Israeli Americans

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Editor: Thomas Riggs
Date: 2014
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Israeli Americans

Laura C. Rudolph


Israeli Americans are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from Israel, a country in the Middle East. Israel is bordered by Lebanon to the north, Syria and Jordan to the east, Egypt to the southwest, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Despite its small territory, Israel has varied climates, with mountainous regions, deserts, and coastal areas. Israel measures 7,992 square miles (20,700 square kilometers), making it slightly larger than the state of Massachusetts.

According to a July 2012 estimate from the CIA World Factbook, Israel has a population of 7.5 million people from various ethnic backgrounds. Approximately 75 percent are Jews who have immigrated there from nearly every corner of the world. The rest are largely Arabs, the majority of whom are Muslim (nearly 17 percent), with smaller numbers of Christians, Druze, Circassians, and Samaritans. Compared with the rest of the Middle East, Israel has a very high standard of living, mostly due to its market economy, which depends on the export of agricultural products, electronic technology, and cut diamonds.

Israelis first began to immigrate to the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, after the founding of Israel in 1948, settling on both the East and West Coasts. In the following decades, particularly through the 1980s and 1990s, Israelis, many of whom were highly skilled and highly educated, came to the United States in search of employment and a desire to be involved in the global economy. This, and continuing tensions between Israel and Palestine, has sent Israelis to the United States today.

The 2010 U.S. Census estimated that nearly 130,000 people claiming Israeli ancestry were living in the United States. New York and California have the greatest number of Israeli Americans, with Florida, New Jersey, and Massachusetts also home to large populations.


Early History The origins of the modern state of Israel can be traced to as far back as 2000 BCE, to the events described in the first five books of the Old Testament that comprise the Hebrew Bible, or Torah. According to the Torah, God promised the Israelites a land where they would be able to prosper, so long as they were faithful to Him. The Israelites found this “Promised Land” in Canaan, an area of ancient Palestine where they settled and established a Hebrew nation. Over the next two millennia, according to biblical tradition, the Hebrew people left, returned to, reconquered, occupied, and again lost their homeland. By the sixth century BCE, the Hebrew people were tolerated in Israel but the area was controlled by the Persian Empire.

The Hebrew presence in Israel proved untenable under the Roman occupation, which began in about 63 BCE. The Hebrews were exiled and those who remained were annihilated. The Romans renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitulina, decreed the city permanently off-limits to Hebrews, and renamed the entire province “Palaestina.” 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.

During this period, the spread of other religions fueled new claims to Palestine. In 638 CE, Jerusalem became an Islamic holy city, in accordance with the belief that the prophet Muhammad had ascended to heaven from within the city. Islamic claims to Jerusalem generated centuries of conflict with Christians. Around 1100 CE, the Christians began a series of crusades to wrest the Holy Land from the Muslims. 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 where Jews could live free from religious persecution. In 1897 the first Zionist Congress introduced the formation of the World Zionist Organization (WZO). The WZO soon began purchasing land in Palestine.

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In 1904, Jews fleeing pogroms in Russia arrived in Palestine, thus creating the Second Aliyah. 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 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.

Modern Era 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, the League of Arab States refused to do so, on the ground that the separation of territory privileged Jewish holy land while ignoring the religious significance of that land to the Arab community. In 1948 Israel was invaded by Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon. Israel was 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 Israelis and the Palestinian Arabs, many of whom had been displaced from their land.

In 1950 Israel enacted the Law of Return, which guaranteed Israeli 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. Israel routed the invaders and captured large amounts of territory from its Arab neighbors. By the end of the war, Israel had gained control of the Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Sinai Peninsula. It also annexed Jerusalem. Dismayed by the growth of Israeli power in the region, the Palestinian Arabs formed the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). 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, but 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 were offered the opportunity to hold democratic elections in those areas under their control. In return, the Palestinians agreed to halt violent attacks against Israel. Many Palestinians and Israelis were critical of the agreement, however, and tension between the two peoples remained high.

In 2000, U.S. President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met for the ultimately unsuccessful Middle East Peace Summit at Camp David, ending with Arafat rejecting a plan for a new Palestinian state. This led Israel's next prime minister, Ariel Sharon, to counter Arafat, defeating his Second Intifada and building the Israeli West Bank barrier. The years 2006 and 2008 saw the Second Lebanon War and the Gaza War, respectively. Though a cease-fire has been ordered, Israel is still experiencing political tensions with Palestine and Syria.


