There’s no feeling in the world like landing in Israel. Anyone who has had the experience can attest to that. From the time that you board the flight, there’s a feeling of community and a sense of family. Your seat companions introduce themselves to you, and inevitably you know someone in common. After what seems like an eternity, the flight finally lands and there’s a mad rush into the aisles. You trip over someone else’s kids, get hit by someone grabbing a suitcase, and proceed to stand in the aisle for at least an additional half hour, caught up in a traffic jam of impatience.
It’s annoying. It’s avoidable. And it’s amazing.
It’s amazing because on some level, everyone is jumping out of their seats because they’re so eager to be in Israel. Whether they’re coming home or arriving for a vacation, there is an energy and a feeling of anticipation that starts on the plane and spills over by the time one lands. For me, there’s a feeling of coming home, of returning to the place where I am most thoroughly myself. It’s a feeling that I’m familiar with, being lucky enough to travel to Israel regularly, and it’s one that never gets old.
Recently, I had the opportunity to take my first non-Israel international trip in several years. I was excited to go somewhere new, to experience something different after years of amazing but repetitive trips to visit family and friends in Israel. My anticipation was at a peak when I boarded the plane to Belgium, sat down, and turned to greet the person next to me. He looked at me quizzically, smiled awkwardly, and put his headphones in. I spent the flight in silence, enjoying the in flight entertainment, but feeling that something was missing. When the flight landed, I jumped into the aisle, looked around, and I was alone. Everyone else had remained seated, actually listening to the announcement asking us to stay in our seats until we had reached the gate.
Living in New York and spending time in Israel, I’m used to feeling like a part of something greater than myself, a community that touches every aspect of my life and is inherently a part of who I am. Being a part of the Jewish community gives me an instant connection to others, a conversation starter, a bond. In Europe, I had to stifle that bond, having been encouraged to remove the Magen David necklace that I always wear and to not wear any of my Israel sweatshirts or attire. Wandering the streets of European cities, I understood what it is to be an outsider, to not feel a connection.
My feelings of missing the Jewish community that is so pivotal to my daily life came to a climax when my friend and I went to a Shabbat dinner for Jewish young professionals in Brussels. Sitting at the dinner table, surrounded by strangers, speaking a language I didn’t know, I felt at home. The food was the same. The songs were ones that I had sung years ago in synagogue and youth movements, and we were able to find a common language in Hebrew. These things that I take for granted in America and in Israel were suddenly beautiful and special in Europe, and solidified in me the understanding that the Jewish people are my family. A disorganized, chaotic, dysfunctional family, but one that I am a part of, and one that has permeated my life, making me feel as though I am missing something when I am not a part of it.
It took leaving the comfortable bubbles of New York and Tel Aviv for me to realize what it is that truly makes having a connection to Israel so special. It’s more than just a place, more than just a people. Zionism gives me the opportunity to have a bond with people from around the world, with a shared history, and a shared future in Israel. The idiosyncrasies of life in Israel can drive a person crazy, but having realized what it’s like to be disconnected, to be the outsider, drove home more than ever how important Israel is to my sense of self, and to the Jewish people.