Friday, September 05, 2014

American, No More

כ"ד לחודש הרביעי תשע"ד

After arriving in Israel 17 years ago, I began doing, or rather redoing, my student teaching in Tel-Aviv.

I remember the time when my native Israeli, mentor teacher told me that even after living in Israel for 20 years, that I would still always be known in my neighborhood as "The American."

But she also said that I shouldn't worry, because even though I would always be seen as "The American," my children would be "Israeli."

Some consolation, huh?

I wonder what what this mentor teacher of mine would say now, that I am no longer an American. Well, no longer an American citizen, anyway. That's right. Shortly before Passover this year, I renounced my American citizenship.

Certificate of Loss of Nationality of the United States
(Click to enlarge)
This colleague of mine would probably stand by her original statement.

Sure, I am fluent in Hebrew, can write relatively well in Hebrew, and my accent, I have been told, is at least better than that of the average American living in Israel.

I have never lived in a predominantly English-speaking neighborhood, have rejected an American sense of personal space, in favor of an Israeli one, and have absorbed many other cultural sensibilities which would cause Americans to do a double-take.

I have not left Israel in 16 years, and have not returned to the U. S. since my departure from it.

But, she was referring referring to those outer elements of appearance and culture, rather than national status.

Still, I felt even more disconnected from galuth (exile), the land of my personal galuth, and the government which rules over that land.

Whether appalled, or applauding, or indifferent to my decision, the same question always the same out of the mouths of everyone I told: Why?

First, I will state that my decision was not made out of anger or some kind of quest for vindication. Nor was it made for financial reasons, to avoid paying taxes to two governments, instead of one. However, I do not believe I have ever made the annual salary threshold, even requiring me to report my income as a U. S. citizen living abroad, let alone making the minimum annual salary requiring me to pay taxes on it to the U. S. government, after already parting with much of it to the Israeli government.

Since moving to Israel, I have never received my absentee ballot on time, and thus have not voted in U. S. elections since. So, there was no loss in this respect. Funny, though, how I could very well have been I living example of taxation without representation, not to mention never receiving anything in return for my troubles. So, you can imagine why the number of Americans living abroad renouncing their U. S. citizenship has been on the rise, particularly in Europe.

So, why did I? The reason for my renunciation of U. S. citizenship was actually quite simple.

However, I anticipate that many American Jews reading this, both in and outside of Israel, will find some way to complicate and distort my reasons, and not only that, but find excuses to scream and yell at me for going through with it. Could it be that the truth behind such aggressive attitudes is nothing less than defensiveness?

Could it be that they feel the need to defend themselves against why they haven't renounced their own citizenships? ...Of finally letting go of their "home" in America?

In 1996, when I first met with the shali'ah in Los Angeles, I was told that 50% of all North Americans who made aliyah, "returned home" within five years. This was not a terribly optimistic statistic for me to hear.

Worse yet, the shali'ah's use of the word "home" was disturbing to my ears. Sure, he was using the vernacular. But, did he mean that those returning to North America were unable to see Israel as their "home," and returned to the only "home" they knew? Or was he himself suggesting that the exile was our "home," and that Israel was simply a destination for wannabe ex-patriots? If it were the latter, this would be disappointing to say the least, a representative of the Jewish Agency for Israel NOT emphasizing that Israel was a Jew's only true home, rather than the lands of our exile.

My hole-punched
canceled U. S. Passport
I never hated America while growing up. Although my parents made it very clear to me that as citizens, we had the right to be critical of the U. S. government, and that we should exercise that right regularly. My mother took me to my first demonstration at the age of four, and showed me first picket line at the age of five.

Say what you will about former U. S. President George W. Bush, but even he claimed that the war in Iraq was to defend the right of the American people to criticize the war in Iraq.

Throughout college, I was bombarded with stories of how difficult it was to be a Jew in the Former Soviet Union. Hebrew teachers were being arrested for being Hebrew teachers. Matzoth was produced for Passover by one of two machines in hiding. An urban miqwah (ritual immersing pool) was disguised as a public swimming pool during the day. The name Natan Sharansky was heard regularly in the same sentence with the word "hero," etc., etc.

How much "easier" it was for me to be a Jew than in the Soviet Union, communist Eastern Europe, and Arab nations was mentioned often during my childhood, by my parents or in schul.

Vandalism by shwastika on my family's house and anti-Semitic harassment in both elementary and high school, by students and teachers alike, aside, I appreciated all of the opportunities afforded to me, as your average second generation American, growing up in a middle/upper-middle class sector of Southern California. We had it much better than most.

I will not bother to mention how much this has changed in the past 20 years, even in the past 2 years, as most of my brethren still residing in the land of their exile, America, are still too much in deep denial to be confronted with the physical evidence, let alone the spiritual evidence.

However, I did not renounce my U. S. citizenship in a symbolic act of severing ties with a nation becoming increasingly dangerous for Jews, and  whose fall is inevitable

I chose to renounce my U. S. citizenship for a much simpler reason, in order to sever any remaining ties I still had with the government ruling over the land of my exile.
Unfortunately, Jews, and perhaps American Jews in particular, have so easily forgotten that exile is a punishment. It does not matter how much Jews have accomplished in battling discrimination and oppression, and have contributed to those societies in the lands of our exile.

It is still the exile, and it is still a punishment, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

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