Dear Future Ash,
If you’re reading this, you’re most likely pissed. You’re pissed, and you’re looking for something to bring you up. You’re most likely also going through that short phase you sometimes go through (about once a year), where you get quiet, and you lose yourself in your thoughts. You think so deeply about who you are, what you are doing, if it’s the right path in life, and what led up to it. You think about your past, present, future and what’s going on around you; the people, the places, the things. You think about what could be holding you down, what you’re thankful for, and what you could be doing to improve yourself as a whole and get to the next level. But like I said before: you’re pissed. And it’s less likely anger and more likely underlying disappointment (do not confuse these things as you sometimes do). Knowing you, it’s more disappointment, not as much frustration.
But this time, it’s different. In fact, it’s very different, because If you’re reading this, this phase has been longer than usual. This is something else. Usually this will last a few weeks, but this…this is more. You’re searching for something. You’re searching for answers. You’re lost.
You’re lost because you’re wondering, “Why? How did I end up in this position? Why did I come here? Why do I even bother? How could I be so naïve?” You’re disappointed because your friends in America have it easier than you financially. It’s just simply easier for them with the difference in paychecks. Things are cheaper there, nicer there, bigger there – they even have Slurpees so big they can easily be mistaken for an infant. You’re disappointed that you aren’t where you thought you might be. You’re disappointed because now more than ever you’re seeing the true problems with this country, the bureaucratic problems, the terrorists, the pain, the overall struggle of living in Israel. What was once your home and pride and joy in your wide-eyed Oleh Chadash eyes while in the army and years after, is now a burden. And on top of it all, maybe some of your best friends that you looked forward to living with your whole life, who you imagined growing old with and watching each other’s children play together – have left you. They have left, returning to their own countries, left on a different path, and have left you. And all you feel like you have left is the view you are looking at now, whether it’s from high up, or down low at the beach, or the best of all: The Kotel, which has been the place of your thoughts and prayers for the past years.
Well, let me tell you why you made this decision in the first place, as I sit in the corner of the basement in your parent’s house, with all the lights off except for the one tall lamp that hangs above my head, by a plastic white folding table you made into a desk when you got back to America right after the army. The same place you have sat the past year and a month and a half, (which hasn’t felt like home since you got here), counting down every waking moment until you got back to Israel, as you reminisce all the times you had there; the laughs, the cries, and the most life changing moments you’ve ever had. And now finally, you are a few weeks away from going HOME. Home. What your heart has ached for the past year, 1 month, 2 weeks, and 3 days.
Do you remember when you were little, and used to see all these movies of these groups of friends that would stick together no matter what? Where you really saw how much they cared about each other and really would do anything for the other? There would always be this very emotional part as well, that would give you this feeling in the pit of your stomach and the goosebumps, perhaps even a little choked up where the love and friendship they had for each other really came out in the most beautiful and emotional way. And when the movie ended, it ended this euphoric-filled, utopic bubble you were just in. In fact, it would inspire you – it kinda felt like your life changed for a bit, and you viewed life completely differently, but then within the hour… it faded…and you were back to reality, that feeling gone.
But you know it’s funny, you thought you’d only get those butterflies, those goosebumps from movies…until you got to Israel. Until you saw the emotion and kindness of the people around you that inspire you every day, the same people that always create a new inspiring story that is heard from afar like in America. It’s interesting actually, people always come back to America with inspirational stories from Israel. No other place does that or has ever made you feel that way. Ever. Giving you that life-altering magical feeling that stops you in your tracks, that leaves you speechless, and in pure awe.
And the unity thing? How many times have you ever seen or felt a truly, truly united community in your life? A bold statement. But it’s true. No country joins completely together in times of happiness, sadness, mourning, life, death, joy, anger, celebration or for any other reason the way Israel does. Getting 5,000 people to march down New York City’s Fifth Avenue once a year in the Israeli Day Parade, when there could be so many more, especially because it is a Sunday, does not count. And neither does getting fifty people to hold up a Pro-Israel sign at a university, when there could be many more, especially when the screams of the anti-Israel side and pro-Hamas can be heard so much louder. And though one might argue these small groups show coming together, it can be done on so much more of a bigger scale. The unity in Israel is simply like family, all for one and one for all. Until you got to Israel, you have never felt the kind of emotion when you found out on the news that someone you have zero connection with has died. In Israel you do feel that intense emotion and it simply ruins your day. You feel obligated to go visit the Shiva house and go to their funeral, because someone from your family has fallen and is never coming back. It will never be the same because there is a gap that cannot be filled. Forget about ruining your day, it ruins your whole week.
