It Took an Attack in Boston to Realize That I Am Truly an Israeli

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While I recently celebrated my eighth Independence Day since moving to Israel, I still struggle with understanding how much I am truly at home here. I meet so many of the criteria of being an Israeli: I study in Hebrew, I work in Hebrew, I do reserve duty, and I belong to a political party. Yet at the same time I do not quite belong. My experiences as an Israeli go back fewer than ten years, and still nearly three quarters of my life were spent in the United States.

In many ways, I wonder if my personal connection to the United States has been holding me back from becoming a full-fledged Israeli. My immediate family and closest friends all live in the United States, and I am present there - via FaceTime, phone, e-mail, and often physically - for many important events. When something happens in the United States, my heart and mind go there immediately, and the recent bombing in Boston, which coincided with Independence Day, was no exception.

I admit that it caught me totally by surprise. I was standing at Jerusalem's Safra Square in the midst of a lot of Israeli folk dancing, but my friends with whom I spent the earlier part of the evening had gone home and I didn't know the dance going on around me. So I checked my email, and found a series of emails on the alumni LISTSERV of my fraternity, all containing two words: I'm ok. A few more clicks on my phone, and I learned that a bomb had gone off at the Boston Marathon.

I am not an insensitive person, and I was sad to read the news, especially when hearing that people had been killed. But the feeling of sadness was impersonal, particularly coming on the heels of Memorial Day, during which I mourned so many people - both those I knew personally and those I didn't - who lost their lives in a conflict through which I live. Not so long ago, I called Boston home. And yet I didn't feel any sense that my home was under attack. While many of my friends reflected on how Boston will always feel like home once they had lived there once, I could not relate. I mourned the Boston attack as an American and as a human being, but nothing more.

I will always have two "moledets," a word for which the English translation just does not do justice. For the word, often translated as "homeland," comes from the same root as that of "birth," and it intrinsically includes Cherry Hill, N.J., where I was born. (In fact, the account of a rabbi who had once been my counselor at a JCC day camp brought the Boston attack to life like no other article could). But I've realized that while a part of me will always consider Cherry Hill - and more broadly, all of the United States - my home, and while I will always be an American, I am very much an Israeli, and Israel is very much my home.

The attack in Boston reminded me of my life ten years ago, living in Boston, hearing of attacks in Israel. At that time, every attack resonated with me, made me feel uneasy, made me feel particularly mournful. This was not because Israeli lives were worth more than any others; it simply was because even before I had moved here, I felt like my home was under attack. My first year of university, three years before I became an Israeli resident, I referred to Israel once as we instead of they, causing my roommate to question my loyalty to the United States. Without fully comprehending it, even while living in the United States, I had internalized that Israel was also my home.

I will never stop living on the seam line of two identities. I cannot undo the 22 years in which I lived in the United States, nor do I want to do so. At the same time, the attachment to my first physical home need not hold me back from my new home, now physical as well as spiritual. For centuries the Jewish existence was defined by considering Israel our home even while we lived elsewhere. Rabbi Yehuda Levi described this tension by saying My heart is in the East while I am at the end of the West. I, on the other hand, always had my heart split between the two. My decision to move my body to Israel, where half of my heart always was, reinforces that Israel is truly my home. But I know now that I need not abandon my other home to make that so.

Arie Hasit, a student at the rabbinical seminary of Machon Schechter, serves as the spiritual leader for NOAM- the youth wing of the Masorti Movement in Israel. He lives in Jerusalem.

Boylston Street in Boston, after the April 15th marathon bombing. Credit: Bloomberg
Israeli flags are seen during Independence Day in Tel Aviv, Tuesday, April 16, 2013.Credit: AP

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