With the U.S. presidential election upon us, many Americans living in Israel ask themselves if they should vote. Like many Americans, some ask if their vote really matters. Unlike most, some ask if they even have a right to vote.
Legally, there is no question. I am a dual national. I carry two passports and in my U.S. passport it defines dual citizens stating “A person who has the citizenship of more than one country at the same time is considered a dual citizen. A dual citizen may be subject to the laws of the other country that considers that person its citizen while in that country’s jurisdiction, including conscription for military service.” So even though I served in the I.D.F., I am subject to the laws of both countries and I have the rights of citizenship in both countries. Just as I file my taxes in America each year, I can also vote in the U.S. elections.
This year, more than ever, there is a move to get Americans in Israel to vote. In addition to the Republicans and Democrats Abroad, a group of concerned American Israelis formed an organization and campaign. According to their website http://ivoteisrael.com, Americans for Jerusalem, does not support any particular candidate, although they clearly have an agenda to vote in a president “who will support and stand by Israel in absolute commitment to its safety, security and right to defend itself.”
They point out “that while the 2000 Bush-Gore Presidential elections all came down to 537 absentee ballots cast in Florida, only 64 of those – out of the many thousands of Floridian-Israelis – were cast from Israel!”
However, dual loyalties can cause conflict. The candidate who seems to be a stronger supporter of Israel may not be the candidate I would vote for on any other issue. So do I vote as an Israeli or as an American?
The dilemma of a Jew’s dual loyalties is not new. However, the reality of the modern State of Israel sharpens the conflict at times. Each time that I sing Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, a feeling swells up in my gut and I am overcome with emotion with the words:
Od lo avdah tikvateinu,
Hatikvah bat shnot alpayim,
Lihyot ‘am chofshi be’artzeinu,
Our hope is not yet lost,
The hope of two thousand years,
To be a free people in our land,
The land of Zion and Jerusalem.
And yet, I am also moved by the words of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”
This year, my son Maytav is working on his “shoreshim” (roots) project, a major project in fifth grade which includes a family tree, interviews and more. A highlight of the project is an evening where the children perform songs which they have learned in the various languages of their families’ countries of origin. Maytav wanted a song from my mother’s childhood, from Bohemia, and so she recorded and transcribed “Es War Im Böhmerwald” (Deep Down in Bohemia), a very moving song of longing and love for the author’s homeland, my mother’s homeland.
Just as we can love more than one person, we can love more than one country and feel a deep connection to them. My teacher, Rabbi David Zeller, likened it to the flame of the Hannukah candle. The light is transferred from the shamash to each of the candles, but that does not diminish the light of the shamash. The light of the other candles adds to the light of the shamash so that they collectively give off even more light. So too, I feel blessed to be connected to multiple nations.
Two years ago when I travelled to the Czech Republic for the third time, I brought two of my sons and met my mother for a family roots trip. I feel a deep connection to that place. It is a part of me. When I am there, there is a part of me that feels that I am home.
As is evidenced by this column, I still am deeply connected to Southern New Jersey where I grew up. My children consider their ethnicity to be American. We are proud of where we come from and the American values we bring as immigrants to Israel. America is also a part of me and will also always be my home.
Israel, of course, is where I have chosen to live my life and raise my family. For over twenty years I have lived my whole adult life as an Israeli having served in its armed forces, having built a home and a business in Jerusalem, becoming part of the fabric which makes up this nation.
When I cast my vote this November, I will be voting as a American. I am an American by virtue of the fact that my mother was able to flee to a safe haven after the Nazis invaded her home and my father’s family was able to find a refuge from the Czar. I am also an American who was free to enjoy its liberties and celebrate my Jewish heritage, ultimately coming to fruition as an immigrant to the Jewish State, supported by America to the point where I can be a dual national loving the homelands which make me who I am.