Not long ago, I lived in the States for two wonderful years that felt like a lifetime. Why would an Israeli choose to live in the States? Well, the answers to this question are quite diverse. Perhaps I fell in love with a beautiful American girl and followed her as my heart commanded. Maybe I was looking for some easy money and left looking for a fortune in the land of capitalism. It could also be that I was incredibly curious to see with my own eyes the sites and people of this remarkable country that is “of the People, by the People, for the People”.
However, the reason emerged as something quite different. I was there for the sake of “Jewish Peoplehood”, connecting Colorado’s young Jews to Israel through my personal story as a Shaliach, an Israeli emissary of the Jewish Agency for Israel.
As much as I enjoyed living there and was thrilled with the vast abundance that life in beautiful Colorado has provided me, returning to Israel after two years unveiled a certain dissonance. Having experienced the “American dream”, I was not quite ready to deal with the challenges of life back home as a young Israeli adult working his way up in life. It was comfortable there, very comfortable. I was paid fairly and could stretch the dollar a lot more than the Israeli Shekel (NIS). Life was more affordable and efficient. Traffic was nearly nonexistent; I was surrounded by the endless wide open spaces of the American West. I was one with nature, traveling through the wilderness without coming across anyone in the Rockies and in the national parks. I became a fan of skiing and snow, starting with the easy level slopes eventually reaching double black diamonds. On the white mountain tops of Colorado, at 11,000 feet surrounded by snow, I was as far away as I could be from where I was born.
When you are far away from something that you love and care about, such as in our story, that of young Israeli adults who become Shlichim and travel away from Israel for a year or two, a couple of things might happen. Firstly, there is a chance that you will start reassessing your personal bond with Israel. Why do I care about it so much? What do I like and dislike? What do I miss most? What in Israel am I willing to fight for? And there is a chance that given the newfound distance, you grow increasingly critical about your country; your perspective may change.
You start reading articles and books criticizing certain government policies written by authors you never heard about. You find yourself watching films that aspire to shed light on problematic issues Israel grapples with such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel’s policy towards refugees and the state of minorities in Israel. You might also find yourself meeting people who hold very different opinions than you do. You meet people whose Judaism is different, whose Zionism is different (or non-existent). You meet people from all over the world, perhaps an Arab immigrant from Saudi Arabia or an overseas student from Morocco who you bump into just outside your campus Hillel.
This consistent bombardment of opposing opinions and ideas, coupled with the physical distance separating you from your place of birth, affects who you are and your own thoughts about your home-country. From that distance, I was able to ask myself complicated questions about what I call home and search for the answers through conversations with people who were going through a similar experience.
Now that I have returned to Israel, and emerge back into the known and familiar that I missed so greatly, I cannot say that I became more “Right-wing” or “Left-wing.” However, I am definitely different. I think I became more critical, more aware to the challenges that the Israeli society deals with, the complicated issues that require extra attention and care. There, as a Jew among Christians, I felt for the first time how it feels to be a minority, and though the general population of American Jews is hardly similar to most minority groups in the States, the realization that you are not like the majority that surrounds you, is a remarkable moment of humility.
While I gained a greater consciousness about some of the practices in Israel we have to address, my time away only made me care about my home more. This unique situation in which I was rapidly confronted with so many issues, problems, challenges and wrongdoings could have turned me away from my homeland but it had the opposite effect; it made me care more and fight my tendency for being indifferent.
I’m not married yet, but I like this metaphor: When I was away from home, I heard so many unpleasant things about my wife from people who told me they know her. At first, I refused to listen thinking that I know my wife way better than them. But after a while I became open to the idea that I don’t hold all the answers to all the questions. I came back home eager to talk to her about it. My wife and I are talking about it ever since; our relationship now is stronger than ever.