As I got on the plane back to Cleveland on July 4th, I had never felt so unexcited for a trip back to see my friends and family. Usually, the moment I finish all my papers and finals, I am overjoyed with happiness because it means the school year has passed, and it is time for summer, where I get to go back to my childhood home, be pampered by my mom, visit all those nostalgic childhood places I grew up around, and see all my old classmates who I haven’t seen all year. But this time was different.
I had just stepped out of the funereal of our three boys, Gil-ad, Eyal and Naftali Z”L, and I was on my way to celebrate with my best childhood friend for her wedding weekend.
For me, the thought of anything happy, or any type of celebration just made me sick. How could I go back and rejoice when my country and my people had just gone through one of the most tragic 2 weeks in history. How could I dance with my best friend while a teacher from my Midrasha sat with her family and mourned the murder of her son?
On the way to the airport my cab driver and I were discussing the current mood of the country. My cab driver, a completely secular Israeli, was telling me how astonished he was by the parents of our three boys. What incredible strength and courage they showed; how impressed he was by the religious Jews who are able to stare tragedy straight in the face and still derive the good; how he now realized that every little bit of a positive attitude can make a difference. Unfortunately, we had to wait for such a grave tragedy to occur to realize the strength and unity of our people. He believed these families were G-d sent to strengthen the nation, and he stressed how incredibly proud he was to be part of such a humane, honest, strong and brave nation. He shared with me his feeling of hope for the future of am yisrael. I told him that I shared these feelings, and this was making it that much harder for me to leave my country now.
My thoughts in that cab ride only strengthened my hesitation to leave. How could I leave? I will never be able to just get in a cab in America and discuss how beautiful and courageous people can be. I will never be able to look around and find thousands of people who are affected in the same way as me and who just want to do good for the sake of us all. This unified reality of Israel is just not true in America. And the hostility I felt towards America was another issue. I always prided myself in being an American; coming from a nation that shared similar ideals to Israel, one of the strongest nations in the world, and one of Israel’s biggest allies. But after the kidnapping my views had changed. Obama said not a word. Israel is all he talks about on any other day, but now he’s suddenly silent?! For the first time I realized that we can only rely on ourselves and no one else. Israel and Israel alone. But just as Racheli, mother of Naftali Z”L stressed throughout those heart wrenching 2 weeks, life must go on, and we must not let the enemy prevent life from going on. And so, I got on that plane.
At the wedding weekend, I was in culture shock. I felt like an outsider. One of my fellow classmates who had also made aliyah had flown back for the wedding as well, and all we could talk about the entire weekend was how distant we felt from this culture. How we only wanted to hear what was happening in Israel instead of discussing the latest return of Lebron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers. My feeling after the wedding was difficult to deal with. I just wanted to be back home.
The next morning I flew to New York for my Hareidi cousin’s wedding in Borro Park. Again, I felt unsettled about celebrating while rockets were being fired on my country. But I went.
As I was sitting at the table during the meal, I overheard one of my cousins discussing the recent sirens going off throughout the country with a friend. They were each respectively updating each other on the news they had been receiving about the current situation, and they were reflecting back on the recent kidnapping and murder of our three boys. My cousin expressed how difficult these past two weeks had been for her not knowing the fate of the boys, and how pained and saddened she felt after she learned of their kidnappings. I sat there with my mouth open in amazement.
I know that the Jewish world around the Diaspora is well informed about Israeli politics and events, but I did not realize, that even the Hareidi community in Burro Park felt the same agony as all of us in Israel. And then I felt a glimpse of comfort.
Then, the war broke out. I really just wanted to go back home.
That first Shabbat, I was speaking with another oleh that flew back to Cleveland for the summer. When someone overheard us saying we just wanted to fly back, the response was “aren’t we Jews crazy.” And then, another glimpse of comfort. “We Jews”, in the collective. It hit me that EVERY Jew was feeling a similar emotion as me, and I was not that different than any other Jew. I quickly came to realize that my original fear when leaving was baseless.
My peers were being called up to battle, my siblings were rushing to their bomb shelters with their little children, and my friends were attending funerals of lone soldiers who were killed in Gaza. But so was my mother’s best friend’s son. So was one of my camper’s cousins. The parents of all the children on Israel summer programs were in just the same amount of worry. I was not alone here.
And so, the new trend of my “summer vacation” has turned into constantly being glued to the news, radio, looking at the various posts on Facebook. One of my high school classmates even emailed me to see if I knew of any connections in London so that she could advocate for Israel and shut down all the lies being spread. It was this friend who I see posting the most about the current situation, writing the most heartfelt words to the families of the fallen soldiers, ridiculing all the ant-Semites who are claiming falsities. And through her, another glimpse of comfort.
I was sitting in a local Starbucks and overheard a conversation between a teen who just returned from her Israel trip and a peer. She was a girl who had never really had much affiliation with religion, but had instantly connected to her people after this trip. She too was advocating for Israel. I watched the funeral of Lone Soldier Max Steinberg Z”L, and the connection his parents instantly expressed when reaching Israel was profound.
The truth is, the war in Israel is almost more difficult for a Jew in the Diaspora to feel connected to than it is for me and my friends in Israel. They are not constantly surrounded by the threats; they have lives outside of the war. But still, they do everything in their power to be informed, stay connected, and show their support to THEIR country. In a time where most of the world is proving to be anti-Semitic, these Jews are perhaps some of the most important to our nation. These are the Jews who are supporting our chayalim just as all my friends back in Israel are doing. These are the Jews who are truly proving that the nation of Israel lives.
Now, reflecting back on my experience in America, I have some of the same, but many different conclusions. Same, in the sense that I know that America does not have our back. I feel the look of disdain when I tell strangers that I live in Israel, while they respond with “Oh, things are messed up for you guys over there.” But different when I see my former classmates promoting Israel more than any of my friends back in Israel, when I see my hareidi cousins cry at her own brother’s wedding because of the pain she has been feeling over the recent kidnapping, when I see how connected and involved American Jewry is; how invested they feel for the peace, safety and success of Israel and am yisrael. But same, when I know that we can rely on no one else but ourselves: OURSELVES being all Jews alike, in Israel, in America, or anywhere else, observant, unaffiliated, or hareidi.
Who is like your people Israel.
מי כעמך ישראל.