April 14, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Chanukah and American Citizenship

On November 16, my Israeli grandsons Noam (5) and Lavi (2) became American citizens. Coming just three weeks before Chanukah, this family milestone serves as a very appropriate focus for my holiday column. After all, the Maccabean revolt in 167 BCE began as a revolt against the Hellenism that was rampant among Jerusalem elites at the time. But given that Greek culture continued to be a major force throughout the entirety of Maccabean rule (which came to an end in 63 BCE), Chanukah is not a holiday that argues for Jewish isolation but that provokes conversation about the extent of Jewish assimilation of a “foreign,” dominant culture.

The November ceremony at the Holtsville U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Long Island came after several years of discussion within the family. I had always been against giving my grandchildren American citizenship. Why? Because I view American citizenship as a two-way street. It’s not just about how citizenship can benefit a person (most significantly in this case, about $1,500 per child per year), but also how a person, through taking upon themselves civic duties, can work to improve America. And since all of my children view their futures in Israel, and since I hope that my grandchildren will share that view, I saw citizenship for my grandchildren as unwarranted. That all changed on October 20, the day that Hamas released hostages for the first time: a mother and daughter who are dual U.S.-Israeli citizens. When it becomes a matter of life and death, I will silence my thoughts concerning citizenship “imbalance” if it means that the president of the U.S.A. will prioritize the safety of my grandchildren.

(For those who are curious about the whole procedure: America seems to be saying to people like Nathan, i.e., Americans whose parents got the crazy idea to move to a different country when those Americans were children: If you can prove that at least one of your parents was American and lived in America as an adult, you can, for a fee of $1,700 per child to Homeland Security, make your own children American.)

I asked Nathan how the appointment went. Nathan said: “People were very nervous in the waiting room, but the people coming out were by and large happy, relieved.” He told me that as the American parent, only he was invited in for the interview (though he ended up taking Lavi, and Noam stayed outside with Avia). Nathan said that despite the fact that the interview just consisted of “very straightforward questions” (date of birth, place of birth etc.), “It was emotional because you get into the mood of being emotional because a lot of people around you are emotional. You see the 80-year-old Honduran guy who has been waiting for this his whole life and he’s very emotional.” Summarizing the lengthy process, Nathan says: “It had nothing to do with any sort of tax benefits or credits; I still view myself very much as American so I think that’s a primary reason for me to do it for the kids.”

I asked Avia for her thoughts about the experience. She told me: “It speaks to the connection between the children and Nathan’s homeland, even though he is Israeli and you and Sarah are Israeli. Nathan and you have a very long history with the United States and I do feel that it is something very positive that the children now also have a part in this. Also, speaking practically, it’s good that the kids have an additional citizenship, especially American, which is a very strong citizenship. If there is a very, very, very exceptional situation and something happens and—God forbid—you need to go someplace for whatever reason, I feel comfortable that the United States of America has our backs.”

By Teddy Weinberger

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