Sharon Siman-tov

ISRAEL


When did your family immigrate to the US and where exactly did they move? What made them come?

My father first came to the US in 1983 with his best friend from the army, after following his uncle’s advice. What started as a post-army release trip, ended up impacting his future - and mine as well. After touring around the West Coast, my father begged his girlfriend, my now mother, to join him across the world. He fell in love with the idea of opportunity and success free of the innate oppression his country was used to. My mom did in fact join him not too long after, and they decided to make LA their home.

What is the first language you learned? Do you speak any other languages?

Hebrew is my first language, however, English has become my primary language.

What language do you primarily speak when with your family?

Hebrish.

Have you ever visited or been back to your family's native country? If so, how often do you visit and for how long? What is that experience like? Do you have relatives there?

Israel is like a second home to me, and I am so grateful for that. As a dual-citizen, I have the option of not only visiting, but also living in Israel through an encouraged immersion program called Aaliyah. After visiting several times, I moved to Tel Aviv to better understand where my family’s roots lie. The holistic experience of growing up there in the summers to gradually living there full-time was nothing short of profound. I learned a lot about my people, the legislature, the country’s rhythm, the exhausting political tension, and my favorite part - Israel’s way of life. I spent more time with relatives, each of them extending a hand or an experience my way. I began to grasp how lucky I truly have it, my ability to “dip” whenever the hell I wanted, while my cousins are forced to endure the army, or apply for a visa just to go travel (as the government is in fear of its citizens fleeing). Just like that, I am the opposite of my relatives; my life both mirrors and opposes because their’s because of a decision my parents made.

Describe your experience growing up in America as someone who is so closely tied to another culture. How did you feel? What things were easy? What did you find difficult?

This question brings up the intricacies of being a first-generation American Israeli girl. While I am blessed with the duality of homes, I feel that I don’t have a true physical home. Growing up in white suburban America, I felt Israeli - adversely, living in Israel, I was constantly pegged as an American. I’ve learned to make my family my home, rather than attributing that feeling to a place. Now, years later, I can say that instead of denying my culture, I can fully embrace it. I spend a majority of my time with my family, and my siblings are my best friends. We have created our own subculture derived from our unique ancestral story, and I am so happy to have found that bliss.

What type of food do you eat at home? What are some of your favorite dishes?

Our home cuisine is a mix of Israeli-Italian-North African foods. My favorite is musaka and sabich!

Describe your experience making friends as a kid growing up in the UNITED STATES.

Although I am white, as a young child, I felt inferior to my peers - I attended a public school in Calabasas with a predominantly white population. I envied the girls with lighter hair because they were cool. I never truly fit in, yet I was friendly with everyone. I focused on my studies, a space I could excel, but there was always that desire to belong. This social structure set at such a young age truly affected me. I learned how to become my own best friend, something I will never take for granted.

Do you consider yourself as more of an American or that of your parents' native country?

I feel that I am an Israeli American, emphasizing my parent’s country first. They raised me in an Israeli household that just happens to be in America!

Are you proud to be American? 

At times, I am proud to be an American.

Do you plan to pass along aspects of your parents native culture to your children (if you choose to have them)? What parts of the culture do you want to keep if any? If yes, how important is that to you, and how do you plan on doing so?

I absolutely will pass on the morals and lessons derived from my family’s culture to my own children. I truly hope to instill the traditions that I grew up with, coupled with the mother language. There are plenty of Jewish schools in Los Angeles, which I would have to consider.

Are there aspects of your culture that you don't enjoy, parts that you know you don't want to pass on?

Tradition is a choice, and I choose to pass on the very valuable morals of the Jewish tradition with the hopes that my children will choose to absorb and practice those that they align with.

What's one thing you wish people knew about your culture? 

I wish people would not judge Judaism without knowing firsthand how special it is.

Are there any specific thoughts / inspiration behind the way you took your photos and what you took photos of? Feel free to use this space to express your photographic inspiration for this project. 

These photos mirror my faith and the culture that sews my family together, as well as my friendships, which almost all stem from a shared cultural experience. Being first generation American is not a black and white feeling, and I wanted the details of my everyday to capture how my culture seeps into my world.