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The Israeli “and/but” challenge

What seems to be a minor shift in language can bring about a major change of attitude -- for the better

It’s lunchtime in Israel and I am lying in bed in Alabama (where it is 4 am) trying to make sense of what has happened to me over the past six days as I traveled to Israel with a group of eight Birminghamians on Jewish Federations of North America’s Heart to Heart women’s trip to Israel.

The trip was fast-paced and intensive so it was hard to process all that we saw while we were actually seeing it. It will probably be days before I am able to fully reflect on our time in Israel, but, already, a message we heard on the trip won’t leave my mind.

During the trip, we talked about how common our use of the conjunction “but” is when talking about Israel. For example, “Israel is beautiful, but the weather is unpredictable.” Or, on a more serious note, “I know Israel is my Jewish homeland, but I’m worried about the challenges its Palestinians neighbors present.”

Pardon all my grammar talk, but the use of this conjunction really makes a difference in how we frame Israel in our minds. Additionally, when we speak our “but” statements aloud, we affect the perception of others who may never have the chance to visit Israel.

A CHALLENGE

So, at the very beginning of our trip, we were asked by a rabbi who was part of our group to change our “but” statements to “and” statements. So, our new sentence would be, “I know Israel is my Jewish homeland AND I’m worried about the challenges its Palestinian neighbors present.”

Changing our “but” statements was a challenge. It seems we, as humans, are always looking for the “but” in life. But (no pun intended) why can’t we love Israel and be concerned for it at the same time?

I found myself trying to correct my inner “but” thoughts throughout the trip.

Upon hearing from an Arab-Israeli news reporter who had recently returned from the US after speaking on behalf of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), it seemed we didn’t have a choice other than to use the word “but.” She described how she felt like a proud Israeli, but also conflicted over not having as strong of a national identity as Jewish Israelis.

Israel is full of complexities, just like every other nation. It is not perfect, just like the US is not perfect. And that is okay. We can still love Israel and be concerned about the Arab-Israeli conflict. We can visit Israel and still be a little nervous given the recent terror attacks. Israel is complex and perhaps that is why it is easy to fall in love with the country — it is not one-dimensional.

STRUGGLING WITH THE ‘BUT’

I know each of the Birmingham women struggled, just as I did, with this challenge. I could literally see the struggle on their faces as we listened to an 18-year-old female Israel Defense Forces soldier describe how and why she killed a terrorist just the week before. This teenager shot the terrorist who was stabbing someone with a knife. “The look on the terrorist’s face, enraged and crazed, is something I will never forget,” she told our group, bravely.

Understandably, our group was shaken after hearing this account. “I love Israel and I, unfortunately, understand why this young girl was put in this position. Israel has so many enemies and these young soldiers are defending their country and the global Jewish community as well,” I explained to a first-timer on the trip, careful to not use “but.”

The awareness of accepting Israel for all of the good, the bad and the complex has changed me. It will affect how I think about the country, how I talk about Israeli life and how I write Update articles about the country’s challenges.

Our trip was wonderful, fun, enlightening AND a challenge. And, I am so grateful that none of this is mutually exclusive.

About the Author
Samantha Dubrinsky is the Director of Community Impact for the Birmingham Jewish Federation.
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