Israelis began immigrating to the United States soon after Israel's independence in 1948. Although estimates vary greatly, anywhere from 100,000 to 500,000 immigrants arrived in America in the 1970s and 1980s, although the official numbers were much lower (90,000 according to the 1990 U.S. Census). The actual number of Israeli immigrants to the United States has been a subject of intense debate since the 1980s. Many Israeli citizens immigrated there from other countries, and when these Israelis immigrate to the United States, they often list their native country on census forms, rather than “Israel.” This may explain in part the low number of Israeli Americans (130,000) recorded on the 2010 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

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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 and educational fulfillment were 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). Mizrahi 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 Mizrahi Jews to seek economic opportunities elsewhere. Twenty-first-century immigrants come to the United States seeking both better job prospects and political asylum.

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. 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.


The official languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. The vast majority of Israelis speak Hebrew, which dates back to 2000 BCE, though this Hebrew differs from the modern Hebrew spoken by native Israelis today. Israeli Americans generally learn the English language faster than other immigrant groups, and according to American Community Survey estimates for 2009–2011, only 13.6 percent of Israeli Americans 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. Hebrew is spoken at home by 80 percent of first-generation Israeli Americans, although the percentages decrease as Page 496  |  Top of Articlethe immigrants become more entrenched in American culture. In addition, the older Ashkenazic Jews speak Yiddish, which is a peculiarly Eastern European mixture of German and Hebrew, while the Mizrahi Jews speak Ladino. The use of both languages is decreasing in the United States, especially by the younger generations, although Yiddish-speaking Israeli Americans are more likely to be found among those who have settled in New York.

Greetings and Popular Expressions Israeli Americans can still be heard using some of the more common phrases of their native languages. Common Hebrew greetings and other expressions include: shalom (shah-LOHM)—hello or goodbye; boker tov (BOH-ker TOHV)—good morning; erev tov (EH-rev TOHV)—good evening; todah (toh-DAH)—thank you; bevakasha (be-vah-kuh-SHAH)—please; ken (KEN)—yes; loh (LOH)—no; sleekha (slee-KHAH)—excuse me; mazel tov (MAH-zl TAWV)—good luck; chag sameach (KHAHG Sah-MEHY-ahkh)—a happy holiday; and l'shanah tovah (li-SHAH-nuh TOH-vuh)—a good year.


Judaism represents the foundation of the state of Israel. Israeli Judaism is both national and secular, and does not necessarily include 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. 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, though most Israeli immigrants tend to be more involved in religious practices than American Jews.

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. These children then become accustomed to American Jewish practices, sometimes generating conflict and tension between Israeli American parents and their children. To rectify this, some Israeli immigrants send their children to Israel-style schools in communities with large immigrant populations.

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. 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 Mizrahi and Ashkenazic Jews remains strong in the United States. Generally, the Mizrahi Jews tend to have a higher rate of synagogue membership and observance of kosher food laws.


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. Many Israeli Americans are accustomed to the close-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, radio and television broadcasts, and Internet communities, 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 achieve 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; a sizable number of Israeli immigrants, however, eventually become permanent citizens, particularly through marriage. It is estimated that over a third of Israeli immigrants 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 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.”

Traditions and Customs Israelis have a variety of traditions, the majority of which are connected to the Jewish religion; those immigrants of the Jewish religion keep the traditions alive in the United States.

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Israeli American painter Uri Blayer shown here in Deadhorse Canyon at the Deadhorse Point State Park in Utah. Israeli American painter Uri Blayer shown here in Deadhorse Canyon at the Deadhorse Point State Park in Utah. VITO PALMISANO / GETTY IMAGES

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 Americans observe tevilah, a purification rite similar to baptism, in the tradition of their Jewish faith. The circumcision ceremony (brit 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.

Cuisine Israeli cuisine is savory and flavorful, and it reflects the influence of its diverse cultural inheritance as well as the strict dietary laws practiced by Jews. A faction of Israeli Jews observe the kashrut, which is a set of food restrictions outlined in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. Though not many Israeli Jews keep strictly kosher, the acceptable foods to eat when keeping kosher include meat from animals with cloven hoofs that ruminate (chew their cuds), 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

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Sidebar: HideShow



1 kosher chicken breast, boneless and butterflied





bread crumbs

2 tablespoons olive oil


Separate chicken breast into 2 pieces and pound each to ¼ inch thin. Sprinkle with salt and fresh pepper. Dip into flour, being sure to get entire piece coated. Dip chicken into egg, coating well. Then dip the chicken into the bread crumbs. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over low-medium heat. When oil is hot, sauteé each chicken cutlet until bottom is golden. Flip and cook other side until golden.

