I’ve been on the other side before. I’ve stood, watching people walk out of the arrivals gate as they looked for their relatives or guides, those supposed to provide them with a sense of home in a new land. Until yesterday, I’d only ever been on the Ben Gurion Airport end of things, watching people from different backgrounds being welcomed to Israel.
Yesterday, at Sydney’s international airport, I watched what happens on the second side, by the departures gate. I witnessed the enthusiasm, joy, tears and excitement that take place as young Jews say goodbye and prepare for take-off. I saw them leave the place they call home, en route to Israel. They were getting ready to to eat, sleep, walk, dream, cry, love and laugh in the Jewish homeland.
To be honest, it was moving. Parents, siblings and friends came to say goodbye to the dozens of 17 and 18 year old boys and girls who decided to take a gap year between high school and university. Not only did these teens choose to leave their comfort zone and the bubble they grew up in, they also chose to do so in Israel, a 24 hour flight away (not including the stopover on the way).
Some of the boys wore kippot while others did not, some girls were in skirts and others in torn jeans. But the group wasn’t only diverse on the outside, also the personalities of those travelling varied: They had grown up in a number of Jewish and public schools; some defined themselves as Orthodox, others as Reform; when asked, a few said they were “Jewish,” while others chose to use the term “Zionist.”
But despite the differences, there was a very strong message of unity. As was pointed out by all those present, these amazing teens had decided to fly half way around the world, and to spend 2014 in Israel. They made the decision because they want to deepen their connection to Judaism and Zionism. And they want to do so in their homeland.
Sydney’s Jewish community hosts and supports five Zionist movements, all of which were proudly represented at the airport. Bnei Akiva, Habonim, Netzer, Hineni (the movement I work with) and Betar were all there — and while the shirts and songs distinguished between the movements, the hugging and unified cheering made it clear they enjoyed working together.
Yes, for parts of the year the youth movements will split up and each will educate toward its own philosophy. But for the entire year — including the official opening and closing seminars and ceremonies — they will be together. And they are happy to be together, without having to fall in line with one interpretation or another of these big ideas, but rather creating a feeling of a diverse community.
Standing outside by the large “Departures” sign, it was clear — the love of Israel and the urge to become a better Jewish person were values uniting all those present.
After the parents gave their sons and daughters a last hug, and when the youth movements finished singing the Australian and Israeli national anthems, it was time to say goodbye to those flying to Israel. A long human tunnel was formed by members of all the Zionist movements present, and each and every one of those leaving was given a spirited and happy farewell as they walked through the tunnel, towards passport control — and an incredible year in Israel.