Israeli americans

by Laura C. Rudolph


Located in the Middle East and slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts, Israel measures 7,992 miles (20,700 square kilometers). It is bordered to the north by Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to the east, Egypt to the southwest, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. The capital is Jerusalem, the largest city in Israel.

Israel has a population of slightly over five million people from various ethnic backgrounds. Approximately 80 percent are Jews who have emigrated from nearly every corner of the world. The rest are largely Arabs, the majority of whom are Muslim (14 percent), with smaller numbers of Christians, Druze, Circassians, and Samaritans. Israel's official languages are Hebrew and Arabic. The national flag displays the Star of David between two horizontal bands of blue.


The complex history of Israel can be traced as far back as 2000 B.C. , to the events described in the first five books of the Old Testament that comprise the Hebrew Bible, or Torah. At that time, a Biblical figure, Abraham, was commanded by God to lead a group of nomads from Mesopotamia into Canaan, the "Promised Land." Known as Hebrews, they called themselves the "chosen people of God" because of their faith in the covenant made between Abraham and God. The covenant included God's promise that the Hebrews would prosper and multiply in Canaan so long as they were faithful to Him. Abraham's grandson, Jacob, fathered 12 sons who established the twelve tribes of Canaan (Israel). After a series of famines, Abraham's descendants traveled to Egypt, where they initially prospered. Eventually, however, the Hebrews were enslaved by Ramses II, and suffered under appalling conditions. In approximately 1250 B.C. Moses, at God's command, delivered the Hebrews from Egypt to lead them back to the Promised Land. The liberated Hebrews passed through the Sinai Desert, where they spent 40 years before reaching Canaan.

A series of judges presided over the Canaanites before the kingship of Saul (c.1023-1004 B.C. ). Saul's adopted son, David (1000-965 B.C. ), is credited with capturing Jerusalem and establishing the capital of Canaan and the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. After the rule of King Solomon (968-928 B.C. ), political factions forced the dissolution of the twelve tribes of Israel. Ten of the tribes formed the northern kingdom of Israel, while the other two tribes became the southern kingdom of Judah. An uneasy peace existed between Israel and Judah until about 700 B.C. , when the Assyrians conquered both kingdoms. The ten tribes of Israel were destroyed and exiled, and were henceforth known as the "Ten Lost Tribes." Judah was allowed to exist until 586 B.C. , when the Assyrians themselves were defeated by the Babylonians. Under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonians conquered Israel and Judah, destroying Jerusalem and the temple containing the Ark of the Covenant. Those who remained fled to Babylon in exile until they returned in 538 B.C. , after the Persians defeated the Babylonians. Jerusalem was rebuilt and a Second Temple erected. Israel was then ruled by a series of kings under whom the Hebrews were allowed to remain.

Co-existence proved impossible under the Roman occupation, which began about 63 B.C. In 66 A.D. , the Hebrews revolted against their oppressors, but were unsuccessful. The Second Temple was destroyed and the Hebrews were either exiled or annihilated. A second revolt in 132 A.D. proved equally unsuccessful. The Romans renamed Jerusalem "Palestine" and decreed the city permanently off-limits to Hebrews. In what is known as the Diaspora, exiled Jews dispersed widely throughout other lands such as Rome and Egypt; eventually many settled in Eastern Europe. Jews continued to keep the covenant, practicing their faith and remaining steadfast in their commitment to the Promised Land.

During this period, the spread of other religions fueled new claims to Palestine. In 326 A.D. , Empress Helena (mother of the Christian emperor, Constantine of Byzantium), established the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Other Christian churches were also founded. Following the defeat of the Byzantines by Caliph Omar, the Muslims ruled Palestine. In 638 A.D. , Jerusalem became an Islamic holy city, in accordance with the belief that the prophet Mohammed had ascended to heaven from within the city. Islamic claims to Jerusalem generated centuries of conflict with the Christians. Around 1100 A.D. , the Christians began a series of crusades to wrest the Holy Land from the Muslims. The Crusades proved disastrous for Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike, and ended with Palestine in the hands of the Egyptian Mameluks. By the sixteenth century, Palestine was part of the Ottoman Empire. The Jews, many of whom were suffering at the hands of Christians, quietly began returning to Palestine.

Jewish settlements in Palestine grew slowly during the next three centuries. However, during the 1870s and 1880s, Jews fleeing pogroms (a term for the massacre of helpless people) in Eastern Europe began flooding into Palestine in what is known as the First Aliyah, the mass waves of Jews "ascending to the land." As the persecution of the Jews in Europe continued, Theodore Herzl in The Jewish State (1896) proposed the idea of an all-Jewish state in Palestine. Herzl's book led to the formation of a movement termed Zionism. Proponents of Zionism lobbied for an independent Jewish nation, a nation free from religious persecution. In 1897, the first Zionist Congress introduced the formation of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). The WZO established the Jewish National Fund in 1901, and Jews all over the world were urged to contribute to the Zionist cause. Jews, particularly American Jews, responded favorably and donated large amounts of money to the cause. The WZO soon began purchasing land in Palestine.

