being at home.

Not just a home

ISRAEL ISN’T just home because it’s where my family and I live, but because Eretz Yisrael is my ancestral homeland. I enjoy America and feel comfortable there; my trips make me feel like I’m walking back into my childhood, but Israel is my actual home and I pine for it when I’m away.

Americans, and especially American Jews, understand Israel more than anyone else on Earth – except Israelis. Americans and Israelis share the same values of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Israelis, like Americans, are entrepreneurial, place a premium on safety and security, and lead family-centered lives. They both have a Western mindset featuring similar morals and ethics. Americans and Israelis understand each other intuitively and employ those intuitions to assume things about each other.

But as much as American Jews visit, read and follow Israel, they aren’t experiencing the feelings of an Israeli who lives in the Jewish state. Some Americans tend to draw many assumptions of life here in Israel. They make assumptions about Israeli reality, feelings and day-to-day life in Israel. Many of these are correct, but some are flat out wrong. The only solution for incorrect assumptions is to be in Israel in person – frequently or permanently.

American Jews should feel assured that Israelis are prepared for all threats, they aren’t scared of Palestinian terrorists, and they feel confident and safe. They aren’t spoiling for a fight with Palestinians, Arabs or Iranians. Israelis dream of peace and await its arrival every single day. We go on vacation to all four corners of the Earth and, with the end of the pandemic, trips will be accelerated. 

Yet, no matter how many Israelis leave Israel for vacations, post army and business trips, Israelis always find their way home.

The writer is the senior educator at Nefesh B’Nefesh’s Zionist Education Initiative. He is the author of three books and teaches Torah, Zionism and Israel studies around the world.