Finding My Israel

I am just an ordinary secular American Jewish girl. I live in North Carolina. Many times I have been asked why does what is happening in Israel affect me so much and I found it is time to share my answer. I remember the first time I stepped foot on Israeli soil. It was May 2005 and I was 21 years old. I was not religious, I did not have a Bat Mitzvah, and I frankly I had no reason to be in Israel. I went to try and reconnect with my Jewish identity on Birthright. I say reconnect because I lost my Jewish identity on March 10, 1998. I was physically assaulted in a Middle School classroom in New Jersey by twin girls, simply because I was Jewish. March 10, 1998, was the worst day of my life. In 2002, I moved from New Jersey to North Carolina and I decided I needed to find out why I was assaulted, and why people hated me for being Jewish. It then took me almost three more years to come up with enough courage to even think about going to Israel. That is when I found Birthright.

I remembered the assault, the name calling, and the look of disgust on the faces of the kids in my Middle School. I never wanted to feel that pain again but I did not know how to get it out of my head. I remembered being scared out of my mind on the plane and wondering what made me come on Birthright. I did not know anyone on the trip and I was alone. Then the plane landed and wave of happiness came over everybody. I joined in with all of these strangers in clapping on our arrival to Israel. I felt uplifted by a religious man who welcomed me to Israel when he found out that I was on the Birthright trip. We went through customs and got our luggage. We met our tour guide and stepped outside the airport. I was in Israel for the first time.

I felt this amazing feeling. It is too hard to describe. The only thing I know was that I felt safe, and that nothing would happen to me while I was in this amazing place. The first time I laid my eyes on the Kotel (Western Wall) I cried. I felt a powerful presence standing there with me. A hand on my shoulder telling me it was okay and I am home now. I saw the history of the Jewish people flash before my eyes. I saw the flag of the State of Israel waving in the wind with the sun shining down on it. I felt a connection with the land, the religion, and the people that I had never felt before. I was home!

When it was time to leave Israel, I cried for twelve hours on the plane ride back New York. I cried internally for seven years before I went back in May 2012 on a college EF Study tour trip. I felt the connection again, even stronger than the first time I visited Israel. I knew that I never wanted to wait that long to come back to my home, the place I love. I decided to challenge myself and prove to my inner self that my resolve for defending Israel was correct. So, I took a leap of fate and decided to gain as much knowledge as I could by myself and teach myself. I learned all that I could but I did not know how to tell my personal story, or how to share my connection to Israel.

My Rabbi told be about Hasbara Fellowships and suggested it would be a perfect fit for me. I looked into it and I decided he was right. I applied and I was accepted a short time later. I knew in my heart this was the correct path for me; I felt like G-d was with me guiding me to this program. I was ready to return to Israel and gain as much knowledge as I could. I was like a dry sponge soaking up all of the learning and all of the experience. I spent two weeks gaining a new family and a new appreciation for the land that I knew I loved. I finally had a hands on connection to Israel. I remember walking the halls of the Knesset, the greatest place of democracy of the Middle East. The halls and the walls felt like they were shouting out the history of Israel to me, ready to tell me their secrets. I wanted to hear everything from them. I was in awe of this majestical building.

I extended my Hasbara trip for an extra week and only recently came back from this month in Israel. I felt my own personal passion to protect Israel and I am now fit with the tools to share this mission. I now realize how much there is to be gained by my Middle School experience. There is a lot of evil in the world, but there is peace and hope in Israel. Israel is a special place that needs to be protected.

When Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frankel, were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists my heart ached like they were my brothers, I cried for days. When the rockets are falling on Israeli towns, my heart aches and I feel the pain of the Israeli people. When IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) soldiers are wounded or even worse killed in action, my heart aches for the heroes of Israel. The State of Israel is a place where anyone can go to and learn the history of the world’s three main religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). Israel is a place where you can float in the Dead Sea or walk on the beaches of the Mediterranean Sea. Israel is the connecting point between Africa, Europe, and Asia for over 5,000 years. I feel the calling from G-d to help protect Israel on social media, in the news, on my campus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC), in the community, in the state, throughout the United States of America (USA), and more importantly throughout the entire world. I feel the need to push pass the hate and anti-Semitism to tell the true story of the Israeli people that are living under the constant threat of Hamas and other terrorist organizations who are firing rockets, threatening harm, kidnapping, wounding, and killing Israelis.

I have seen first-hand that the Israeli people (Jewish, Arab, Christian, Druze, and others) just want to live in peace with their neighbors. They do not want their children to have to serve in the military. These people want to have a generation of children who do not know the fear of running to a bomb shelter within 15 seconds, like in the town of Sderot. The Israeli people want the terror to end and to finally have a lasting peace, not just with the Palestinians, but also with the entire world. Let us finally have true and everlasting peace in the place which finally allowed me to have internal peace. Am Yisrael Chai!

About the Author
Neili Eggert is a student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and a 2014-2015 Hasbara Fellow.