In 1904, Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia arrived in Palestine, thus creating the Second Aliyah. The city of Tel Aviv was founded in 1909. That same year the Kibbutz Degania, a collective-living experiment, was founded near the Sea of Galilee. As more Jewish immigrants arrived, tensions increased between Jews and Palestinian Arabs. At this time, Palestine was a protectorate of Great Britain. In 1917 the British issued the Balfour Declaration, which advocated the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. The Nazi persecution of the Jews during World War II resulted in a flood of immigrants from Europe to Palestine.

Following the end of World War II, Palestine was handed over to the United Nations. In November of 1947, the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, and Jerusalem was proclaimed an international territory. On May 14, 1948, David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister, declared the state of Israel an independent nation.


The declaration of Israel's independence precipitated immediate internal and external crises for the new nation. Although some countries (including the United States and the Soviet Union) were quick to recognize Israel, neighboring Arab states refused to do so. In 1948, Israel was invaded by Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. The Israelis were able to repel the invaders and, in the process, actually expanded its boundaries. Although the United Nations arranged a cease-fire agreement between the five neighboring Arab countries and Israel, more obstacles loomed ahead. In particular, tensions dramatically increased between the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs, many of whom had been displaced from their land.

In 1950, Israel enacted the Law of Return, which guaranteed citizenship to all Jews. The number of immigrants continued to grow, and Israel's economy and military slowly gained strength. In 1967, the armies of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria again invaded Israel. The Israelis routed the invaders and captured large amounts of territory from their Arab neighbors. By the end of war, Israel had gained control of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. They also annexed Jerusalem. Dismayed by the growth of Israeli power in the region, the Palestinian Arabs formed the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The PLO often used terrorism as a means of retaliating against Israel. In 1973, the Egyptians and Syrians launched an attack against Israel during the Jewish holy season of Yom Kippur. The Israelis were initially caught off guard and were nearly defeated. They recovered quickly, however, and were able to successfully defend their land. Eventually, the United Nations negotiated a peace deal that ended the fighting. In 1979, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David peace accords. Egypt officially recognized Israel as an independent nation while Israel returned control of the Sinai Peninsula, which had been captured in the 1967 war, to Egypt.

Although a peace agreement had been reached between Egypt and Israel, the Palestinians continued to resent Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. During the late 1980s, the Palestinians and Israelis mutually agreed to seek peace. Several attempts to broker a peace agreement between the two peoples were unsuccessful. In 1993, after a series of intense negotiations, the Palestinians and Israelis signed the Oslo peace accords. The Palestinians were given control of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank and offered the opportunity to hold democratic elections in those areas under their control. In return, the Palestinians agreed to halt terrorist attacks against Israel. Many Palestinians and Israelis were critical of the agreement, however, and tension between the two peoples remains high.


Israelis began immigrating to the United States soon after Israel's independence in 1948. During the 1950s and early 1960s, over 300,000 Israelis immigrated to the United States. Another wave of immigration began in the mid-1970s and has continued ever since. Although estimates vary greatly, anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 immigrants arrived in America during this period. The actual number of Israeli immigrants to the United States has been a subject of intense debate since the 1980s. Many Israeli citizens are emigrants from other countries, and when these Israelis immigrated to the United States, their native-born country was often listed on census records. This may explain in part the low number of Israeli immigrants (90,000) recorded on the 1990 U.S. Census, a figure incongruent with the significant number of Israeli communities in larger cities.

Several key factors contributed to increased Israeli immigration into the United States during the last two decades of the twentieth century. Many Israeli immigrants cited the political unrest in the Middle East and the relative insecurity of the region as their primary reason for emigrating. Shortly after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, an event that left many Israelis shaken and disillusioned, the number of immigrants rose dramatically. It is important to note that many Israelis are exposed to American culture by virtue of the close relationship between Israel and the United States. American fashions, fads, and forms of entertainment are commonplace in Israel. In many cases, the "Americanization" of Israel added to the immigrants' desire to take advantage of the economic and educational opportunities in the United States. During the 1980s and 1990s, Israel produced more qualified and educated workers than there were skilled positions, a situation that resulted in fierce competition within the Israeli job market. Heavy taxation and a lack of available housing also dismayed many Israelis. Israelis looked to the United States as a place to fulfill financial and educational goals in a manner not possible in Israel. As one Israeli immigrant stated in the book Migrants from the Promised Land, "It is not for nothing that they [the United States] are referred to as the land of endless opportunities. There are opportunities in every area of life, everywhere. I don't say that here things are blocked, they're not blocked . . . just smaller, more compact."

