It was heaven for us Following the Kaminitz family's immigration journey from Israel to the U.S.

By Matthew Yoshimoto

All that Noa Levran could see as the sun set was a distant street light amid the darkness of her surroundings. After one of her routine trips to the local market, she walked down a dirt pathway to her Philadelphia residence, carrying a few grocery bags in her hands.

Suddenly, the utter darkness filled with twinkling lights that blinked all around her, shining just bright enough that she could make out the outlines of the surrounding trees and bushes. Unaware of what these lights were, she examined closer and instantly recognized them — dozens of fireflies. I feel like I’m in a Disney movie, she thought. It’s so beautiful.

This, along with many other “magical” first encounters in Philadelphia made Levran grateful for deciding to immigrate from Nahal Oz, a small town of about 350 people in Israel. She had immigrated with her former-husband Seffi Kaminitz and their two children, Uriel and Anna, who were ages six and four at the time.

Two of Levran’s main reasons for immigrating were the democratic and progressive principles which she believes the U.S. is based on, alongside her aspirations for a brighter future for both herself and her family.

“In Israel, there's a lot of human rights problems in my eyes, [but] it really depends on who you're talking to,” Levran said. “I was always an advocate for human rights in my own life, so the situation in Israel always bugged me. It was a relief to just get out of Israel, and in America, it's really democratic here, and it's fine to be whoever you want. And I think that basic respect for people is something that I'm looking for in my life.”

Levran’s former-husband, Seffi, however, had other reasons for immigrating. In June 2008, the Kaminitz family’s first year living in the U.S., Seffi was pursuing his master’s degree at the University of Pennsylvania. Along with being able to receive an Ivy League education, Seffi felt that the U.S. was a place of opportunity where his family would live most comfortably.

“I always wanted to come to America,” Seffi said. “My parents also lived here for a while, so I had this dream to come to the U.S. and experience the American life. It's also just a personal growth kind of thing. It wasn't just for my career, it was also to see how life in America [was, since it has] more opportunities and is a much bigger country then Israel [and] a lot less crowded.”

But this dream to work and live in the U.S. was not simple — the immigration process took a total of eight years. Despite being approved for a green card in September 2015, as of October 2020, the Kaminitz family is still waiting for American citizenships.

“I was stressed out, to be honest,” Levran said. “It was a very hard move, [but] for me, I like the adventure, so it covered the difficulties. [In] the first few weeks, you don't even have a house, so it's hard, but it was exciting — I was really excited.”

Levran’s son, Uriel, echoed her excitement when immigrating to the U.S. and similarly discussed his desire to move on multiple different occasions, despite only being six years old. Levran believes that he gained his fascination with the U.S. from her and Seffi, as they had frequently mentioned their longing to immigrate.

Uriel Kaminitz, Noa Levran and Anna Kaminitz take a picture at their Jewish school in Philadelphia

Anna, however, does not have much recollection of the immigration process because she was young at the time. However, she does vividly recall a specific moment in her Philadelphia preschool which was largely filled with Jewish students, the religion which most Israelis practice.

“I didn't know any English, so the first day, I sat at this desk and just colored this Donald Duck coloring book,” Anna said. “I was just confused, but I knew that the staff was welcoming. Everyone knew that we were new from Israel, so people were nice, but I don't think that any kids approached me or anything. I was just by myself. I didn't know how to talk to anybody.”

Levran thoroughly enjoyed her and her family’s two years in Philadelphia, especially the nature, the openness of the community and the suburb where they lived, which was a “beautiful, fairytale-like place” in comparison to her small town in Israel.

“It was heaven for us,” Levran said. “Everybody's so nice to each other on the street [and there were these] big, beautiful, complex, amazing trees. I think Philadelphia [and its nature] is underestimated. It was just magical — it was just so perfect.”

Despite Levran’s love for the city and the East Coast in general, the Kaminitz family decided to continue to pursue its original dream –– to make it big in the U.S. In order to do this, Seffi and Levran looked to Silicon Valley as the “mecca of technology.” In November 2011, the Kaminitz family took its next big step in the U.S. and immigrated to Sunnyvale, CA. At first, Levran was hesitant to move due to her comfort and satisfaction with her Philadelphia residence, yet as a family, they decided that it would be best for them to move to the Bay Area.

The difficulties that the family experienced upon moving to Sunnyvale paralleled those they faced when first immigrating to Philadelphia, but instead of what Seffi referred to as a “soft landing” in Philadelphia due to the high concentration of Jewish people, Sunnyvale had a much smaller Jewish population.

For Anna, the trend of feeling alienated was heightened in California as it had been in Philadelphia because of the dramatic difference in the Jewish population between the two communities. In order to combat this disconnect, she regularly attended Jewish and Israeli Youth Groups.

However, Anna and her family still felt a detachment from their Israeli culture, and despite trying to celebrate Jewish holidays, there were still many differences between Sunnyvale and Philadelphia. Even now, Anna only truly feels connected to her culture when traveling back to Israel for vacation, and even then, she feels that her natural ability to speak Hebrew, the national language of Israel, has substantially worsened.

“When I'm an adult, I really just want to keep in touch with my culture,” Anna said. “If I had kids, I would want them to know [Hewbrew and] Israeli culture. When [I am] not in that country, but then [decide to travel] there, I realize how much I don't even prioritize [the culture]. It's something that I should definitely be proud of, instead of it getting lost.”


Photos courtesy of Anna Kaminitz // Used with permission