It sure helps to be an immigrant when it comes to celebrating your country’s independence day. Immigrants, especially if they have come as adults, are especially appreciative of their new country.
They have a sense of what their lives would have been like in their native countries, they see what their lives are like now, and they almost always conclude that their immigration was an excellent move. For me as an immigrant to Israel, a country with so many other immigrants, Yom Ha’Aztma’ut is joyous, indeed
Yom Ha’Atzma’ut actually marks two independences. Like several other nations in the mid-20th century (such as Algeria from France, Libya from Italy, and India from Britain), Israel broke free from old-world colonialism and achieved independence. But Israel’s independence is also celebrated by Jews the world over as a day when the Jewish people became independent.
Yom Ha’Atzma’ut festivities emphasize this transition of the Jewish people from exile to sovereignty. Again and again, many of the people given honors during the course of Yom Ha’Atzma’ut (whether in lighting a torch at night or as recipients of the Israel Prize during the day) mention either their own immigration or their parents’ or their grandparents’. The millions of Israelis tuning in to these festivities cannot help but sense a feeling of deep gratitude and appreciation for Israel as an ingathering of exiles.
The aspect of Yom Ha’Atzma’ut as Jewish independence continues to be particularly vibrant: Every immigrant to Israel has moved from a country with a Jewish minority culture to the world’s only Jewish majority culture. Gone are our Jewish noses and our Jewish appearances in general; gone is our Jewish stinginess and our money-grubbing ways; gone is our physical weakness, our wimpiness, and our unattractiveness.
With our aliyah, we are judged independently and not as representatives of the Jewish people, and we realize now how so many of the stereotypes about Jews are both incorrect and laced with anti-Semitism.
America, too, is known as a land of immigrants, but as with Irish Americans and Italian Americans, the Jewish immigrant generation has almost completely died out. For the vast majority of American Jews, therefore, the immigrant experience is a thing of the past–too far removed to make the Fourth of July into a meaningful independence day. This is not to take away from the love that American Jews (myself included) have for America. And on the Fourth of July we are happy to feel and express this love in parades, fairs and fireworks, and to get a lump in our throat when the “Star Spangled Banner” is played.
But joy for America’s independence? Not really—that’s too much of a given for us.
Endnote: In mentioning the passing on of the American Jewish immigrant generation, I want to also note that we are witnessing the end of a staple of American comedy: the Jewish accent. From Mel Brooks to Billy Crystal to Jerry Seinfeld, any time you wanted to play a Jewish person, you would signal this with a kind of Yiddish-accented English. Millennial American Jews will have hardly run across such a speaker in person, and certainly their children won’t. Part of me is wistful about this, though there is nothing particularly endearing about calling attention to a person’s accent. At any rate from here on in, if comedians want their audiences to laugh, they are going to have to be a lot more creative when they depict Jewish characters.
Happy Yom Ha’Atzma’ut!
TEDDY WEINBERGER is director of development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.