However, financial or educational fulfillment was not the only incentives for Israeli immigrants. During the 1990s, many Israelis immigrated as a result of their ideological dissatisfaction with Israel. For some, the ideal of an egalitarian community free from religious persecution had paradoxically resulted in an excessive amount of intervention from a highly stratified government that favored Ashkenazic Jews (Jews of European origin). Sephardic Jews (those of North African and Middle Eastern ancestry) have long been the victims of ethnic discrimination by Ashkenazic Jews, who represent the overwhelming majority of Israelis. The socioeconomic discrepancies that arose from discrimination in Israel led many Sephardic Jews to seek economic opportunities elsewhere.


The main areas of Israeli settlement in the United States include New York, California, Michigan, Florida, and Illinois. However, pockets of Israeli settlement can be found throughout the country. Israeli immigrants are fairly mobile and tend to migrate to several locations in the United States before permanently settling down. Chain migrations are often a determining factor in the immigrants' choice of residence. The heaviest concentrations of Israeli Americans are located in New York and Los Angeles, which contain nearly half of those living in the United States. Not surprisingly, Israeli Jews gravitate toward other Jews and a sizable number live in older, established Jewish neighborhoods such as Queens and Brooklyn in New York City, and West Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles. Similarly, Israeli Arabs tended to settle near other Arabs, particularly in the industrial cities of the Midwest, such as Chicago and Detroit.

Acculturation and Assimilation

On average, Israeli Americans have enjoyed a smoother transition to American life than other groups of immigrants. A good number of Israeli immigrants are well-educated and possess specialized job skills that have allowed them to bypass the often frustrating experiences of less trained immigrants. In addition, a number of Israeli immigrants have relatives living in the United States, which further eases the adjustment. Within a short period of time, many Israeli Americans attain a relative degree of financial security. However, even though Israelis are attracted by the vast economic opportunities available in the United States, many often feel at odds with many of American society's materialistic values. Many Israeli Americans are accustomed to the closely-knit community and shared ideological experience of Israel. In order to compensate for this loss, Israeli Americans have formed extensive and vibrant communities within the larger American culture, particularly in the Los Angeles and New York areas. This network of organizations ensures that many Israeli Americans remain connected to Israeli culture and the Hebrew language. The extensive Israeli network includes Hebrew newspapers and radio and television broadcasts, as well as organizations such as the Israeli Flying Clubs, the Israeli Musicians Organization, and the Israeli Organization in Los Angeles (ILA).

The Israeli American network has provided a valuable service to immigrants, many of whom initially intended to remain in the United States only long enough to finish their educational or financial goals before returning to Israel. An overwhelming majority of Israeli immigrants believe they will eventually return to Israel and are thus reluctant to fully assimilate into American culture. Also, their status as "temporary sojourners" serves as a buffer against the open hostility they have suffered from both the Israeli government and American Jews. Although American Jews have traditionally welcomed Jewish immigrants, the Israeli immigrants represent a failure of the Zionist cause that Americans Jews have generously supported. Israeli Americans are given the derogatory label of yordim, which signifies that they have descended from Israel to the diaspora, as opposed to olim, those who have ascended from the diaspora to Israel. The negative connotations and sense of betrayal associated with immigration prevent many Israelis from openly declaring themselves permanent citizens of the United States.

A sizable number of Israeli immigrants eventually become permanent citizens, particularly through marriage. It is estimated that over a third of Israelis marry U.S. citizens. Likewise, a number of Israeli immigrants have established businesses in the United States, which further strengthens their ties to America. However, even those immigrants who eventually become naturalized continue to remain active in Israeli organizations long after the initial

Children hold up an Israeli flag during the annual "Salute to Israel" parade along New York City's Fifth Avenue.
Children hold up an Israeli flag during the annual "Salute to Israel" parade along New York City's Fifth Avenue.
settling process. A strong identification with Israel, coupled with the stigma attached to immigration, helps explain why the majority of immigrants continue to refer to themselves as "Israelis" as opposed to "Americans" or even "Israeli Americans."


Israelis have a variety of traditions, the majority of which are connected to the Jewish faith. The Torah outlines the strict observance of certain rules called the 613 Holy Obligations, as well as certain holidays and the weekly Sabbath. Other traditions associated with these celebrations have evolved over the centuries. Special foods, objects, and songs are all equally important to Jewish celebrations and the observance of the Sabbath, although they are not explicitly referred to in the Torah. During Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to send cards to friends and family bearing the words " L'shana tovah, " which means "to a good and healthy year." Other traditions reflect geographical differences. For example, the Eastern European Jews began the tradition of eating gefilte fish to break the Yom Kippur fast. The custom of eating cholent, a stew prepared the night before the Sabbath, also emerged because cooking on the Sabbath is strictly forbidden.

