New York is a city of immigrants. We asked some of our staff members to tell us their family’s immigration stories. Dganit Katz Yefet, Manager of Visitor Services and the Pickman Museum Shop, shares her immigration journey to the United States below.
I was born in Israel and became a naturalized US citizen in 1992, so I am a dual citizen of both countries.
My mother’s parents came to Israel in the early 1900s from Sanaa, in Yemen. And my father’s parents – my grandfather was from Aden in Yemen, and my grandmother was from Spain – came when it was the Mandate of Palestine. We are called Sephardic Jews.
My parents are of a generation that was born in Israel. My father was born in 1936 and my mother in 1939. They have always lived in Rehovot.
I came to the United States in December of 1984, because my father worked for El Al Israel Airlines and he was sent on duty for 6 years to be an El Al station manager at JFK.
I was 21. I lived with my parents first, and then in 1989, I married my first husband and lived with him. Nine years later, I divorced, and then remarried a year later. I have children from both husbands.
It was very hard to move here at 21. I left friends, family, relatives, and culture. I came to the United States and it was a totally different world for me. It’s very hard at 21 to start making friends. But since I’m a friendly person, I managed to gather a lot of friends around me. I signed up for the gym, I went to social events, I went to Israeli folk dancing. I made sure to involve myself in different social activities, and that’s how I created a circle of friends. And I always worked, and I made a lot of friends at work.
I spoke English well when I moved to the United States. We lived in Africa for six years from 1970 to 1976, in Nairobi, Kenya where my father was an El Al representative, therefore, all my primary education was in Nairobi and it was in English.
I became a US citizen when I married my first husband. I got my US citizenship in 1992.
I’ve worked for many years at the Museum. It’s great that our building looks out at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. They always symbolized freedom, hope, and new beginnings. I always picture those who came from Ellis Island to a new country, just like I did.
Throughout the history of the United States there have always been immigrants traveling to the country in search of a better life. And today, as the topic becomes increasingly entrenched in national discourse, it’s more important than ever to highlight the unbelievable value that immigration has brought to the U.S.—not just through key additions to our culture and diversity, but through the introduction of people who have helped make this country as great as it is.
Israelis always say that America is the land of opportunities; I say “G-d Bless America.” It’s been a good place for me, and for my family.