I am a proud Jew. My mother and father have taught me the importance of family and tradition which is strongly rooted in Judaism.
I am forever grateful for my parents enrolling me in a Jewish preschool, elementary and high school. I believe it is because of my strong Jewish educational background, I have been able to form a strong connection and love for my religion. Before landing in Israel, I began investigating the source of my love for Israel. Is it genuine? Or has my education programmed me to love a country half way across the world that I had never visited in my 21 years of life, before I even had the chance to get to know or understand it?
I completed a 10-day Birthright trip and then rode a train to Be’er Sheva, where I would spend another 6 weeks as part of an internship program called Onward Israel. The program allows students to dive into the Israeli work force and experience the culture first-hand. All participants are placed with an organization that fits their interests. I have been placed with an incredible non-profit organization called Eretz-Ir that works to create community-oriented cities.
The night before I left for Israel, I remember sitting in my car questioning if Israel was really a country I wanted to visit or if I felt compelled to visit the land of my people. Not once did I question my connection to religion, but more my sincere connection to Israel. I felt immense pressure to create an everlasting bond. I felt compelled to feel a spark or become overwhelmed with emotion by simply being in Israel. I feel very fortunate knowing my brother was right beside me to answer and assure me that I would eventually feel what I was searching for. Was his reassurance enough? He had visited Be’er Sheva the previous summer on a leadership program and fell in love with the country. I knew if he could feel this love then I should be able to also, right?
I began my trip. I was impatiently waiting to be overcome with a powerful connection. As each day passed, I questioned whether Israel could become my home for these two months. I enjoyed visiting the tourist attractions, but a photo of myself standing on top of Masada was not going to cure my pursuit for a connection.
I was surprised that even in Jerusalem I did not feel any sparks, nor in the many tours I attended. I stopped searching, knowing that I couldn’t force it, and the connection would come at the right time.
On Yom Hazikaron (Israel Memorial Day), we visited an army base. Hundreds of IDF soldiers filled the room to commemorate the sacrifices of those lost. After a speech about a fallen American soldier and a beautiful song by three IDF soldiers, suddenly everything made sense to me. I felt a rush of pride and love run through my body and understood the feeling everyone spoke about. I instantaneously fell in love with Israel – a deep, true love – that comes from knowing a country from within.
I can understand my previous doubts about Israel. I felt forced to love a country that I had never had the opportunity to love independently. However, now that I am here – and am able to explore the depths of Israeli society – its challenges and successes, struggles and strengths – I am compelled to truly love Israel.
I am thankful for this experience to live in a historical and beautiful country for eight weeks, uncovering Israel on a deeper level through everyday interactions with my Israeli peers.