Other customs are only loosely based on the Jewish religion and originate from earlier superstitions, such as the belief in the "evil eye." For example, it is customary to hold a baby shower after the baby is born. A baby's name is revealed only at the naming ceremony, and a red ribbon is tied to the baby's crib. These folk customs originated as precautions designed to fend off the evil forces accompanying the good fortune of a baby's birth. Although the traditions related to the practice of Judaism are still diligently observed, many of the superstitions have gradually been forgotten.


Israeli cuisine is savory and flavorful, and reflects the influence of its diverse cultural inheritance as well as the strict dietary laws practiced by Jews. Israeli Jews observe the kashrut, which is a set of food restrictions outlined in the book of Leviticus. The acceptable foods to eat (termed kosher ) include meat from animals with cloven hoofs, breads, fish with scales and fins, fruits and vegetables, poultry, and kosher dairy products. Foods that are not acceptable (termed trefa) include pork, fish that do not have scales and fins (like lobster or shrimp), and meals that combine meat and dairy products. In addition, meat is butchered in a special manner in order to observe the rule that forbids the drinking of blood. Both the Oriental and the Eastern European Jews have contributed to Israel's unique cuisine: the former introduced shashlik (cubed meat such as lamb or chicken) and kebabs (minced meats), and the latter contributed schnitzels, goulashes, and blintzes .

There is a strong Middle Eastern influence in Israeli cooking. Some favorite dishes include hummus (chickpeas, onions, and spices); falafel (fried hummus); fuul (fava beans); and mashi (stuffed pita breads). Israelis enjoy sweet desserts including baklava (a dessert of wheat, honey, and nuts) and

The Salute to Israel Parade is held in New York City.
The Salute to Israel Parade is held in New York City.
katayeef (cheese, wheat, sugar, and honey). Although kosher food is readily available in the United States, many Israeli Americans have opened restaurants that serve the Middle Eastern dishes prominent in Israeli cuisine.


Israeli folk dancing is admired around the world and there are thousands of different dances that are performed. Traditional dances include circle, line, or partner dances and they are intricately choreographed. Some of the more popular dances include: "Al Kanfe Hakesef;" "Lechu Neranena;" "Ahavat Itamar;" "Al Tiruni;" "Bakramim;" and "Bat Teiman." Since Israeli folk dancing has long been admired by American Jews, several Jewish organizations have established community folk dancing classes. Klezmer music, the traditional music of the Eastern European Jews, is also popular in Israel and became increasingly popular in the United States during the late 1990s. Traditional klezmer songs include: "Az Der Rebbe Elimeylekh," "A Heymisher Bulgar," and "A Nakht in Gan Edent."


Israeli Americans celebrate Jewish holidays, which are public holidays in Israel. The holidays are based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, which contains twelve 28-day cycles, for a total of 336 days a year, with an extra month added periodically. The holidays do not, therefore, fall on the same day every year, although they remain seasonal. The Jewish New Year begins in the fall with the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, which means "The Head of the Year" and is celebrated in September or October. As the sun sets on the first day of the first month, Jewish families gather together to say a blessing over wine and bread and to reflect on the significance of the holiday and renewal of the world. It is customary to bake challah bread in the form of a circle as a symbol of the cyclical year. Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, occurs on the tenth day of the New Year. The ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are known as the "days of awe" and are meant to provide a quiet, reflective time in which Jews can cleanse their souls and focus on their relationship with God. There is a strict fast on the night before Yom Kippur and the day and nighttime are usually spent in the synagogue. Special prayers are recited, including the Kol Nidre, Musaf, Minchah, Neilah, and ending with the symbolic intonation of " L'shana ha-ba-ah b'Yerysgakatun, " which means "next year in Jerusalem."

The sukkot, or "festival of the booths," is celebrated immediately after the end of Yom Kippur and commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. At this time, it is customary to construct huts in order to observe the rule that Jews "live in nature" during the duration of the festival. Hannukah, the "festival of the light," lasts for eight days in November or December. Hannukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians in 165 B.C. After the defeat, the oil for the Temple miraculously lasted for eight days until it could be renewed. During Hannukah, candles in a menorrah are lit for each one of the eight days. Traditional foods associated with this holiday include those cooked in oil and dairy foods. Purim, "the feast of lots," is a joyous celebration that takes place in late winter and celebrates the victory of the Jewish community in Persia by Queen Esther. It is customary to fast the day before Purim, called the "Fast of Esther." Passover, "the festival of freedom," takes place in March or April, and celebrates the time when the Jews put a sign on their doors that enabled God to "pass over" his chosen people when he delivered ten plagues upon their Egyptian captors. The Passover Seder celebrates not only the end of winter, but also the release of oppressed Jews throughout the world. Shavuot, the "festival of weeks," occurs seven weeks after Passover and commemorates the anniversary of the receiving of the Ten Commandments by Moses on Mount Sinai. Shavuot is also considered an agricultural celebration, as it celebrates the festival of the first fruits when wheat is harvested. A custom practiced during Shavuot is the ritual of staying up all night and reading the Torah.

