With the uprise in antisemitism over the past few years, I have found myself gravitating toward all things Israel. While my core beliefs have always led me to fight inequity and any form of racism, standing up for my own people has never been foremost in my thoughts – until recently.
Though I was raised in Scottsdale, Ariz., with no real Jewish upbringing – no Jewish community, no religion, just a smattering of holiday celebrations and trips to temple with my grandparents back east — I still always felt strongly tied to being Jewish. I just had no idea what that meant. So, it’s been a lifelong journey of figuring that out.
My first real step in that direction was a junior-year-of-college-abroad program in Israel. The plan was to gain further understanding of my Jewish connection while trying to wrap my head around the never-ending Middle East peace crisis (no big goals there).
Upon landing in Israel, I felt an indescribable connection to this homeland.
This completely foreign place, with young Israeli soldiers holding machine guns on every corner, abounding conversations in which everyone seemed as if they were yelling at one another and Middle Eastern markets with animal carcasses hanging from racks, actually felt like home.
I jumped into a personal effort to solve the peace crisis by having intimate talks with Arab students in my dormitory over Turkish coffee. My goals were on track – until suddenly they were derailed.
Following a two-week trip through Turkey and Greece with some girlfriends, I returned to Israel with an increasing inability to think, feel or breathe. My dorm house mother, seeing me looking white as a ghost, rushed me to a hospital in Haifa.
It turned out that I had absolutely no kidney function. As a result, my potassium levels were dangerously high, putting me at risk for a heart attack. After a two-week hospital stay under the care of a young team of idealistic Soviet immigrants, I was sent back home to the US.
Disappointingly, my Jewish journey of discovery came to a halt.
Fast forward some 33 years. Inundated by antisemitic messages from both the political right and left, I find myself hesitantly, but with growing assurance, willing to stand up proudly for my own people. My desire to connect to Israel, my homeland, has returned with an even more powerful magnetism, feeling like a full-circle moment.
Chatting with a few friends, I learned that Hadassah hosts travel missions to Israel. Many of your parents and grandparents may have been members of this venerable 113-year-old worldwide organization founded by Henrietta Szold. But with my lack of Jewish upbringing, I was hearing about Hadassah for the first time. I was put in contact with the national headquarters to seek more information about travel to Israel.
I learned that Hadassah, with its mission of bringing more healing and justice to our world, had started a new group for younger women and that it offers a trip to Israel. The group, called Evolve Hadassah: The Next Generation, empowers women in their ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s to help Hadassah achieve its goals. I also learned that this fall, the group kicks off the Evolve Israel Experience, a largely subsidized trip that will introduce participants to Israeli life and culture and to Hadassah’s hospitals and youth villages.
Hearing this news, I immediately applied for the trip. After submitting an application and a letter of recommendation, followed by a Zoom interview, I impatiently waited an awfully long two weeks to find out that I was one of the 17 women chosen to be part of the first cohort.
My excitement is immeasurable. Now, at age 53, a few decades older than I was for my first trip to Israel, I am still the idealist who wants to do what she can to bring some peace to our crazy world. I cannot wait to experience the next step of my journey as I return to the Jewish homeland and find out how Hadassah and I can accomplish this feat together.