Last updated July 20th 2014
During my studies at Hebrew University, my main focus was on learning Hebrew – increasing my vocabulary, learning all of the rules of grammar and syntax, etc…. I remember after my first few weeks of ulpan (Hebrew studies) I began to try speaking Hebrew outside of the classroom as well. Whether I tried speaking in the grocery store or a cafe, it seemed like the minute my lips began to part to form a word, the person I was speaking to would automatically speak to me in English.
Despite the fact that my Hebrew was improving with each class, something that was brutally clear was that I wasn’t a native Israeli. I have what most immigrants hate – a “mivtah” or accent. My accent immediately gave away the fact that I hadn’t been born in Israel, and therefore, couldn’t possibly know much Hebrew. According to my accent, my identity was not Israeli, but rather something else, something foreign. As I was trying to forge my new identity in Israel – an Israeli identity – I quickly began trying to improve or “fix” my American accent when I spoke Hebrew. I worked on rolling the Resh (“r” sound) and the Chet, but no matter how hard I tried to rid myself of my accent, native Israelis still spoke back to me in English.
Over the course of a year and a half of ulpan, my Hebrew improved quite dramatically. When Israelis would try speaking back to me in English, I continued speaking to them in Hebrew, and they quickly realized that despite my accent, I actually could speak Hebrew. Despite this, I still felt that I needed to improve my accent. One must understand that when a person is trying to forge a completely new identity, the obvious solution is to suppress the former identity.
That is exactly what I was trying to do by improving my accent. I didn’t want any traces of my “American-ness”. I wanted to be Israeli.
At some point in my journey, I realized that in order to forge my Israeli identity, it wasn’t necessary to suppress my American identity. The fact is that the first 22 years of my life were spent in the US. It is where I was born and grew up; it was my first home. I now have another home, a home where I want to build my future. My “American-ness” in fact doesn’t make me any less Israeli. In fact, while thinking about it now, it makes me in some ways more Israeli because I chose to be Israeli. I am not Israeli by birth. I chose to leave my entire family behind to fulfill my dream of becoming Israeli.
My American accent stays with me to this day. Moshe and his family love to make fun of it (in a loving way of course), but it is something I am no longer ashamed of, and I can now laugh when they joke about my accent. I am proud of my American roots and the Israeli roots that I have planted for my future.
To have two identities does not mean I have to choose one over the other, but rather that I should cherish both.