Other festivals or holidays are the Yom Haaho'ah, which takes place in the spring and commemorates those who died in the Holocaust. Yom Hazikaron is the Israeli Memorial Day and is a day of remembrance for those who died in battle for Israel. Yom Ha-Atzma'ut takes place in May the day after Yom Hazikaron and celebrates the day Israel declared its independence.

Israeli Americans often express disappointment concerning the way that Jewish holidays are celebrated in the United States. Although American Jews celebrate Jewish holidays, Israeli Americans are accustomed to a national celebration, and find it difficult to adjust to the fact that Jewish holidays are ordinary days to the majority of Americans. Israeli Americans usually prefer to celebrate Israeli holidays with each other, particularly those that American Jews are not comfortable observing.


Israeli Americans have not been prone to any specific medical conditions and tend to be in generally good health. Most Israelis have health insurance that is covered by their employers and those that are self-employed provide coverage for themselves and their employees. There are several nationwide organizations of Israeli health professionals.


The official languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic, but the vast majority of Israelis speak Hebrew, which dates back to 2,000 B.C. and serves as an important bond for Jews throughout the world. Israeli Americans generally learn the English language faster than other immigrant groups, and only five percent of Israeli immigrants are not proficient in English. However, immigrants continue to place an importance on Hebrew as a link to both their Jewish faith and their Israeli background. Eighty percent of first-generation Israeli Americans speak Hebrew at home, although the percentages decrease as the immigrants become more entrenched in American culture. In addition, the Ashkenazic Jews speak Yiddish, which is a peculiarly Eastern European mixture of German and Hebrew, while the Sephardic Jews speak Ladino. Both languages are increasingly less heard, although Yiddish-speaking Israeli Americans are more likely to be found among those who have settled in New York.


Common Hebrew greetings and other expressions include: shalom —hello; shalom —goodbye; bokertov —good morning; erev tov —good evening; todah — thank you; bevakasha —please; ken —yes; loh —no; sleekha —excuse me; mazel tov —good luck; hag same'ah —a happy holiday; shanah tovah —a good year.

Common Arabic greetings and other expressions include: a-halan —hello; salaam aleicham — goodbye; sabah-l-kheir —good morning; min fadlach —please; shoo-khran —thank you; afwan —you are welcome; ay-wah —yes; la —no.

Family and Community Dynamics

The constant pressure of living in an insecure and dangerous environment has fostered the importance of the family and community among Israelis. Moreover, Judaism encourages strong family relationships, and many observances of the faith, such as the weekly Sabbath, serve to draw the family together. Most immigrants are married and place a strong emphasis on raising children. Because Israeli American parents are accustomed to relying on a national community of resources that aid in the socialization of their children, they often express disappointment with the lack of support systems available in the United States.

One of the greatest concerns of Israeli Americans is the preservation of their identity and their values within the alien culture of the United States. Israeli Americans are opposed to American values, such as competitiveness, materialism, and low motivation, which they perceive as antithetical to their own. However, they are often unable to foster an Israeli identity in their more "Americanized" children. One Israeli American mother described the dilemma in the article "Israeli Immigrants in the United States," "There is a big gap between Israelis and their kids that were born here. This is a special problem for the Israelis because we are raising a generation that are Americans, beautiful American children. Highly educated, high achievers, but still, American children. You cannot raise Israeli children in [the] United States, for heaven's sake."

In order to expose their children to Israeli culture, Israeli Americans and the Israeli government have created various programs and workshops to help strengthen bonds with Israel. Toward the end of the twentieth century, the American Jewish community began to establish similar programs through such groups as the New York Board of Jewish Education, which sponsors folk-dance groups, parent workshops, summer camps, and religious training. Tzabar, the American branch of Tzofim (Israeli Scouts), enrolls groups of children between the ages of ten and nineteen. Each summer, over 200 Israeli Americans spend a summer in Israel as part of Hetz Vakeshet, a program similar to Outward Bound.


Israeli Americans value education highly and often immigrate in order to take advantage of the excellent university programs available throughout the United States. According to the 1990 U.S. census, 56% of Israeli American men and 52% of women in New York, and 56% of Israeli American men and 62% of women in Los Angeles had attended college, and only 20% did not finish high school. On the whole, over one-third of all Israeli American immigrants have college degrees.

