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September 5, 2015 | 21st Elul 5775

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Galilee Diary #367, December 11, 2007

Marc J. Rosenstein

…”The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau.” He did not recognize him, because his hands were hairy like those of his brother Esau…
-Genesis 27:22-23

For though Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.
-Genesis 42:8

Moses rose to their defense, and he watered their flock. When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” They answered, “An Egyptian rescued us from the shepherds…”
-Exodus 2:18-19

Recently my United States passport expired, so I had to renew it, which triggered thoughts about belonging and identity. The United States and Israel both allow dual citizenship; i.e., when I became an Israeli citizen I was not required to give up my US citizenship. The great majority of immigrants to Israel from the United States and other western countries, if their country of origin allows it, maintain dual citizenship. It is interesting to think about the reasons for and implications of this decision. On the conscious level, for me, the reason is mainly one of convenience: If I were to renounce my US citizenship, I would need to go through a visa application process just to visit my family in the US (a process that in recent years has become something of a bureaucratic nightmare). On a deeper level, I guess that retaining US citizenship is a statement about who I perceive myself to be. I did not choose to immigrate to Israel because I was running away from an oppressive regime, or because I suffered from anti-semitism or any other ill-treatment in the United States. On the contrary, whatever I may think of particular policies and directions, I remain a firm believer in the values that US democracy manifests. An important part of who I am and what I believe in stems from my experience of life in the United States. I would be uncomfortable deliberately renouncing my formal attachment to that experience and its symbols. I care about the United States, pay taxes there, and vote in presidential elections – though even though I remain registered at my address of 18 years ago, I don’t think it appropriate to vote in state or local elections. I see myself, still, somehow, as an “American.” I don’t feel a stranger when I visit. And yet, at the same time, I do. I pick up the newspaper there or turn on the television, and everything is familiar – but feels somehow distant, not relevant, sort of an exotic curiosity to me – for I am, after all, an Israeli, and the stuff that makes up my everyday concerns has changed pretty substantially over those 18 years.

On still another level, I guess I feel some kind of survivor guilt for walking around with two passports. Deep down, there is the knowledge that some day I might need that US passport. Some day my decision to make aliyah might come into question. It is conceivable that the reality of my life in Israel could become unbearable – because of physical danger or because of a turn of the society in a direction that I couldn’t tolerate. Unlike the majority of Israelis for whom this country is the last stop, the safe haven, the “only land we’ve got,” I have where to go. And the guilt arises, I think, from this lack of full commitment. When the going gets tough, I can simply go somewhere else. This, perhaps, places a certain distance between me and my Israeli identity, just as my living here has placed a distance between me and my US identity.

Creating a Jewish state was supposed to simplify our Jewish identity dilemma, but for me, at least, it seems to have “complexified” it.

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