I never cared about politics in America. The extent of my political activism was our high school mock election, and I don’t even remember who I even voted for.
Somehow, here in Israel, I’ve become obsessed with politics. My conversations with friends, my Facebook posts, the things that I read and videos that I watch have all become centered around the upcoming elections. I don’t go a day without debating the benefits of Bennett vs. Lapid, or why I think Bibi has been moving towards the Left lately, or even just making fun of the Green/Pirate parties.
I can tell you exactly why politics changed from “free tshirts” to something I actually care about.
It’s because of Naftali Bennett.
My decision to make aliyah was not a well thought out plan. I just felt so passionate about living here, nothing else seemed as important. I had a fire inside of me and nothing could put it out – and it burned until well after I’d made aliyah. As part of my Sherut Leumi, I spoke to Americans who were here for their gap year, emphasizing the power of a Jewish country, trying to make them see how important it was for all of them to stay. I read Yoni Netanyahu’s letters, and kept his book next to my bed because I read it so often. I listened to all of Bibi’s speeches over and over and over again, memorizing his words. I picked out my Zionist heroes, found friends who cared just as much as I did, and threw myself into Israel culture. I bought Shoresh sandals, had an Israel flag tied to my backpack, and (half) traded in my country music for Udi Davidi, Shlomi Shabat, and even Eyal Golan.
As time passed, the fire began to fade. I came to Bar Ilan and met a hundred other students who had come from America, like me. I waited in office lines for hours, only to find out the one person who I needed to speak to was on vacation. I’d struggle to speak the language, and end up frustrated and resorting to English. The beauty and wonder of aliyah stopped being so prevalent, and the regular bureaucratic frustrations set in. We’d make jokes about how life in America was so much better, about how we were so dumb to move here, and I started to become a lot more cynical about this country. I’d never leave, and my love for Israel was still there, but the passion and joy I felt from simply being here had somehow been lost.
And then, during Amud Anan, I heard Naftali Bennett speak. He spoke about how he would put his life on the line for Israel. He talked about Jewish pride in a way I haven’t heard in a very long time. How we must defend ourselves, and not apologize for it. How this land has been ours for over 3,000 years, and we can’t give any of it up, no matter what, because it belongs to the Jewish people.
I was fascinated by him – he was confident and clear, he did not speak defensively, and he put into words the feelings I’d had when I first made aliyah. I read up on his platforms and found the passion I had lost. I realized that it matters to me that there is a strong religious Zionist voice in the Knesset. I realized that as an oleh, I have a responsibility towards Israels future. And I also realized that my love and passion for Israel does not need to be a blazing fire, as long as I know it’s still there.