It has been 3 months since I landed in Ben Gurion Airport and entered Israel as one of its newest residents. Although the current pandemic required some deviations from the usual Aliyah process I encountered with Nefesh B’Nefesh, it did not curtail the incredible feeling of walking off the plane and through the jet bridge knowing that in a few more steps I’d be home.
As the daughter of an airline pilot, I am no stranger to planes. I am fortunate to have had a lot of practice deboarding, developing a routine that gets me off the plane and out of the airport as quickly as possible, so that I can begin enjoying the delights of my destination. Speed, weaving, and strategic packing are usually my primary objectives.
However, this time was different. No mad dash to the baggage claim was needed because no expiration date encumbered my new destination. Backpack in hand, I exited the artificially cool airplane cabin and felt an immediate wave of heat as I made my way through the jet bridge. It’s strange because it was the first time I realized and cared about the fact that I couldn’t see the outside. I was finally in Israel; but I couldn’t see it, instead, I was surrounded by metal walls concealing my destination. The lack of visual cues focused my attention inward as I reflected on all the events that led me to this jet bridge and the excitement that awaited me on the other end.
Multilingual welcome signs sprang into action and groups of individuals started cheering while passing out miniature Israeli flags. Overcome with emotion, I teetered between happy tears and joyful laughter — a battle that ultimately resulted in what I can only imagine was a funny range of facial contortions. This was it. This was home.
As we celebrate Israel’s Independence Day, I am reminded of how lucky I am for the opportunity to make Aliyah and have a Jewish state to settle in. I am a proud Jew-by-Choice and for much of my life, my relationship with Israel has been through a tourist lens. Watching Rick Steve’s travel show from my couch in the United States, I was captivated by Israel’s vibrant outdoor market scene, numerous religious and historically significant sites, and the conventional visit to float in the Dead Sea. Although seeming worlds away, Israel quickly went down on my bucket list as a possible future travel destination.
But my connection with Israel has changed since becoming Jewish, morphing from a superficial tourist goal to a cherished fulfillment of the Zionist dream. The importance of Israel as a Jewish State cannot be overstated. As a new Israeli citizen, it has been refreshing to have my religious holidays off without needing to provide an explanation. It has been invigorating to know that most of the individuals I interact with on a daily basis share a core common tradition. Shabbat Shalom greetings are no longer reserved for just the few, but can now be wished widely and frequently. And most importantly, I never have a moment’s hesitation to wear my Star of David necklace out in public. Israel offers Jews more than a safe haven — it offers a space to be unapologetically yourself all of the time, without any justification or special dispensation. It empowers Jews to express and live out their full Jewishness in whatever way they find meaningful. Israel offers the possibility of true self-actualization.
I am very excited to celebrate my first Independence Day in Israel as a new Israeli citizen. I still find it incredible how young this nation is and yet how much it has achieved in that expedited timeline. This seemingly improbable outcome is a testament to the strength of the Jewish people, their will to persevere and always choose hope even in the face of atrocious violence and oppression. This Independence Day, I look forward to enthusiastically waving that Israeli flag I got in Ben Gurion Airport three months ago and join my compatriots in celebrating a truly remarkable country and my new home.