Our family’s typical Thanksgiving always meant that we would be together, eat a grotesque amount of food, and banter with family members while watching football. My experience this Thanksgiving was profoundly different, as I am now a student studying for the semester at the University of Haifa in Israel.

This Thanksgiving held a new meaning, one that was filled with thanks more than ever. The past month has brought a series of events that I never could have imagined, ranging from the American responses to the 2012 election results to the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

In the past couple of weeks I have had my personal beliefs and political opinions challenged by the media. The challenges that Israel faces were no longer some distant reality that I was loosely connected to – I now became a part of them. I had friends that were called into military reserves to go into Gaza and I knew people who had to move from their homes in the southern part of Israel, which got the brunt of the rockets.

With all of these events and personal challenges I have felt deeply conflicted at times. While I want to remain steadfast in my personal sentiment toward Israel, my views toward political dealings have been shaken to the core.

The past week projected images of death and destruction around the world from Operation Pillar of Defense. It was the first time that I felt so connected to these images, stories, and numbers of the wounded and killed.

Something changed in me as I saw what was happening to the people in the country that I have grown to love so much. I know that I am only beginning to understand the complex history and conflict that unfortunately holds such a presence in this region, but regardless of ethnicity my heart poured out for those affected by the conflict on either side.

In light of all of these events I cannot think of a better time for Thanksgiving to arrive. While the holiday holds a tragic and contorted past in its glorification of the story of the Pilgrims’ conquering of the Native Americans, it has still retained its meaning in modern day America for being a day of thanks and reflection. We take time to look at the good in life, appreciating what we glance over in every day life.

I attended a Thanksgiving meal coordinated by the International School at the University of Haifa. The meal brought together students from all over the world, allowing students from other countries to gain insight into what the holiday is all about.

Before the meal began, the Dean of Students said a few words about the holiday and spoke about the events of the past week. I found myself caught off guard when I was holding back tears at the mention of the events regarding Gaza. It was then when I had an epiphany.

While I was fortunate enough not to see the affects of the attacks on Israel and the counterattacks that Israel made, the events made me understand the preciousness of human life.

During my Thanksgiving meal at the student clubhouse on campus in the dorms, I had a new outlook on the holiday. I have gained a new sense of what it means to have people who love me and care for me in my life. I received overwhelming support the past week when I was concerned about people that I knew being called up for reserves, when rockets were being fired into Israel, and when hearing news updates.

I hope that my experiences in Israel will continue to help me broaden my personal opinions. It is my deepest wish to be able to make a difference in the lives of others through helping people of various backgrounds realize what they have in common instead of meditating on their differences.