Think back to every friendship you ever made. How many friendships did you make in America where you would not speak to the person for ten years, and then one day pick up the phone and feel like not a day passed? That you hadn’t even missed a beat with them? That you could still call and ask them for a favor like, “Look out for my kid,” and they would treat them like their own child? Not many. And Israel? Where do you even start? Because there’s something about having a friend in Israel: they’re friends for life. They are as real and as loyal as they get.
While on the topic of “Real”: Something you consider probably the most important trait a person can possess. It is considered a quality that is very highly respected in America. It is expected in Israel. Some of the realest people you have ever met in your life, you have met in Israel. They are so down to earth and legit, it makes you wonder if you are really talking to a person who just randomly sat down next to you on the bus five minutes ago. How many times has that happened in America? If you start a random conversation or ask someone for directions in New York they give you a funny look. The amount of insane conversations you’ve had with random people on buses and trains in Israel could really be considered really freaking weird in many, many places in the world. I mean you just met the guy five minutes ago, and you’re already asking him about what he thinks about a life-altering situation in your life, or opening up about getting your heart broken, while they compare it to their own life story. You might even ask him to pop that huge zit on your back. I’m just kidding, that’s gross. Don’t do that. But I’m sure he would say “Yalla achi” and pop that sucker like a bottle of champagne. You get the point.
Now let’s look at you for a second. Look how you have changed. You simply would not be the same person without Israel. Israel changed you. Israel showed you what it means to be a man. It showed you what true friendship is. What sacrifice for others is. What care and passion for something is. What standing and truly fighting for something you believe and love is. What it means to look someone straight in the eyes and dare them to try you, with a look of pure fire and craziness in your eyes. What it means to be thankful for who you are, honored to be Jewish, and to feel blessed to be a part of a nation that’s so amazing. Israel taught you what it means to be happy. Without Israel, you just aren’t as happy. You aren’t as complete. Trust me…. I’ve been feeling it the past 1 year, 1 month, 2 weeks, and 3 days. True happiness is something that not many people can say they truly have. And though you might not feel it right now, you are.
A long time ago, you were asked by Israelis as to why you came to Israel, why you came to the army, why you left America, the land of endless partying and girls and fun. You turned to them and looked them in the eye and instead of giving them an answer, you returned the question with another question: “What is the meaning of life?” you asked. A question many scholars and philosophers have struggled with since the beginning of time, yet you had this look in your eye when you asked it, this look of full confidence, that you knew the answer. Some didn’t know how to respond, so thrown off that that had just come out of your mouth, while others answered with, “Ummm…I don’t know,” and a couple were smart enough to answer, “Happiness.” With that you smiled and said, “Good. Now what’s happiness in life?” It was then that you had them stumped. You answered confidently with, “Happiness is friends, family, kids, love.” They nodded with a look of “Oh… well… yeah, that’s obvious.” You continued, and said, “So let’s say I go and I party my brains out until I’m thirty years old. What do I get when it’s all done? What is left when it’s all over? What is there in my life?” They were silent. “Nothing. The answer is nothing. I get nothing. No meaning, no happiness, nothing in my life when it’s all said and done, I’m just empty and back at square one, just with a bunch of wasted time. So why not just skip all that BS and just get to the real part?” And it was at that moment that you started thinking about your future kids.
You have always needed something deeper in life, you were never the type to just go through life without analyzing something. So when it came to thinking about how to raise your kids and how they would grow up, you knew the answer right away: it can’t be anywhere but Israel. Tell me – Ya got kids yet? How’d they turn out? Just a reminder: You wanted them to grow up in place that makes them tough, that they grow up fast because they mature so fast in Israel, that they grow up independent, whether it be walking themselves to school or taking the bus on their own (and trusting the other people around them to treat them like their own child). An average eighteen-year-old in America does not even have half the maturity level as an eighteen-year old in Israel. Whatever the reason, it still is a fact. You want them to grow up with a fiery passion for Zionism and pride to be Jewish. You want them to be warriors, to go through the army, because you know what it can do for someone and what it did for you. You want them to stay in a Jewish environment and never have to even consider or think about marrying someone “out of the tribe”. You want them to walk around where it is simply more than safe to walk around as a Jew and a religious Jew with a kippa and tzizit if that’s the case, where there is not even a batted eye.
