I challenge all of you to think back to the first time you landed in Israel. Maybe you were a child, maybe you were on Birthright or some other organized trip, or maybe you’ve never been to Israel. I want to take you back to that moment, the moment when those tires skidded on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport. How did that feel? If you’ve never been to Israel, how do you imagine that feeling? Hold that thought in your head for a minute while I share with you a little taste of my Jewish journey.
On December 15th, 2013, that moment you hear about every American Jew experiencing, you know, the one where we “finally make it to the Holy Land and can’t contain our emotions”, was about to happen. Five, four, three, two, one, and there we were. Or as my brother and I like to say, “touch down”. I sat apathetic while people were crying, cheering, and praying.
We got off the plane and my friend turned to me and said, “wow, don’t you just ‘feel it’, Ariel? You know, that ‘Israel feeling’ that people say is indescribable unless you experience it for yourself”. Uh, sure, I thought… to be honest, I felt nothing.
What was wrong with me? This is not how you’re supposed to feel, or lack there of…
Then one night, the madrichah (guide) on my Birthright trip played the song that I have always felt defines my Jewish identity. Then I finally “felt it”, whatever “it” is. That’s all I needed, music. I never realized how important music was to my Judaism until I had to experience Judaism without music. But why?
This Birthright experience was the first time that I had ever taken a moment to experience Judaism for myself and learn about what makes it special for me. I decided that, although these magical and confusing ten days were a life-changing experience, I also realized that it wasn’t enough. I needed to go back to Israel and delve deeper into my conflicting but intertwined emotions that characterize my Jewish identity and how I experience Israel.
So, I decided to spend the spring semester of my junior year of college studying abroad in Jerusalem. I asked the difficult questions. I explored the land. I met the people. Through it all, I experienced a roller coaster of emotions that ranged from an overwhelming sense of connection, to disappointment and frustration with situations that may not always seem to make sense. Because everyone experiences Israel in a unique and individual way, I have found that recognizing those difficult moments are just as valuable and important as embracing the moments of unwavering connection.
Now I take you all back to your first moment in Israel. How did you feel? It may have been all you’ve ever dreamed of and more, but it also may not have been. I’ve always strived to have an honest relationship with Israel. This to me means letting situations upset me, embracing new ideas, and exploring Judaism in the way it feel right to me. Which now I know, always includes music and a passionate community.
As I continue to struggle with the internal conflicts and complexities of my Jewish journey, I will do so knowing that, while I always strive to keep an open-mind, I will also continue to stay true to who I am and my own Judaism. This is the beauty of Judaism; no two people have the same story and no two people experience Israel and connect in the same way. I am writing my own story. What will yours look like?