Recipe courtesy of Robert Lebow

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 Mizrahi and the Ashkenazi 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. Israeli Americans have brought this food to the United States, with restaurants and groceries that feature foods from their home country.

There is a strong Middle Eastern influence in Israeli cooking. Some favorite dishes include hummus (a dip that combines mashed chickpeas and tahini, a sesame paste); falafel (fried balls made from ground chickpeas); fuul (fava beans); and mashi (stuffed pita breads). Israelis enjoy sweet desserts including baklava (a dessert of wheat, honey, and nuts) and 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.

Dances and Songs Israeli folk dancing is admired around the world, including in the United States, and there are thousands of different dances that are performed. Traditional dances include circle, line, or partner dances that 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, a traditional music of 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 Eden.”

Not all Israeli music, however, is religious or inspired by folk tradition. Israeli and Israeli American musicians are also involved in mainstream musical genres, including rock, pop, and jazz.

Holidays Communities with large Israeli American populations often hold celebrations on Israeli Independence Day, which occurs on 5 Iyar according to the Hebrew lunar calendar (falling in April or May in the United States). Los Angeles, for example, holds an Israeli Festival to coincide with Israeli Independence Day. Synagogues sometimes hold a special prayer service. In many cases, it is a time for Israeli Americans to congregate and celebrate their culture and their homeland.

Some Israeli Americans also 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'Yerushalayim,” which means “next year in Jerusalem.” The phrase is spoken as a wish of hope for the new year, both that the Messiah will return to rebuild the Holy City and that peace will find its way to 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. Hanukkah, the “festival of the Page 499  |  Top of Articlelight,” lasts for eight days in November or December. Hanukkah celebrates the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrians in 165 BCE. After the defeat, the oil for the Temple miraculously lasted for eight days until it could be renewed. During Hanukkah, candles in a menorah 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 staying up all night to read the Torah.

Other festivals or holidays include the Yom Ha'Shoa, 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 April or May on the day after Yom Hazikaron and celebrates the day Israel declared its independence.

Israeli Americans often express disappointment about 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.

Health Care Issues and Practices Israeli Americans have not been prone to any specific medical conditions and generally tend to enjoy good health. Most Israelis Americans, like other Americans, have health insurance that is covered by their employers; those who are self-employed provide coverage for themselves and their employees. There are several nationwide organizations of Israeli health professionals in the United States.

Death and Burial Rituals Following a death in a Jewish family, the funeral is usually held within twenty-four 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 no embalming or cosmetology are 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.


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 religion, 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.

Israeli Americans often express disappointment about 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.

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 often unable to foster an Israeli identity in their more “Americanized” children. One Israeli American mother described the dilemma in a 1994 article by Steven J. Gold titled “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 U.S. bonds with Israel. Toward the end of the twentieth century, the American Jewish community began to establish similar programs through such Page 500  |  Top of Articlegroups 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 Chetz V'Keshet, a program similar to Outward Bound.

Gender Roles The Jewish faith is often considered inherently patriarchal and, over the centuries, women have played a nominal role in Jewish religious communities worldwide. Traditionally, men were the heads of household, while 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; Israel has even had a female prime minister, Golda Meir. 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.

Education 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 2010 U.S. Census, 52.3 percent of Israeli American men and 53.2 percent of women had a college degree, and only 5.7 percent of Israeli Americans did not finish high school.

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 fear that negative values such as low achievement, lack of respect toward parents, and American individualism are being taught to their children. Similarly, Israeli American parents are disturbed by the availability of illegal 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.

Courtship and Weddings 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 husband 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.


Israeli Americans often 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 they 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 business owners, 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 a high rate of self-employment in the United States. The 2010 Census found that one-tenth of Israeli Americans were self-employed. Over half of Israeli Americans found work in management, business, science, and the arts. 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. In 2010 the Census Bureau reported that Israeli American men earned a median annual income of $62,000 (compared to $42,000 for American men overall). Israeli American women made median earnings of $51,000 (compared to $31,000 for American women overall).


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 U.S. citizens continue to follow events in Israel and tend to vote for American political candidates who support Israeli

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Former Chief of Staff during President Obama's first term and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel (1959–) speaks at an Obama campaign fundraiser at Chicago's Navy Pier, 2011. Former Chief of Staff during President Obama's first term and Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel (1959–) speaks at an Obama campaign fundraiser at Chicago's Navy Pier, 2011. SCOTT OLSON / GETTY IMAGES

interests. For instance, according to exit polls, 85 percent of Israeli Americans voted for Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential election because of his strong commitment to Israel.

