I’m an undergraduate student in Texas and have spent my time in higher education as a non-traditional student. I was a paratrooper and medic in the U.S. Army, and after my service I explored various industries. Eventually, I got tired of not having a degree, and decided to jump into Physics. I moved to a small college town in Texas, where I attended school, and I was able to connect with my Jewish roots there. I eventually became deeply embedded in the Jewish community and began actively advocating for Israel. We raised an SSI (Students Supporting Israel) chapter at my school with a group of Jews, and non-Jewish pro-Israel students. Everything was going great. I loved Israel, and understood its purpose, and I was fine in my little bubble. However, I am a man of discovery, and I always seek to better understand things through experience. Therefore, I had to go to Israel to step up my Zionist game.
An organization named Hasbara Fellowships came to my school’s Hillel to give a lecture and talk about what they did. I saw it as my duty to see what they were up to. I sat through part of their talk, and then left to go to a birthday party for my Chabad Rabbi’s kids. The women who came to present their organization eventually came over to Chabad, and I was able to hear more about their work. I jumped into their internship program soon after, and then eventually applied to be a fellow. I was accepted into their fellowship program soon after. During the winter of 2017, I went on the fellowship in Israel with Hasbara. We traveled all over Eretz Israel, and it was a defining moment as a Jew. I considered myself a “Zionist” before I went to Israel, but that wasn’t the reality of it. A person cannot fully understand what is happening, or at stake, unless they go there and see for themselves. I walked the land of my people and felt a sense of identity and connection that I had yet to experience.
As a 28-year-old Sophomore, I spent the trip with other students, and all were much younger than myself. I was older than all the staff, apart from our bus driver. It was rather challenging at times, especially when I was dealing with moments that had a lot of emotional weight to them. Many found me quiet during the days, as we traveled and explored our homeland. I would hold my tongue until a response was required. I often just made cliffhanging statements or attacked the “flawed logic” of my peers. I thought of it as an intellectual exercise, because I was not among normal college students. Many of the students I was with, were very educated on Israel, as well as many other social and political topics. Eventually, I realized that I needed to understand the concerns of my fellow travelers, so I began asking them questions, instead of debating them. They were nervous, because I usually baited my questions, but they proceeded. I learned a lot when I listened after asking the questions. I forced myself not to object after their response. It was a good choice, and they seemed more comfortable with my less combative approach. It was a growing moment for me, because I forced myself to hear their viewpoints. I challenged them by asking more questions, and sometimes it led to both of us understanding something deeper. It was a good experience to say the least.
Sderot was a distinct point in the trip, and by then I was very much isolated in the group. I was trying to soak up whatever I could and tried to filter out the noise. We saw the devastation, and the resiliency, of that small town next to Gaza. Thousands of rockets have been fired at Sderot, and children only have seconds to run for shelters. The rocket attacks from Gaza are so common for this small town, that even the playground had built-in shelters for the play structures. The members of the community could just simply leave, and move more inland, but that is not the Israeli way. They refused to allow the provocation of fear to chase them away. That was their home, and they were literally willing to die to live there. It’s a hard thing for many to understand, but I understood it.
Playground and Expended Rockets in Sderot 2017
Soon after our tour of Sderot I downloaded the application Red Alert. Red Alert is an app which sends you a notification when rockets are fired towards Israel. I didn’t turn on the alerts until I went back to Israel a few months later for a business/personal trip in May 2018. A few days after arriving, the rockets started, and my phone began going off over and over with alerts. I thought of how wild it was to be walking around casually in Jerusalem, while rockets were being fired at people less than 50 miles away. If this had happened in America, everyone would be running around like WW3 was kicking off. In Israel, it’s a common occurrence that people worry about, but it’s still business as usual. Israel is a sovereign state, and I think sometimes people forget that. It is the cradle of democracy and freedom in the Middle East. However, it’s constantly undermined by the Palestinian government, Hamas’ propaganda, and the BDS movement.
