As I sit outside writing this post on the steps of the Fuchsberg Centre on a sun-soaked Jerusalem afternoon, there is a certain sense of purpose and rightness that I, as an American-Jew, feel when I am in Israel. Things that I would normally do by reflex at home suddenly take on a new significance. It feels eternally more meaningful to me to wear a kippah in public without getting the evil eye in Israel; to walk into a restaurant and not have to worry about if the meat I am about to order is kosher; to experience the entire city of Jerusalem prepare for Shabbat on a Friday afternoon. Most importantly, I feel prideful that I CAN do these things in a free Jewish State, even as rockets continue to stream out of the Gaza Strip.

I was living here in Israel for the year on the Nativ College Leadership Program when the IDF engaged in Operation Pillar of Defense against escalated barrages of rocket fire into Israel in November 2012, and I was amazed and awed how life was able to go on as the sirens blared and rockets fell. But now, as a madrich, a counselor, of a teenage summer trip to Israel (USY Israel Pilgrimage) this unique pride has become magnified hundredfold. Once again, the efficiency of the Israel Defense Forces, Operation Protective Edge and project Iron Dome have proven to make Israel a safe place for its civilians and visitors alike while attempting to minimize the civilian casualties of Palestinians living under the tyrannical rule of Hamas in Gaza. The steps that Israel is taking to preserve the life of the Palestinians is unlike that of any state at war in the history; air-dropping leaflets, sending text messages and giving civilians “warning shots” before firing at terrorist outposts are tactics never before seen on the battlefield. It is this compassion that makes me feel empowered and glad to be Jewish; it just feels right.

There is no place on the planet that I could imagine being, nor is there anything more important that I could conceive of doing right now than leading my chanichim (campers) around our homeland. It is so special and vital to show them that Israel is strong and resilient in the face of Hamas’ ruthlessness. It is of the utmost necessity that we, as a global Jewish community, are steadfast in our ability to allow the younger generation to experience the unwavering support that we have for our brothers and sisters in the IDF that put their lives on the line to ensure we have an Israel to call our own. It is of top priority that the chanichim see the compassion that Israel has towards the civilians of Gaza, who are also victims of Hamas’ sadism and disregard for human life.

My trip’s itinerary, thank God, has not been altered due to the tensions, but I know of many programs that have had to make other plans. To the madrichim of those groups, and to all madrichim of high school summer Israel programsg, I want to extend a big hug and reassurance that even though things like a war may happen, it does not change the fact that you are making a life-changing impact on the lives of your campers or participants. You make them feel safe and calm in a time where they could be in extreme distress. You are all inspirational and vital.

One Shabbat afternoon a few weeks ago, I happened upon a group of my chanichim who looked upset. They told me that they were saddened by the fact that we weren’t going to get to explore all of Israel this summer. Initially, I didn’t quite know how to respond. I was saddened by this as well. But then, I realized that Hamas, in its hell-bent mission to eradicate the State of Israel, has given us who live outside of Israel a grand opportunity: the incentive to return to our homeland in a time of peace.
And return we will, for not even the piercing wail of a Tzeva Adom siren nor the resounding explosion of a Hamas rocket can destroy the Jewish spirit.

I am an American-Jew. I am a passionate Zionist. I am many things, but I am not afraid. I am a madrich on a high school summer program, and I am here to make a difference.