I am sitting in my office at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, a.k.a Yale Hillel. I joined this wonderful organization two months ago, to become the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow here, and I must say, it is not what I expected. AT ALL. It is so much bigger, so much better, so much more challenging but also so much more rewarding than I have ever thought it would be. I believe the best way to explain what I mean is through a story that started with a question posed to me: “Wait, so what’s that green line on the map?”
About 3 weeks into my work here, I met a student. We had a great conversation over coffee about life, school, hobbies, pretty much the usual. We got to talking about where I’m from (Haifa, objectively the best city in Israel), and a little bit about the geography and history of this state. And then, out of the blue: “Wait, so what’s that green line?”
Oh. My. God.
How do I answer?
What do I say?
What is the right thing to say? What if I say the wrong thing? What would they think?
All those questions raced through my head. Usually I am not the type of person left speechless, but I was caught off guard. I guess the best comparison I can make is for someone to ask you how many children do you want to have, during the first 5 minutes of the first date. This question is such an important one, such a complicated one, and entails so much more of our history, in just 4 words: “What’s that green line?”. I was surprised, and tried to explain in general, but I also felt it wasn’t enough. That feeling stuck with me. Why did I not dive into the discussion?
The simple answer is: This is scary. Even though we are told that we do not represent the entire state of Israel, there is still a very large sense of responsibility, almost to the point of actual weight on our shoulders. We are here to talk about Israel, to create Israel education, to expose and help facilitate students’ experience with Israel and with everything that is so complex about it. And yes, it is scary sometimes.
But then, right when I realized it, something interesting happened. Suddenly, it wasn’t that scary anymore. Talking about Israel can be amazing at times, challenging at other times, and downright hard at different times. But those challenges, those inner struggles that arise when we talk about Israel are very similar to the ones our students are facing: Is Israel a part of my Jewish identity? Should it be? Is it really my “homeland” even if I have never been there? What responsibility, if any, do I have for Israel? Should I care at all?
And that’s why we are here. I believe that as the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows our job is not to give those students their answers, but rather to set them on a path of understanding the answers to these questions on their own. In doing so, we as Israel Fellows also go on our own path. A path of creating Israel education through our own personal stories, through experiences, through relationships built and strengthened.
And so, with that notion in mind, I ran across that student again, but this time, after another fascinating conversation over pizza toppings (pineapple is objectively the best, don’t even try to argue), we again got to talking about Israel. But this time, I did not shy away from the conversation but said “you know what, there are some things I don’t know the answer to, and on some other matters we might find ourselves on opposite sides, but let’s go grab some coffee and try to figure some of it out”.
What I’m trying to say here, is that we most likely won’t have all the answers, or even some of them. But our students are amazing, they will be the future leaders of this country, and for them to really and genuinely care about this tiny country in the middle east, we need not to speak in slogans or lecture them, but rather work hard to create a real connection with them through our personal story, through the amazing stories of so many other people. We can’t find a magic solution to the unbelievable, terrifying, amazing, beautiful complexity that is Israel and everything around it, but we can certainly talk about it and maybe even make a difference for some of our students.
So, should we grab some coffee?