I went on my first date when I was twenty years old. I carefully picked out my clothes, probably switching out outfits at least thirty times before settling on my attire. I was nervous, excited and ready for the unexpected to happen. Little did I know at the time I had nothing to be nervous about; in fact, I fell in love on that first date, and thus, began my longest relationship presently. Their name? Eretz Yisrael.
Since our first date, Israel and I have gone on four others through opportunities staffing Birthright trips with Mayanot Israel, as well as working for Mayanot for the past four months. With every date I have gone on with her, Israel has shown me most of her secrets, the good and the bad.
She has showed me the beauty of a Jerusalem sunset lighting up the sky, creating a myriad of cotton candy colors, thus turning an ordinary Monday into a magical one.
She has made me close my eyes and listen to the sound of the Shabbat siren, and let all other noises fade into the dusk as the announcement that Shabbat had arrived made its way through the magic hour.
She has introduced me to some of my closest friends who also fell in love with her and eventually decided to spend their life with her.
She has fed me the most amazing food I had ever tasted in my entire life and encouraged me to learn how to cook her cuisine.
However, Israel has also shown me the harsh realities of being in a relationship with her.
She has exposed me to an underlying sense of fear parents have when their children leave the house, worried they might not make it back in one piece.
She has comforted me when I cried over the loss of the young soldiers who gave their lives to protect her civilians from those who wished to harm them.
She has made me cry in frustration when it appeared no one cared about her and her safety.
But Israel has also taught me how to see the goodness in a world full of violence and hate.
She has helped me witness the kindness of the strangers to the beggars and homeless in the shuk.
She has showed me Israelis running towards a terrorist attack so they can help save the lives of the strangers who in that moment turned into brothers or sisters.
She has amazed me with the perseverance of a family who continued to live and celebrate life despite their mother’s time ending too soon at the hand of a fifteen year old.
She has told me to always have תקווה (hope) because that is the one thing that helps us get through life.
My first date with Israel was set up by Birthright, the matchmaker of over 500,000 young Jewish adults and Israel. Some of these dates fizzled, some turned into a fling or affair that was abandoned after a few months, or even years. Others, however, turned into long marriages, with aliyah being the vows.
Today marks the day I said yes to my first date with Israel. Despite the lows, the highs and joy I have found being in love with Israel has taken over my whole being. Israel and I are meant to be, and I plan on saying my vows to her soon. Happy two year anniversary, Israel. Ani Ohevet Otach.