Independence Day Versus Fourth of July: A Jewish American's Loyalty Dilemma

Some would call me a traitor, but celebrating both Israel’s and the United States’ independence is the truest expression of my identity.

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail

I saw a documentary that aired last week on Israel’s Channel 2 called “The New Anti-Semitism.” The show detailed the rise of anti-Jewish propaganda after the end of World War II, and looked at how Diaspora Jews’ strong allegiances with Israel are construed to become the basis of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in both the United States and Europe.

The issue of Jewish Americans’ love for Israel is most salient when it comes to celebrating the independence days of Israel and the United States.

There is one marked difference between how each country marks this day: Israel’s Independence Day, “Yom Ha’atzmaut,” comes on the heels of a Memorial Day for fallen soldiers and victims of hostile activity, whereas the United States’ Fourth of July comes more than a month after the American Memorial Day.

Other than that, there are remarkable similarities between how each country’s independence is celebrated. Barbeques and beach parties are iconic, and fireworks are a must. It is only in my personal experience that I find the nuanced differences.

I’m an American, and I’m Jewish, and my family is Israeli. So, for some, it is incongruous that I would celebrate both Israel’s and the United States’ independence. For others, doing so would be treachery. For my family and me, celebrating both has always felt most right, and in fact, the two holidays mirror the inner struggle I have always had with regards to my Jewish-American-Israeli identity.

My first memories of marking Israel’s Independence Day involve being dragged by my parents to a Memorial Day service, followed by a large party at the local Jewish community center or at a friend’s house. We’d play games, eat hot dogs, and hang out with some Israeli kids. To me it felt like celebrating the Fourth of July, only without my non-Jewish friends.

Fourth of July parties soon overcame Independence Day celebrations. As I grew closer to my American school friends, and as we got older, Fourth of July parties got be bigger and involved more planning. I learned to bake apple pie and enjoy a cold beer while watching fireworks.

Independence Day parties paled in comparison. They’d often land on a school night or some social event. I began to participate less and less. If I could, I would attend a Memorial Day service, but going to a party afterward turned into an afterthought. It was more important for me to be a part of a peer group where there were few Israelis, and so, Independence Day was shadowed by the Fourth of July.

In a way, the juxtaposition of these two important holidays represented my assimilation, or perhaps my becoming more American. I, like many other first generation immigrants, began balancing my first and second countries with unease. That melting pot, for all that it’s worth, is American to its core.

I only recently resumed celebrating Israel’s Independence Day due primarily to my Israeli boyfriend. He brought me back to my roots and reminded me of the importance of continuing my past, and that of my family.

Perhaps that is what Israel’s independence and memorial days are to me now: a way of celebrating my heritage, and my parents’ and grandparents’ service to Israel. And while my relationship with Israel and America might be complicated, I don’t think that means I’m any less patriotic or proud than any other American. My identity, indeed, represents the same immigrant values of both Israel and the United States.

Yael Miller is a professional working in International Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Children playing with plastic hammers on Israel's Independence Day in Netanya, April 15, 2013.Credit: AFP

Click the alert icon to follow topics: