If I could say with certainty what is the biggest thing that I have discovered in my years of exploring Israel advocacy is that it’s messy.
But, I remind myself, most messy things point to living.
Going to the Butcherie in Brookline, Massachusetts to buy Israeli products, donating to pro-Israel organizations on GivingTuesday, reading pro-Israel news, checking out pro-Israel books from the library, teaching the children I babysit and their parents about Israel, giving the few stuffed animals I have Hebrew names, spending twenty months and almost $50,000 on a master’s degree in Communication: Public Relations and Advertising with a focus on Israel advocacy, attending pro-Israel lectures, seminars, classes and parties… whatever it is, I am doing it here, and when I squint, I observe that almost all of these activities point to being alive.
I am fascinated by things that many others do not even seem to notice, particularly outside. The way a cloud is shaped like a Star of David. The way a menorah’s glow lights up a window in a house on a cold winter’s night. That there are rocks placed on Jewish headstones in a cemetery, and that children run outside eating bags of Bamba from Trader Joe’s when the real Bamba bags are actually adorned with a red-haired baby.
In fact, one thing in particular I noticed this year was an email that I had received over the summer. It was from the Israeli-American Council (IAC) and was introducing their new project, IAC EDGE. IAC EDGE is a national membership-based community of both Israeli and Jewish American young professionals who are between the ages of 22-42, have a passion for Israel, want networking opportunities, professional development and business accelerators. Being an EDGE member required a one-time annual fee, allowing access to exclusive events and discounts for others.
I contemplated applying. I was familiar with the IAC—the one in Massachusetts the most—and have been going to their events for years. I went to both the IAC National Summit in D.C. in 2016 and the one in Florida last year as part of the Masa Israel Alumni Delegation. I was a member of the first cohort of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ Israel Advocacy Training program in 2017 that was held at the IAC office in Newton, Massachusetts. I have been to their parties, lectures and seminars. I wrote a paper on how the Massachusetts branch of the IAC could expand their Facebook presence for my Social Media class in graduate school and cited the IAC as a pro-Israel organization in Massachusetts in several other graduate papers. It seemed only natural to become a member and to attend the IAC EDGE Summit in New York City last month. But I was not sure if I was ready to be back in New York City emotionally.
Over the Labor Day holiday last year, I had spent time in New Jersey and New York City with my then boyfriend, Dan. While I had enjoyed the trip, Dan and I broke up this past July, one day before our 18-month-anniversary. It was not amicable and the memories came flooding back when I thought about returning to New York City right after Labor Day. It also did not help that Dan had spent the month prior to the breakup asking me to go on some elaborate vacation with him over Labor Day this year, despite me telling him several times that I could not afford it. Even just thinking of any type of IAC Summit made me cringe a bit, as I had left last year’s National Summit a day early to return to Boston for Dan’s birthday, when all I received in return was Dan being angry that my friend Steve was busy and could not give me a fancy makeover that night, having to spend the evening with Dan’s friends—friends who are not in relationships, yet somehow always trash-talked me behind my back and told Dan to break up with me several times—and having Dan’s growler of beer leak after he begged me to keep it in my big purse, destroying my wallet and paper planner. Dan was also angry with me for asking him to replace my wallet as a Chanukah present. I was not ready for this.
I had been speaking to one of my fellow Masa Israel comrades, Joline, sporadically over the past year over Instagram, text and FaceTime. We had met in Israel at the 2013 Masa Israel Leadership Summit (see my post “Masa Israel And My Second Chance”) and have been friends ever since. I told her about the Summit and asked if it was worth going to. She said it was and that I could crash at her place in Brooklyn. While I used to always stay in Brooklyn with my friend Jenna, she and her husband had moved to California a few years ago, so she was no longer an option. After speaking to one of my roommates, Kristen, she also agreed I should go. With my master’s degree finished, free lodging at Joline’s apartment and knowing my babysitting clients could survive without me for a few days, I bit the bullet, paid the fee to become an IAC EDGE member, bought my ticket to the Summit and round-trip bus tickets from Boston to New York City. It was go-time.
New York City has always been a pleasure to go to, even if a few days there is all I can handle. Coming from a tiny state like Massachusetts, New York City is overwhelming. Still, I appreciated the ease of the subway system, being able to eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, the cloak of anonymity among the city’s 8,000,000+ inhabitants, the bodega cats and never being able to get bored. I explored the city on my own and also played tourist with Joline, both in New York City and throughout Brooklyn. The weather was mostly on our side and I relished being able to see Joline for the first time since I obtained my master’s degree back in May, something Dan always told me was worthless. Joline has a master’s degree as well, and having someone to empathize with about both the pluses and minuses of a graduate degree was invaluable. Maybe I did need this trip after all, and not just for the real bagels.
Sunday, September 8th was the day of the Summit. I dressed in a business casual outfit—something I never wear in my line of work—and headed out to New York City. My train was mostly empty the entire ride. I sat across from a man who looked to be an Israeli in his twenties. He was so handsome in his tee shirt, jeans and felt shoes. I stole glances when I could and smiled, until he finished chugging his bottle of Odwalla juice, placed it on the floor, kicked it under the seat and got off of the train. A lesson to take the aesthetic victories where you can get them. I arrived to the event venue, Convene, early. I puttered around outside for a while until I saw a few attendees going in. I passed through security and received my name tag and IAC EDGE magnetic pin from the registration desk. There was brunch available and while turning 30 earlier this year means I feel lousy after a morning drink like a Mimosa, I figured I had earned this. I had my Mimosa and breakfast, talked to a few people and waited for the Opening Plenary to start.
As the Opening Plenary got underway, I listened attentively, but I also looked around me. I remember the moment so vividly. I felt an all-encompassing bliss. Pure joy. I had always thought there was no greater feeling in the world than hiking up a mountain, even though I loathe hiking. Getting yourself to the top of a mountain, especially with my awful joints and permanent chip fracture in my left foot, is quite a feat. Likewise, I believed that nothing could ever top what it felt like when I had conquered the 3:30AM hike up Masada during my 2012 Birthright trip.
I was wrong. Dead wrong. All the hikes in the world did not even begin to compare how it felt to be in a room full of Jews with similar interests and who braved the time and expense to come to this Summit. Sometimes it was the way friends and colleagues spoke animatedly with one another. Or took selfies to put on Instagram. Or clapped and hollered for all the speakers.
That’s why watching the people in the room known as Forum A stirred up such strong emotions. It wasn’t the fact that the attendees felt that their time and money should be spent here. It wasn’t the fact that we all thought this Summit was important. Rather, it was the simple way that the Israeli and Jewish Americans came together in the same place. I couldn’t even see everyone’s faces, but it was obvious people were smiling and most certainly elated.
I had also been particularly mesmerized by the talk from Saul Blinkoff, a film director, voice actor and animator. What had struck me the most was how he had achieved his goal of becoming a Disney animator after so many tries and failures. It had taken him years to achieve his goal. He had opened the floor to a Q&A session and I had wanted to ask him if five years of trying for my own goal of getting a job in Israel advocacy was still worth it, especially after doing everything I was “supposed” to do, most notably getting my master’s degree back in May. But the words didn’t come out.
I wish I could have said to Saul that an everlasting side effect of loss, after bewilderment and rage, beyond misery and despair, is wonder. Who might I have been?
I should have an Israel advocacy job by now. I should be able to wear nice clothes and eat with two hands. I should be negotiating work travel and contemplating how to decorate my desk and constructing a bridge between pro-Israel advocates and the laymen who don’t understand the issues.
I could be shopping in the Mahane Yehuda shuk before going to speak to members of the Knesset. I could be sipping on a Limonada in a hotel that overlooks the beach in Tel Aviv. I could be traveling to college campuses educating students about anti-Semitism and how it’s often masked under the guise of anti-Zionism. I could have a schedule ahead of time and have my first ever salary. I could have an ID badge that I clipped onto the loop of my slacks. I could be around other adults and use big words. I could finally be respected by the “real world.”
What Ifs still wash over me these days, unexpectedly, but never astoundingly. I am never surprised to find myself wondering about my despondency, only at how much it hasn’t changed.
I have dreamed of sitting on a panel with other pro-Israel allies, passing a microphone back and forth while we discuss the issues at hand. I have dreamed of standing at a podium, telling the world why we still need the State of Israel and that her existence should not be called into question. I have dreamed of having a head shot on a company website coupled with a biography of my education and unique work experience. I have dreamed of falling asleep on an airplane, taking me somewhere I need to go to for work and having my frame in my flamingo onesie pajamas silhouetted by the glow of the city lights from the city outside the window of my hotel room.
I have dreamed of an Israel advocacy job.
I still dream.
It has been five years since I returned from teaching English in Israel, and whenever I look at the calendar, I am snagged by many dates that poke out like rusty nails, the anniversaries of moving to and coming back to Boston from Netanya, when I met the men whom I could have seen myself with long-term, when I began my graduate studies at Suffolk University in Boston and next year will mark one year since graduating. For the record, these five years have been more than enough time for my brain’s worn out neural pathways to get stuck traveling the same ancient routes of if only.
One of my graduate classes was Emotional Intelligence. I learned how to train my brain in taking negative thoughts and spinning them into positive ones. Yes, being at the Summit still made me feel sad that this would be my only chance for a while to be in my element and be with my people. But I spun those thoughts into being appreciative that I had some freedom in my life after being done with graduate school, that being single and childfree lets me “do me” and how I can surround myself with pro-Israel people and not be shut down like Dan used to do to me.
After the Opening Plenary concluded, I went to a breakout session regarding the future of digital media and news as my graduate coursework had covered this topic in depth. How blessed to listen to experts in the field. Lunch eventually followed, and, in true Israeli fashion, it was crowded and disjointed. I briefly caught up with my friend Aliyah, one of the Israel Teaching Fellows from my Netanya cohort, and talked to more people. There was a woman interviewing the attendees and I was awestruck. Red hair, porcelain skin and dressed to the nines in a dark blue, short-sleeved jumpsuit. She was beautiful. She was the kind of stunning it almost hurt to look at. If my hair had looked a bit better and I wasn’t stuffing my face, I would have tried to catch her attention. But what would I have said? What could I have said? Words failed me again.
Due to me being an IAC EDGE member, I was able to attend an exclusive session with Saul Blinkoff where he delved more into his dreams and Judaism. I still could not muster up the courage to ask him if five years of trying to get an Israel advocacy job meant that I needed to finally give up or try harder. So I listened to him with rapt attention instead. I did the same for the breakout session on innovations in healthcare and also during the Closing Plenary. We were treated to an acrobatic dance from the event’s emcee, Tammuz Dubnov. He was truly fascinating and made my past as a ballerina seem like child’s play. When the Closing Plenary concluded, it was time for Happy Hour. Joline and I had agreed to meet up for pizza, so I had one glass of wine, mingled a bit and then headed back to Brooklyn. I spoke about the Summit with Joline and as we ate our pizza at this hipster place, I observed the people around us. They looked like they were close to us in age. They smiled. They laughed. They ate. They drank. They seemed so carefree. If they had problems, they hid them well. It’s kind of like that with the Jews, I think. When I’m with them, I can forget my problems and live in the moment. That was something Israel taught me to do. I still carry those lessons with me, although I do forget them sometimes.
I headed back to Boston the following day, two slices of New York City pizza in hand. I returned home exhausted, but I have never thought of New York City and feeling refreshed as being synonymous. New York City is everything Boston is not—more expensive, more artsy, more diverse, bigger, leans towards the wild side of things, better trains and lets you be another face in the crowd. And there are more Jews. Oh God, are there more Jews. Still, Boston has its pluses—not as overwhelming, quieter, bigger apartment space, cheaper and cleaner. Boston has been my home for 29 years. Escapes are necessary. But so is returning home.
Life went back to normal after my trip to the Big Apple. Work is work. One plus of my irregular schedule is being able to hit the gym at off-hours. I have lost almost twenty pounds since being single and am getting my health back on track after graduate school and being in a relationship destroyed it. I have a wonderful home with such fantastic roommates and a landlord who actually fixes things. I have my master’s degree and relish having my nights back, even though it usually means I’m working instead. But I do love my clients and I have never been out of work. Sittercity and Care.com have paid my bills for the past eight years. They were small companies with big dreams and have succeeded in their goals. They’re a lot like Israel, aren’t they? Making products or providing services for a specific need. Israeli start-ups aren’t the only places that cater to a need; Israel herself does that.
If Israel came to the Jews to be a healer, if she came when she did to help the Jews push through enormous sorrow and violence, I, and plenty of other Jews, are grateful, but I don’t want Israel to have that responsibility for the rest of her life.
I am pretty sure that I believe in some kind of an afterlife, in some sort of a spiritual sense, but I don’t have a very clear vision of what that could mean. And anyway, that belief does not spare me and the other Jews of the sorrow they carry from their ancestors or the sorrow they have themselves. It does not keep us from forgetting our troubles. I do not want an afterlife to have that job, either.
So for now, we have the Israeli-American Council. They do so much great work in bridging the divides that exist between Israeli Jews and Jews in the American Diaspora. While we may be different, we are also the same—carrying scars, experiencing tragedies, knowing we can only depend on each other, innovative, helpful, smart and loving.
I hope to be an Israel advocate, but at least with the IAC, I am happy to have pieces of Israel here with me now.