Americans by choice celebrate the Fourth
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Americans by choice celebrate the Fourth

Who are those foreign Jews who live among us, who speak with a variety of accents? What did they leave behind, and how do they view the United States?

There are as many reasons to come to this country as there are immigrants, and each is a tale of wandering and faith.

Chilean-born Amit Bejar left for Israel in 199′ for what was supposed to be a one-month visit "to explore our roots," he said. He ended up staying for eight years.


Amit Bejar, shown at his Teaneck home, said he is proud of his three nationalities. From left, Amit, Dael, Deborah, and Tamir.

"I realized I had nothing to do in Chile and decided to stay and start all over again," he said.

There he married the "house mother" of Kibbutz Sde Eliahu, Deborah, an American woman with relatives in Teaneck. The couple settled in the township eight years ago.

Bejar said he feels proud of his three nationalities, Chilean, Israeli, and American, and that he has embraced this country with "lots of love because it is where my wife and my [8-year-old] son Dael were born."

His older son, Tamir, 10, was born in Israel. The two were planning to march in Teaneck’s annual Fourth of July Parade and then have a family barbecue at home.

But starting anew here wasn’t easy for Bejar. "It’s difficult to make friends and to adapt to life because you come with another mentality," he said.

Fair Lawn resident Reina Wertman Mezrahi left her native Colombia in 1975, at 18, and settled in Miami, where her grandparents lived. She was already familiar with the English language and American holidays, having studied in an American school, Colegio Americano, in Barranquilla, the city in northern Colombia where she was born.

"On my first Fourth of July in this country I felt as if I had lived here for many years," she recalled. "This Fourth of July I’ll cook for Shabbat."

She married an American citizen, Paul Wertman, and they have three children, Dena, ‘4, Esther, ”, and Isaac, 14, all born here.

"I now feel more American than Colombian," she said. "Colombia is just a good memory."

Rachmiel Kavesh, also a Fair Lawn resident, came to the United States 18 years ago as a refugee with his wife, Allah, when the former Soviet Union let Jews emigrate. He was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, and attended college in Moldova, a Soviet republic until 1991. The couple have three children. Benjamin, ‘1, was born in Moldova. Alexander, 14, and Elana, 3 1/’, were born here.

"I love this country because if you have an idea, you can realize it," he said. "In other countries you can’t."

Rabbi Meir Berger, religious leader of The New Synagogue in Fort Lee, is not a big fan of celebrating the Fourth of July — because it’s not a Jewish holiday.

Berger was born in Jerusalem and came to the United States with his parents 50 years ago.

"I don’t have any objections [to celebrating the Fourth], but when we [Jews] celebrate a victorious holiday like Chanukah or Purim, there is a certain sanctity to that, and we thank God for saving lives," he said. "The celebration with fireworks doesn’t appeal to me."

For some Jews, he added, "a holiday is a holiday, no matter what it represents," as long as they are having a good time.

The days of mass migration of Jews and other minorities from Europe to this country ended in the 19’0s, when the government enacted strict immigration laws.

Several organizations have been credited with helping Jewish immigrants, among them the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which was founded in the Lower East Side in 1891.

But despite its name, HIAS hasn’t helped only Jewish immigrants. "Almost from our beginnings we helped sectarian refugees and migrants," said Roberta Elliot, spokesperson for HIAS, in an e-mail.

In 1905, a group of ‘5 Russian peasants arrived in the country without representation or documentation and HIAS helped them to be admitted to the country, according to Elliot.

In 191′, the organization helped ” mostly non-Jewish survivors of the Titanic after their rescue and arrival in New York City. According to the HIAS Website, 10 percent of American Jews are foreign-born.

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