The year is currently 2016, and it’s no secret that Jews are still not the most beloved people in the world. As crazy as it sounds, you personally don’t trust the American Government at all. Your faith in America has simply deteriorated immensely and aside from the whole Jewish aspect, it is simply not the same country it once was. It is not the best in everything as it once was. It used to be the most powerful country in the world. Simply the best. But that is no longer true. In fact, all the people that are creating most of the leading advancements in basically anything are people brought in from other countries. But as mentioned before about Jewish life, you have personally seen Obama overlook tons of negative situations towards Jews and Israel without even expressing the slightest care. Whether the respect of announcing the murder of a Jew or attack on Jews in America or Israel or anywhere else on that matter, he doesn’t even condemn it unless immensely pressured.
Attacks on Jews and Jewish facilities are becoming more frequent, to the point where security has become a very common thing at all synagogues and Jewish buildings on Shabbatot and Holidays. European Jews are being targeted all the time, and Europe is once again an awful place for the Jewish people not even 70 years after we escaped the death camps there. And as radical as this may sound, the way the Jews live in America and other countries is the same way the Jews in Germany and throughout Europe lived right before the Holocaust. They never dreamed in a million years that it would all be taken away and they would be hunted like animals in their own homes. To think a similar occurrence is impossible or can never happen again is foolish and naïve and to think it will never happen in America is foolish and naïve as well. The chances of it happening at the moment might be low, but not impossible and the same goes for the future. You actually just read an article, about how Anti-Semitism went up a ridiculous 114% in the U.S. over the 2014-2015 year according to the Huffington Post. The FBI reported that a majority of anti-religious crimes in the U.S. in 2015 were perpetrated against Jews. “A lot is written actually about what could or should have been done to prevent what happened with the Holocaust. Many argue the party was too big to stop…but those who stood by and allowed the Nazis to kill 6 million Jews, stood by every step of the way. They stood by as Anti-Jew laws were passed, and Kristallnacht happened and of course during the Holocaust itself. And the same is true for the rest of the world up until 1944 when Allied forces decided enough was enough and did something about it.” (Councilman Gabriel Groisman, 2016). The only place that is truly safe for Jews is Israel, and no matter what happens in the world, it always will be a safe haven for Jews to return.
And the last thing you had when you decided to make the move was faith. Faith in Israel, faith in the Big Guy, and faith in yourself.
You’ve said it and seen it for yourself, no other country in the history of the world has developed as quickly as Israel has. Literally from dust and swamps and refugees, to a thriving, living, breathing, “start-up nation” with technology coming out of it that runs half the technology around the world today. It is now June 2016, which means Israel just turned 68 years old. In just 68 years, it became what it is today, through all its ups and downs. They’re even projecting that the country will be a trillion-dollar economy by the year 2020. They’ve found their own natural gas, oil, and many other things that will soon lead to Israel being pretty much independent or at least very close to it in a lot of ways, and much, much more independent and stronger economically speaking. You have faith in a very promising future for a country you fell in love with. (Besides adding the fact that you hate the cold and your allergies completely kill you in America but that’s beside the point. Also, the whole problem with getting good deals on shoes and clothes has totally been resolved since the uproar in online shopping, things such as Azozs for clothes and iherb for nutrition and fitness products have literally been a game changer, just saying. And yes, I know you that well.)
Ash, ever since you were a child you have always had this tendency to never take the easy way out – in fact sometimes, you specifically make it harder on yourself to push yourself and come out of it stronger and better. You believe that you should take the road less traveled, and great things never came from comfort zones, and hard work DOES pay off. People actually tell you that, that you make things harder on yourself for better or for worse. Everything that you ever focused on, you did with 100 percent and gave it everything you had. Remember that time with the Mag? Most people walk with that 4 foot and 26-pound gun and with all its 800 bullets. And when it comes time to shoot, they throw it down on the floor and when it comes to the point they have to climb over something, they pass it to other people until they climb over. You wouldn’t accept that. You told yourself when you got it, you would treat it like a smaller machine gun, and sprint and roll and dive and climb with it without anyone’s help. You would show everyone, the whole unit of Golani that you were the craziest dude they ever saw. And you did just that. You sprinted and dove through windows, and climbed over walls without anyone’s help, holding that thing with two hands, with tremendous force. And when it came to shooting it, you held it in the air for 5 minutes straight, ignoring your arms and body screaming in pain and just kept shooting, until the dust settled and everyone’s jaw was dropped in complete disbelief. Remember that time in sleepaway camp when you were going into 10th grade? You used to wear ankle weights on every single hike you went on that whole summer, to make it harder for your legs, so you would get them stronger for basketball. Remember that time you took the Maklar? Y’know that automatic grenade launcher that takes 3 people to shoot? You carried it the whole night when your new MP/head officer/company commander decided to introduce himself that night as coming from the special forces. You decided that you would show him and yourself that you could easily be just as good of a solider and were at his level. So you decided to walk all night with this huge torrent on your back, and also carry a stretcher and you figured that if you got used to both, you’d feel a lot lighter with just the torrent.