Although Israeli immigrants appreciate the large number of educational institutions available in the United States, they are cautious about placing their children in public schools. Some Israeli Americans are fearful that negative values such as low achievement, a lack of respect toward parents, and American individuality are being taught to their children. Similarly, Israeli American parents are disturbed by the availability of drugs and sexual permissiveness in some American schools. Israeli immigrants generally prefer to place their children in private schools that emphasize values that are more similar to those taught in the Israeli educational system. Israeli Americans have also relied on a number of instructional courses and after-school programs for their children such as the AMI, which is an Israeli Hebrew course.


The Jewish faith is inherently patriarchal and, over the centuries, women have played a nominal role in Jewish communities worldwide. Traditionally, wives and daughters were restricted to running the household and caring for children. Education was not considered necessary for women and, in many instances, was forbidden. During the last few generations, however, Jewish women across the world have made tremendous strides in gaining access to educational and career opportunities. Female Israeli American immigrants tend to be as educated as their male counterparts and are often able to secure high-status jobs within the United States. However, nearly one-half of all married Israeli American women choose to stay at home in order to raise their children.


Israeli Americans observe weddings, baptisms, and funerals in the tradition of their Jewish faith. The circumcision ceremony ( berit milah ) occurs on the eighth day after the birth of a baby boy. The Covenant of Circumcision celebrates the covenant between God and Abraham and is traditionally performed by a mohel, a person who is specially trained in circumcision. The celebration is an important family ritual and the duties of those who take part in the ceremony are strictly designated: those who carry the baby are the baby's chosen godfather ( kvatter ) and godmother ( kvatterin ). Although there is generally not a special naming ceremony for Jewish girls, a special prayer is said at synagogue, at which time the daughter receives her Hebrew name.

Jewish weddings are lavish and festive occasions that are filled with many traditions. The ceremony takes place under a chupah (marriage canopy, which symbolizes the bridal chamber and the home that the couple is creating together). The wedding begins with a procession in which the groom ( chatan ) and the bride ( kalah ) are led to the chupah by their parents, where seven blessings ( sheva berachot ) are chanted before the bride and groom drink a glass of wine as a symbol of the sharing of their lives. After the couple exchange rings, they sign the marriage contract, or ketubah. The couple is then pronounced man and wife, and the groom steps on a glass as everyone shouts mazel tov. Following the ceremony, a large reception takes place, at which there is much singing and dancing.

Following a death in a Jewish family, the funeral is usually held within 24 hours after death. During this time, a shomer (person who stays in the same room) guards the body, which is never to be left alone before the burial. In accordance with custom, the casket remains closed and there is no embalming or cosmetology performed. The casket is made of wood so that nature may follow its course quickly. All mirrors in the house are covered, so that vanity may not be allowed to interfere with the mourning and grief owed to the dead. At the graveside service, there is a ceremonial tearing of the mourner's skirt, ribbon, or shirt, which is called keriah. The mourners recite a prayer ( kaddish ) over the dead. During the next seven days, the family of the deceased sits shivah, and friends and family come to mourn and pay their respects. After a period of eleven months, the grieving process is considered over.


Judaism represents the foundation of the state of Israel. Israeli Judaism is both national and secular, and does not necessarily include the observance of the faith. Expression of a person's Jewish heritage is not restricted simply to the synagogue or to certain days of the year, but encompasses all daily activities, whether in the workplace, government, or during recreation. The observance of the Jewish holidays, the Hebrew language, and Jewish traditions are all performed on a national level. This has led to a greater secularization of Judaism within Israel. Israelis do not regard the practice of their faith as the defining factor of Judaism.

Israeli immigrants to the United States are often unprepared for the highly organized religion practiced by American Jews, who comprise over one-third of the world's Jewish population. American Jews have maintained their faith through a well-established system of synagogues, organizations, and branches of Judaism. Differing attitudes toward Judaism have created tension and conflict between Israeli Americans and American Jews. Unaccustomed to being in the minority, the Israelis are critical of what they perceive as an excessive amount of religious practice by American Jews. Furthermore, Israeli immigrants often accuse American Jews of succumbing to materialistic American values. American Jews, in turn, are often appalled with the cavalier attitude that some Israeli Americans have toward Judaism, and by their indifference to the sacrifices made by American Jews for the Zionist cause.

Israeli Americans are ultimately forced to choose between American Judaism and the more secular Judaism that is practiced in Israel. Immigrants, particularly those with children, often feel torn between the two choices. Even if they are not entirely comfortable with American Judaism, Israeli Americans are fearful that their children will lose their Jewish identity altogether and embrace only American values. The majority of Israeli Americans reluctantly choose to place their children in American Jewish schools and day care centers. However, these children then become accustomed to American Jewish practices and demand the same excessive religiosity in their home. This generates conflict and tension between Israeli American parents and their children.