Israeli Americans generously support the state of Israel, and they 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 “fifty-first” 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. Today, Israeli Americans are becoming more and more vocal in U.S. politics, especially as it relates to the United States' relationship with Israel. For example, during the 2012 elections, many Israeli Americans used English-language news sources like Israel Today to voice their support for either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, particularly focusing on how each candidate's policies might affect Israeli politics.


Academia Nadav Safran (1925–2003) 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 Tversky (1937–1996) was considered one of the leading authorities on mathematical models in psychology and was a professor of psychology at Stanford University. He coauthored the following publications: Mathematical Psychology: An Elementary Introduction (1970) and Decision Making: Descriptive, Normative, and Prescriptive Interaction (1988).

Business The Nakash brothers (Joe, Ralph, and Avi), 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. In 2004 the company Page 502  |  Top of Articleintroduced the Jordache Vintage line to celebrate thirty-five years in the fashion industry.

Music Itzhak 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, fifteen Grammy awards between the years 1977 and 1987, and the Medal of Liberty in 1986. In November 2007, Perlman took the position of artistic director and principal conductor for the Westchester Philharmonic. Pinchas Zukerman (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 to 1987. From 1990 to 1992, he was the guest conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. Zukerman began teaching at the Manhattan School of Music in New York in 1993.

Politics Rahm Emanuel (1959–) was elected mayor of Chicago in 2011. Son of an Israeli immigrant, Emanuel grew up in Chicago, briefly serving as a civilian volunteer with the Israel Defense Forces. In his political career, Emanuel worked as a senior advisor to President Bill Clinton in the 1990s and as White House chief of staff to President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2010. He is Chicago's first Jewish mayor.

Stage and Screen 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 (2002). He also hosted a weekly radio program titled “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 from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture (1997).

Natalie Portman (1981–) is an Israeli-born American actress. She first appeared in the 1994 film The Professional. She achieved mainstream success with her roles in the Star Wars prequel trilogy (1999, 2002, and 2005), V for Vendetta (2006), and The Other Boleyn Girl (2008). She received much critical acclaim for her lead role in Black Swan (2011), which won her an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a BAFTA Award, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and an Independent Spirit Award.


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

Natasha Mozgovya, Chief U.S. Correspondent


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

Esther Altman, Editor
111 John Street Suite 600
New York, New York 10038
Phone: (212) 929-1525
Fax: (212) 727-9526


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WELW presents Shalom America on Sunday mornings.

Raymond Somich, General Manager
P.O. Box 1330
Willoughby, Ohio 44096
Phone: (440) 946-1330


Israel Hour broadcasts on Rutgers University's college radio station.

126 College Avenue
New Brunswick, New Jersey 08901
Phone: (732) 932-7800


The Yiddish Voice broadcasts on WUNR.

Chasia Segal
The Yiddish Voice
c/o WUNR
60 Temple Place
Boston, Massachusetts 02114
Phone: (617) 738-8484


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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.

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David Homan, Executive Director
1140 Broadway
Suite 304
New York, New York 10001
Phone: (212) 557-1600
Fax: (212) 557-1611

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 democracies.

Dr. Alex Grobman, Executive Director
134 East 39th Street
New York, New York 10016
Phone: (212) 213-8630, ext. 230
Fax: (212) 683-3475

Chabad West Coast Headquarters

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

Rabbi Boruchs Cunin, Director
741 Gayley Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90024
Phone: (310) 208-7511


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Center for Israel Studies (CIS)

American University's Center for American Studies is a national leader in the study of the history and culture of Israel. The center takes a multidisciplinary approach to further understanding of Israel's complex culture.

Laura Katz Cutler, Acting Director
4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20016
Phone: (202) 885-3780


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 (1989): 267–88.

Gold, Steven J. “Israeli Immigrants in the United States: The Question of Community.” Qualitative Sociology 17 (1994): 325–45.

———and Bruce A. Phillips. “Israelis in the U.S.” American Jewish Yearbook 1996. New York: The American Jewish Committee, 1996: pp. 51–104.

Kushner, Tony, and Alisa Solomon, eds. Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. New York: Grove Press, 2003.

Mittelberg, David, and Mary C. Waters. “The Process of Ethnogenesis Among Haitian and Israeli Immigrants in the United States.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 15, no. 3 (July 1992): 412–35.

Ritterband, Paul. “Israelis in New York.” Contemporary Jewry 7 (1986): 113–26.

Rosenthal, Mirra, and Charles Auerbach. “Cultural and Social Assimilation of Israeli Immigrants in the United States.” International Migration Review 26, no. 3 (Fall 1992): 982–91.

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

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX3273300099