On Becoming U.S. Citizens

A Matter of Life, Death Changes My Mind

On Nov. 16, my Israeli grandsons Noam, 5, and Lavi, 2, became American citizens.
    The ceremony at the Holtsville U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on Long Island, New York, 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 himself civic duties, can work to improve America. And because all of my children view their futures in Israel, and because I hope that my grandchildren will share that view, I saw citizenship for my grandchildren as unwarranted. 
    That all changed on Oct. 20, the day 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. 
    “People were very nervous in the waiting room,” he said, “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. Despite the fact that the interview just consisted of “very straightforward questions” (date of birth, place of birth, etc.), Nathan said: “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.
    “It speaks to the connection between the children and Nathan’s homeland, even though he is Israeli and you and Sarah are Israeli,” she told me. “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—G-d forbid—you need to go someplace for whatever reason, I feel comfortable that the United States of America has our backs.”

TEDDY WEINBERGER is a contributing writer to Jlife magazine. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.


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