I came to Israel for the first time over a year ago on Birthright. On the first day of the trip our Madrich asked the group, “Why did you come to Israel?” I quickly became nervous, as I was unsure if I wanted to give my most upfront and truthful answer. It was an opportunity to see the country for my first time at a reasonable cost. However, I took the honest route and gave the group my real answer. I did not know it then, but that would change dramatically in just about 10 days time.
The first time I felt it was when we were standing on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the beautiful city of Jerusalem. I could not believe that I was standing where my people stood generations upon generations ago. It was at that very moment that I realized how incredible and special the land of Israel truly was. Prior to the trip, I thought I knew myself, my passions, what was important to me before this, but there is so much I learned and realized about myself; as a young Jewish woman.
Growing up, I would like to think I was an “active Jew”: I attended Hebrew school, had a Bat Mitzvah, went to Synagogue on the High Holidays, and went to a Jewish sleepover camp. However, until I actually experienced Israel, the land of our people, I did not truly appreciate it. After the ten most emotional, spiritual, and impactful days of my life, I realized that prior to this trip, Israel was a place that I took for granted.
The effect that Israel had on me is one I never foresaw, and when looking back on what became the most emotional, educational, and enlightening weeks of my life; I never anticipated it would change me the way it has. When returning from Israel, I made the decision to engage more with my Jewishness’, and to have a more tangible, and therefore meaningful connection to my homeland.
On the final day of our Birthright trip — our leader asked the group the deliberately open ended question: “How did the past 10 days change you?” All of a sudden I started to feel nervous again, as I knew my response would be intensified from my initial one with extreme honesty and emotion. The passion in which I experienced, the importance of what I had learned, and the simple existence of the State of Eretz Israel, something that I have not previously understood, has allowed me to learn a lot about myself, and has led me to where I am today.
For the past five and a half months, I’ve been living in Israel, studying at Tel Aviv University. Not only do I feel extremely fortunate to have this experience, but I’m also beyond grateful that I was given the chance to truly immerse myself into the Israeli culture. Perhaps more importantly, being apart of the day-to-day Israeli society has allowed me to transform my feelings and connections towards Israel into political awareness.
One of the most important things that I’ve learned about both Judaism and Israel is the notion of unity. Although I am living in one of the most geopolitically volatile regions on the planet, I am often reminded while living here that Israel is living proof that the Jewish people have survived- against all odds, and will continue to do so; regardless of the constant state of the unknown.
While I have been living here over the past several months, an intolerable amount of terrorist attacks have occurred around the country. The attacks claimed the lives of many innocent civilians and injured hundreds, and I was not able to fathom how personally victimized I felt- as the world’s silence was deafening.
Other than my family and an exception of a few close friends, not many people were aware of how scared I was- not just for myself and my friends here, but for the State of Israel. I was scared for the land of the Jewish people that was cried over and celebrated, saved and destroyed across the precarious journey of our people before their return home.
Even in the Diaspora, I felt more connected to Israel as my homeland than ever before. I felt compelled to return to Israel because of the sense of community and unity felt amongst the Jewish nation, which allowed me to understand the tremendous privilege of living here during these tough times. I now feel a sense of pride to be Jewish, and fortunate to be able to live in a special place where the Jewish people come together as one, and do not let the terror dictate where or how they live their lives. Civilians still go to work, children still go to school, buses are still packed, Shabbat dinners still observed; the Jewish State truly moves forward as usual.
At the end of it all, I am constantly reminding myself that there is something here in Israel, something that cannot be heard or touched, but is somehow absorbed. Yes, we are living here in a frightening time, but we must remember that Israel, for better or for worse, has become our home and its people our extended family.
As my time here is quickly approaching an end, I know that it’s not goodbye, Israel…it’s see you soon.