We could go on and on, but this was you. Not some superhero, not some bodybuilder, not some Navy Seal, it was just you and your mentality. Your mentality to succeed no matter what and that you could do anything. You didn’t accept mediocracy in your life and never have and never will. You didn’t have to go to Golani, and deal with all their stubbornness and unfairness, and etc. but you did because you knew and felt you should do the best you could in the army just like everything else. You didn’t want to go to an easy place, you refused to take the easy route no matter what, even if that meant you were dealing with some of the most difficult people in this whole world, because to you, dealing with it and getting through it would make you and define you as a man. You didn’t have to try out for their special forces, and sign on for three years, but you did, and even though you didn’t make the cut after finishing those three and a half days of hell, you still did it, because you put your mind to it, and gave the army everything you had, not settling for anything short of the best you could achieve. And that leads us the to the last thing: you have faith in yourself.
You’ve overcome a lot, and when I say a lot, we both know we mean a lot of obstacles in your life. You’ve shut up the nay-sayers, accomplished what was thought impossible of you, achieved great goals, enjoyed great highs, and whenever someone told you, you couldn’t do something, you responded with, “Oh yeah? Watch me,” until it was humorous whenever someone told you that you couldn’t do something you put your mind to. They said you wouldn’t make the high school basketball team. You did it. They said you were too skinny to be a center or be a force, so every night you did pushups until by senior year it was pretty apparent you were definitely someone they had to worry about in their pre-game huddle. They said you’d never dunk, you dunked. They didn’t think you’d go to the army. You went. They didn’t think you’d be a good solider, you were a very good one. They said it’s impossible to play any sort of high level basketball ever again after the army, you got back and trained every day until you made it as a walk-on to a small college basketball team. They said a lot of things, and yet you proved them wrong time and time again. Every single one of them.
Let me start off with a sort of blessing for you: I hope that no matter what happens, you never forget where you came from and how far you’ve come, due to yourself and the people who have supported you along the way, whether that be friends or family or the great people you come from or met along the way. I hope you never lose your optimism and always stay hopeful and positive that things will all work out for the best and everything happens for a reason. I hope you never stop grinding and never settle. I hope you never lose that depth that took you this far, just a few weeks away from moving to the place that has changed your life forever. The place that defines you, that without it, you simply aren’t you. I hope you find “the one” that drives you crazy in all the best ways, and she helps you grow in ways you never imagined. I hope you have beautiful and healthy kids, and they turn out to make you the proudest dude around. I hope you’re that cool dad who still makes jokes of a 22-year-old and still has fun while life is all too crazy, because sometimes, you just gotta laugh. I hope that good energy stays with you. I hope you still and always will have that switch, that when it goes off you turn into an animal, because if you don’t have one already, you’ll have a family one day, and you’ll need to protect them with the inner lion you have. I hope that no matter what, you are happy. And I hope that you will never lose the guts to take chances, because without those, nothing big can happen because as said before, nothing great ever came from comfort zones.
I have faith in you. You have faith in yourself. It doesn’t matter that people will say, “It’s hard to make a living in Israel.” You will figure it out. It doesn’t matter that they say it’s easier in America, because easier isn’t always better, and the truth is, you can make a quarter of a million dollars, let me repeat that, $250,000 dollars in America, and still be barely making ends meet because of all the bills of being a religious Jew. $100,000 in Israel and you live like a king, and yes it’s not easy. Did you ever expect it to be? But you can do it and you will do it. Whatever it takes. You will claw, scratch, kill for it because when you put your mind to something there is no one and nothing stopping you. You don’t need sleep, you don’t need anything, except to achieve your goals. Going back to the story of the Mag, after you were done sprinting and diving and rolling with 100 plus pounds on your back, you took the last step, after you had taken so many for the past 10 kilometers straight up the most insane hills and mountains you had seen to this day, after all the smoke cleared and all was said and done, you looked back and were so high up, you could barely see where you started. You said to yourself, “Holy crap, I really can do anything, huh? Damn.” And chuckled to yourself and continued to march on.
That’s just it. You CAN do anything. Nothing can or will stop you.
I’m rooting for ya back in June 2016 and always will be,
- 21-year-old Ash
P.S I’m almost 22 so if you’re thinking he’s just a kid, what does he know, then get outta here.
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