Toward the end of the twentieth century, American Jews sought to improve relations with Israeli Americans. During the 1980s, the American Jewish community began to encourage Israeli Americans to become more involved in Jewish community centers, organizations, and federations. Israeli Americans responded to these overtures favorably and began to forge bonds with American Jews. Not surprisingly, many Israeli Americans discovered that their practice of the Jewish religion increased considerably after they immigrated to the United States. As they did in Israel, Israeli Americans continued to worship with those of similar ethnic background. The traditional discrimination between the Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews remains strong in the United States. Generally, the Sephardic Jews tend to have a higher rate of synagogue membership and observance of kosher food laws.

Employment and Economic Traditions

The importance that Israeli Americans place on education has allowed them to find well-paying, highly skilled jobs within the American workforce. Even during the initial adjustment period to life in the United States, Israeli Americans are much less likely to use welfare than other immigrant groups, and tend to have a high employment rate overall. Almost half of all male Israeli Americans in New York and Los Angeles are managers, administrators, professionals, or technical specialists, and another quarter are employed in sales. Israeli American professionals include doctors, architects, entertainers, small businessmen, and teachers. A fairly large number of Israeli American women teach Hebrew.

As is typical of other Jewish immigrants, Israeli Americans are extremely entrepreneurial and have the second highest rate of self-employment among all immigrant groups in the United States. The 1990 census found that one-third of Israeli men in both New York and Los Angeles were self-employed, particularly in the garment and retail industries. Other immigrants opened businesses such as restaurants, nightclubs, and retail shops within the Israeli communities to serve the growing needs of Israeli immigrants. Many newly arrived immigrants view their work in Israeli American businesses as a type of apprenticeship before opening their own business. Although Israeli employers feel a sense of obligation toward other Israelis, they are aware that the employees will eventually become competitors, a situation that sometimes creates conflicts.

The average income for Israeli immigrants is high compared to the rest of the country. The 1990 census reported that Israeli American men in New York and Los Angeles earned an annual income of $35,000 and $49,000, respectively. Israeli American women in New York and Los Angeles made $25,000 and $22,000, respectively.

Politics and Government

Many Israeli Americans expect to return to Israel and are more inclined to follow Israeli, rather than American, politics. Sometimes referred to as "transnationals," over 85 percent of Israeli Americans read Israeli newspapers and 58 percent listen to Hebrew broadcasts. Many Israeli Americans retain ownership of their homes in Israel and make frequent trips between Israel and the United States. Those Israeli Americans who do become naturalized citizens of the United States continue to follow events in Israel and tend to vote for American political candidates that support Israeli interests. For instance, 54 percent of Israeli Americans voted for President Richard Nixon in the 1972 presidential election because of his strong commitment to Israel.

American Jews generously support the state of Israel, and have enough political clout to ensure that Israel remains a focal point of American interests. There has been so much financial, military, and cultural exchange between the two countries that some Israelis refer to Israel as the "51st" state of the United States. Historically, the Israeli government has discouraged immigration to the United States. However, during the late 1990s, the Israeli government began to encourage the formation of services and organizations specifically designed to assist Israeli American immigrants.

Individual and Group Contributions


Nadav Safran has received national recognition for his expertise on the Middle East. During his tenure at Harvard University, he published the following books, all of which were well-received: Egypt in Search of Political Community ; An Analysis of the Intellectual and Political Evolution of Egypt, 1804-1952 (1961); From War to War: The Arab-Israeli Confrontation, 1948-1967 (1969); Israel, the Embattled Ally (1978); and Saudi Arabia: The Ceaseless Quest for Security (1985). Amos Twersky is considered one of the leading authorities on mathematical models in psychology and has been a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. He co-authored the following publications: Mathematical Psychology: An Elementary Introduction (1970); and Decision Making: Descriptive, Normative, and Prescriptive Interaction (1988).


The Nakash brothers (Joe, Ralph, and Aviv), established Jordache Enterprises, Inc. in 1969. Their trademark Jordache jeans enjoyed immediate success and were soon distributed worldwide. By the late 1990s, they had amassed a fortune of over $600 million.


Yitzhak Perlman (1945-), a world-renowned violinist, has appeared with the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and other orchestras throughout the United States. He received the Leventritt Prize in 1964, 15 Grammy awards between the years 1977-1987 and the Medal of Liberty in 1986. Pinchas Zuckerman (1948-), is also a world-renowned violinist and the recipient of the Leventritt Prize. He was selected as the music director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota, where he served from 1980-1987. From 1990 to 1992, he was the guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Since 1993, Zuckerman has taught at the Manhattan School of Music in New York.


Amitai Etzioni (1929-) served as an advisor to President Carter from 1979-1980. In addition, he has served on the faculty of Columbia University (1958-1980) and George Washington University (1980-). He has also held positions at the Center for Policy Research (1968-), the Brookings Institution (1978-1979), and the Institute for War and Peace Studies (1967-1978).