On this latest trip in May, I rode public transportation a lot. I had a Rav card, and it was only a few shekels to ride. Something I wish I would have known my first trip. One day I went on a long ride around Jerusalem. I looked across the bus, and saw a Muslim woman sitting directly across from an IDF soldier. The woman was resting her head and had fell asleep. There was no tension, or any words exchanged. They were both just living their lives and enjoying their freedom. Yet, 50 miles away, rockets began falling on the Israeli towns next to Gaza. So much hatred, and so much peace. The juxtaposition is hard to express, but it’s certainly something unique to Israel.
When I got home to the United States, I left my Red Alert app on. I received the alerts here and there about the rocket attacks. My heart always sank a little when I would see the alerts, and I hoped that no one was hurt or killed. It was a constant reminder that Israel is under attack in a very real way. I am here in America, advocating for Israel to my fellow students, and to people who want to understand the issues better. I’m rallying people to the truth, so that they can also support the Israel that I love so deeply now. Before, I was only a “fan” of Israel, but now – now, I am a Zionist.
Although I am a Zionist, I am also very much an American. It’s something that I must remind myself of, as I debate and discuss the issues that Israel faces. This fact wasn’t fully apparent to me until a couple months after I got back from Israel the last time. I was busy working on a congressional campaign that I was managing in Houston, Texas, and my phone kept vibrating and going off incessantly. At first, I felt the common feeling of my heart sinking. I pursed my lips, and felt my chest drop. I just hoped that no one would get hurt, and that the Hamas terrorists would stop the violence. Peace has been put on the table multiple times by Israel, yet Palestinian leaders deny it repeatedly. Finally, the alerts stopped, and I went back to work. Then a few minutes later my phone lit up again. It shook over and over as Red Alert notifications kept popping on my screen. This went on for quite some time, and eventually I got annoyed. I opened my phone and turned off the notifications for Red Alert. The notifications, ringing, and buzzing had stopped. I went back to working on Facebook ads for my candidate and didn’t have to be bothered with the awareness of the rockets.
It was so easy for me to just make a couple clicks, and the rockets were no longer a reality to me anymore. It’s like they had ceased to happen. They didn’t cease though, and in fact, there was much more of them. Israel saw a great unrest for the following weeks. Day after day Hamas lobbed rockets at civilians and raged at the border. I saw it as I looked through the news each day, but I was able to read on my own time. It didn’t disrupt my day. How convenient that was for me. Israelis don’t have that same convenience though. It’s not a reality they can hide from or turn off. It’s just part of their everyday life. It’s easy to judge the way a country decides to defend itself. It may even become easy to say that casualties should be equitable, to be fair, even though Israel didn’t initiate the attacks. Israel was at fault, because of disproportionate death tolls. It was one of the most appalling statements made by an article I read, while I was in Israel in May. It didn’t matter who started or perpetuated the violence. The anti-Israel “intellectuals” just wanted more dead Israelis, so that it seemed “fair”. Israel was simply being blamed for defending its people, and the tourists that were visiting. One thing is for certain though, if you’re not an Israeli, then it’s easy to do pretty much anything. It’s easy to ignore any part of the reality. Israelis don’t have that same ability though. It’s their everyday life. They live it, and they elect their leaders democratically. Israel is a sovereign state, and its people are essential to its existence.
I am not Israeli, but I thank G-d that there is an Israel, and that its people are living within it. Without them, I would not have the ability to return for Aliyah, if I found that as part of my path one day. Without them, we wouldn’t have the only reliable refuge for the Jewish people in the world. We all know what happened in Europe during WWII. If a similar travesty were to occur again, then Israel would be the only reliable refuge for myself and other Jews. It continues to be a refuge for Jews to this day, even Jews from Ethiopia, whom have fled violent persecution. That is why calling for the boycott, sanctions, and divestment (BDS) of Israel is Anti-Semitic. That is why questioning the sovereignty of Israel, and the integrity of its existence, is inherently Anti-Semitic. I may not be Israeli today, but there may come a day where I need to return to the homeland. There may come a day when all Jews need to return to Israel. We never know, but the fact remains, Israel exists, and it must continue to exist. It’s history and legitimacy cannot be denied, and the world spoke when the U.N. voted for the resolution to allow it, over 70 years ago. Am Yisrael Chai!