Tradition is a powerful thing. Tradition connects us to the past. Tradition, in some sense, also connects us to the future. Tradition is like the oral Torah, being passed from one generation to the next. From a mother to her son or a father to his daughter. Year after year. Tradition is a hard thing to break.
I grew up in a traditional Jewish family, keeping the bulk of Jewish law, but rarely asking why. On those rare occasions that one did inquire as to the reason of our actions, the answer most often received is a variation of “this is what our ancestors did, and we must continue the tradition!” An answer that seems straight out of the famous play: Fiddler on the Roof.
While I only became a Jewish Agency Israel fellow (Shaliach) about a year ago it has allowed me the opportunity to take a step back and re-examine the bigger picture.
As a young Israeli, I enlisted in the army as my friends, teachers, and my older neighbors have before me. To me, this was a tradition. The Israeli tradition. Still in its early evolutionary phase, slowly, the Israeli tradition is taking concrete form adding things such as a year of service, youth movements, and army preparation programs.
I served in the IDF for almost six years with great love and faith, never even considering not partaking in this important rite, as I believe that every Israeli should contribute and be a part of the Israeli tradition.
After the IDF I began my academic studies at the Technion, studying mechanical engineering and robotics, a subject I deeply enjoy. I still remember the moment when I discovered that I had been accepted into one of the leading secret technology companies in Israel, specializing in Israeli national security.
I still remember the moment when I realized that I didn’t truly understand why I was doing what I was doing. Why did I want to serve the State of Israel? Why is Israeli tradition so important to me?
And I still remember the moment when I refused the job offer. As an engineer you must gain work experience for your career, especially when you can work for a prestigious company, everyone around me argued. But I realized that I needed to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. Truly reflect on why I valued what I valued.
There is a reason why Jews came from all over the world to the land of Israel. A reason why my family came to Israel. A reason why I was brought to live in Israel when I was just a baby.
Tradition. Before the Israeli tradition, there was a Jewish tradition. For hundreds of year Jews spoke about, sang about, and dreamed about returning to the land of Israel. A land that appears everywhere throughout our tradition.
As I grew older my Jewish identity grew stronger, but yet I still felt something missing. After all, in Israel most people are Jewish, you hear Hebrew everywhere, and our official state calendar is synchronized with the Jewish one. However, it is precisely because of this that Judaism in Israel is often taken for granted.
I realized that in order to learn about myself, Jewish identity, and what preceded the Israeli tradition I had to go to a place where Judaism is a given. A place where in order to be Jewish you need to make a choice. A place where Jews are a minority, you hardly ever hear Hebrew, and where the official day of rest is Sunday. A place where you must constantly are working to preserve the Jewish tradition.
I looked for a platform for which my Jewish and Israeli identity could be expressed. A place where the two traditions will strengthen each other. A place where these two identities can find the ability to influence, lead, and create change. I looked for a place where the big picture would be clear.
I am thrilled to be the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow to Orange country Hillel and excited to share some of the year ahead with you.