What Nationality Are You?

October 25, 2011 by Daniel Samowitz
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People always ask me whom do I feel more affiliated with? Are you South African or are you Australian? My standard answer is: I am and have always been Jewish!…write Daniel Samowitz.

It’s true that we are all products of our environment. The people and culture that surrounds us shape us. I choose for my surroundings, my story, to be connected to the story of the Jewish people. For me this connection needs Israel at the centre. Without Israel at the centre of the Jewish people we are all still wandering Jews yearning for a home.

Daniel Samowitz

My experience in my ‘previous lands’ shaped who I am today, but my biggest experience is what my previous lands did not give me: The ability to feel like a sovereign autonomous Jew. Today I live engulfed by Cultural Judaism. The South African Jewish community was/is running to a religious Judaism that is not me. I don’t believe God thinks any less of me if I turn on or off a light on Shabbat, but I do think God would be really pissed off if I didn’t treat my fellow man with respect, dignity and equality. Religion and Halacha is not for me, but that doesn’t make me any less Jewish.

In a world of choice I believe we have the ability to connect to whichever nation we want to, but I firmly believe with this choice comes demands, rights and responsibilities.

I hold dual citizenship, but I’m finding it hard to believe that anyone has the ability to really hold dual nationality. At least not without bringing up difficult questions and tensions within ones life.

I believe your average Australian bloke has the right to question our loyalty to “our Australia” because the truth is that if what happened in South Africa happened in Australia the Jews would flee to the next Jewish community in a first world country…if they have the ability to do so. Or if the shit really hit the fan they would choose to come home to Israel.

Israel is where we can choose to stop running! For me there is no dual nationality here; it’s an everyday Jewish existence which I, as a Jew, am wholly responsible for.

The best person to lead the South African people was Nelson Mandela. The best person to shape the future of the aboriginal people is an aboriginal person/elder.

I think if each person took responsibility for the nationally they are connected to the world would be a safer, more connected, more meaningful place. I am not just a person of the world. I think this label takes away from how complex reality is. I am an individual within a family; a family within a community; a community within a nation; a nation within humanity. I feel like if I didn’t connect to these steps I might think I felt worldly… but in reality I would be lost.

Are you a Jewish Australian or an Australian Jew? If I am apart of the Jewish Nation, this question, whatever way you look at it is totally flawed. There is a dilemma between being Jewish and Australian we can choose to be either but I think we should choose.

I chose to be Jewish and every Jew deserves a home! I decided to reunite my soul, my nationality, my people, my land, my ancestry, my culture, my collective Jewish memory. I am a Jew and I am home…. but all this doesn’t make leaving the Galut any easier.

Something a friend of mine keeps on saying to me is that I would never be fully Israeli and in a way he is right. My accent will always be a bit off and I wouldn’t have grown up knowing that once high-school ended I would be joining the army; I’ve had the ability to choose it when “real Israelis” don’t get that choice. His words have stayed with me for a long time; it’s a dilemma I find myself constantly returning to. I don’t feel fully Israeli, but I also don’t feel fully Australian. Am I destined to be lost in a vortex of confused identity?

When I look around at Israeli society I feel depressed. I see its faults, its lack of leadership, a skewed moral compass, occupation, privatisation, corruption, poverty and, and, and… But through the same eyes in which I see its faults I see its potential; I see what it’s meant to be. I see what responsibility it’s demanding of me and every Jew to take.

All this within me makes me think back about the choices I have made. I’m not coming here to conform to being ‘Israeli’. Most of the time I don’t like what Israel stands for! But one thing is for sure, I am a Jew and I am a Zionist. I may not be as much of a sabra as my neighbour, but that was never my goal. The idea of Zionism was not to conform, it was to create. I may never feel authentically Israeli, but I am authentically a Jewish Zionist. I take solace in the fact that even Herzl’s 1st language wasn’t Hebrew! And I do reckon that he would be rolling in his grave if he knew the unfortunate state his dream is in and how a lot of native Israelis wish to have my other passport. A lot of people live in Israel, but I don’t think that makes them Zionist.

I read somewhere recently that when people come to Israel and they see a secular national Jewish existence they feel ashamed of the Jewishness of the people in the State. But the answer isn’t running to religiosity or a society where you have to fight for your Judaism to make it feel meaningful. Being a Secular Jew is definitely in resurgence in Israel. There are a lot of unanswered questions in how to live this kind of life, but at least there are people taking part in that conversation.

Like how an Israeli relates to the question of being Jewish (And we must!), so must a Diaspora Jew deal with what it means to be a Zionist today. Standing behind Israel in everything that it is today is a mystification of what Zionism is. Taking responsibility for the Jewish people, the Jewish Nation in its homeland, needs a bit more time than a 2 week excursion to Eilat.

For me Zionism does not = Israel; it equates to something so much more. As much as Zionism lives in the Galut, and it does – check out the local Habonim Dror ken – the Galut, too, lives here in Israel.

Aliyah for me is not anywhere near the pinnacle of Zionism. To create an Israeli society through Zionist goggles, building a society based on peace, love and social justice, being active and engaged in building a social democratic Jewish welfare state with peace not as a vision but a reality; that to me is the need of the Zionist hour.


Daniel Samowitz made Aliyah in January 2010, lives in Hadera and is enlisting into the army tomorrow. He lived  in Sydney.


3 Responses to “What Nationality Are You?”
  1. Well said, Danny Boy,
    you said it. However in my case, I speak with a prominent Irish accent, & as the only white skinned child of a very dark skinned Jewish mother, it is very confusing. As the English said as they cast their eyes over my three much older dark skinned brothers, with ther jet black curly hair, “What the hell happened to you, Oliver”. Well, good luck with your enlistment in the Israeli Army & don’t ferget to spend some downtime in the old capital of Judea, once home to my mothers ancestors. Oliver

  2. PHIL LEVY says:

    Goodonya Samo!!

    you are a Mensch!

    no matter where you were born or where you live today- you are a Mensch among Menches!

  3. Lynne Newington says:

    That’s nothing compared to “who do you think you are”, at least your roots would be well established.

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