Theodore Bikel (1924-) is an award-winning actor and singer. He has appeared in staged productions of The Sound of Music (1959-1961) and Fiddler on the Roof (1968-1996). He has also appeared in The African Queen (1951); The Defiant Ones (1958), for which he received an Academy award nomination; My Fair Lady (1964); Sands of the Kalahari (1965) and Crime and Punishment (1993). He also hosted a weekly radio program entitled "At Home with Theodore Bikel" (1958-1963), and recorded various folk songs. He has been the recipient of the Emmy Award (1988) and the Lifetime Achievement Award for the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (1997).




An Israeli, Hebrew-language daily, which is distributed across the country

Contact: Bejamin Landau, Los Angeles correspondent.

Address: 356 South LaPeer Drive, Beverly Hills, CA 90211.

Telephone: (310) 854-3797.

Hadoar (The Post).

A Hebrew-language biweekly publication that deals with broad issues of concern to the Jewish person.

Address: 426 W. 58th St., New York, NY 10019-1102.

Telephone: (212) 929-1678.

Young Israel Viewpoint.

Established in 1920, the quarterly publication contains news of interest to the Israeli-Jewish communities.

Address: 3 W. 16th St., New York, NY 10011.

Telephone: (212) 929-1525.



Address: P.O. Box 1330, Willoughby, OH 44096.

Telephone: (440) 946-1330.


Address: 126 College Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901.

Telephone: (732) 932-7800.


Address: 160 N. Washington St., Boston, MA 02114.

Telephone: (617) 738-1870.


Israel Broadcasting Authority.

Address: 1101 30th Street, Washington, DC 20007.

Telephone: (202) 338-6091.

Israel Broadcasting Authority Radio and Television.

Address: 10 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10020.

Telephone: (212) 265-6330.

Organizations and Associations

America-Israel Cultural Foundation.

Encourages, promotes, and sustains cultural excellence in Israel. Provides scholarships in music, the visual and design arts, filmmaking, dance, and theater to gifted students; advanced-study fellowships to teachers and young professionals; and grants to institutions and special projects in Israel. Allocates approximately $2.3 million for underwriting over 600 scholarships, projects, and institutions. Sponsors Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Jerusalem Film and Television School, Batsheva Dance Company, and the Beit Zvi School of Drama.

Contact: Kathleen Mellon, Executive Director.

Address : 51 East 42nd Street, Suite 400, New York, New York 10017.

Telephone: (212)557-1600.

Fax: (212)557-1611.

Online: .

America Israel Friendship League.

Seeks to maintain and strengthen the mutually supportive relationship between people of the United States and Israel. Seeks to promote the friendship between the two democracics.

Contact: Ms. Ilana Artman, Executive Vice President.

Address: 134 East 39th Street, New York, New York 10016.

Telephone: (212) 213-8630.

Fax: (212) 683-3475.

Online: .

Chabad West Coast Headquarters.

Nationwide organization that addresses Jewish issues; lends aid and sponsors events for Jewish immigrants, including newly-arrived Israelis.

Contact: Shlomo Cunih.

Address: 741 Gayley Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024.

Telephone: (310) 208-7511.

Israeli Students' Organization in the U.S.A. and Canada.

Israeli citizens who are in the United States or Canada for study and/or training purposes. Gives aid and advice to members in solving their problems during their study or training and upon their return to Israel; sponsors cultural, social, and informative activities in the Israeli spirit and tradition; represents the Israeli student body before Israeli, American, and Canadian authorities and maintains contact with these authorities. Promotes friendship between Israeli students, American Jewish students, other foreign students, American Jewry, and the American public. Maintains a loan fund; provides medical insurance program and discount airfare to Israel.

Contact: Menahem Rosenberg, Executive Officer.

Address: 17 East 45th Street, Suite 907, New York, New York 10017

Telephone: (212) 681-9810.

Fax: (212) 681-9815.


Online: .

Sources for Additional Study

Blumberg, Arnold. The History of Israel. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.

Cohen, Yinon. "Socioeconomic Dualism: The Case of Israeli-born Immigrants in the United States." International Migration Review 23: 267-88.

Gold, Steven J. "Israeli Immigrants in the United States: The Question of Community." Qualitative Sociology. 17: 325-345.

Gold, Steven J., and Bruce A. Phillips. "Israelis in the U.S." American Jewish Yearbook, 1996. New York: The American Jewish Committee, 1996: 51-104.

Mittelberg, David, and Mary C. Waters. "The Process of Ethnogenesis among Haitian and Israeli Immigrants in the United States." Ethnic and Racial Studies 15: 412-435.

Ritterbrand, Paul. "Israelis in New York." Contemporary Jewry 7: 113-26.

Rosenthal, Mirra, and Charles Auerbach. "Cultural and Social Assimilation of Israeli Immigrants in the United States." International Migration Review, pp. 982-991.

Sobel, Zvi. Migrants From the Promised Land. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1986.

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