Those who have been fortunate enough to travel the length and breadth of our country can attest that Israel, though small, has astounding geographic diversity. A land bridge between Africa and Asia, our borders stretch from arid deserts in the south towards snow-capped mountains in the north. Stunning as its varied terrain may be, Israel’s most beautiful diversity actually lies between these borders; among the hills and plains there is a diversity of Jewish experience never before seen in history; every city and every village offers its own unique vision of what being Jewish can mean.
When my friends and I first came to this land as immigrants two years ago, we were blessed with a home near the Gaza border on Kibbutz Urim. Founded in 1946, Urim- like all Kibbutzim- was created to return our people to the land.
Envisioned by the leaders of the Labor Zionist movement who despised what they saw as the unhealthy and defenseless Jews of the shtetl, Kibbutzim were designed to turn their residents into strong, healthy New Jews by demanding of them a life of modesty and agricultural labor.
Though most of my time spent living on Kibbutz Urim were quiet days on leave from the army in between time on base, the charm of its lifestyle did not escape me.
Born and raised in a materialistic suburban metropolis, life on the Kibbutz brought out in me a deep love of simplicity. As I made my way home each week, with the sun setting on the fields in the distance, I saw Jewish children running around the green open spaces without a care in the world; I saw high schoolers gather together in their communal clubhouse and middle aged men and women return from work to their families. The Kibbutz has the ability to connect its children and its laborers to the nature around them and to the ancient Jewish peasantry who tilled this very soil once before.
After a year and a half on my beloved Kibbutz, I moved northwards to Tel Aviv, our Levantine Paris. In the hazy summer afternoons that have defined my time in this city thus far, I’ve seen the young and tan residents of Tel Aviv flock to the boulevards and stroll between the city’s vast collection of Templar, Eclectic, Bauhaus, and Brutalist structures.
Originally founded in 1909 to provide an escape for the Jews of Jaffa who lived in cramped and antiquated conditions, Tel Aviv, with its skyscrapers, never ending nightlife, and extravagant Pride parades, has indeed brought the whole of our country into modern times. In a country of history and ideology, faith and conflict, Tel Aviv is defiant in its hedonism.
For this city, this window to the West, offers the particular Jewish state a universal, cosmopolitan, and liberal way of life. It connects us to the world beyond our shores and invigorates us with hope for what lies ahead. That is what Tel Aviv offers its residents; a life defined less by the Jewish past than by the Jewish future.
Yet for all my love of my Kibbutz and of Tel Aviv, only one city is engraved forever in my heart. As I walk its narrow alleys, among its ruins and construction sites, between the palatial Ottoman homes and the quaint courtyard neighborhoods, the commercial districts and the ancient quarters- I travel through time and space.
In this city, so contested and so beloved, thirty centuries of history weigh down on each of us, demanding respect. Every breath in Jerusalem is a battle and a blessing.
Each week as I ascend by train through the forested hills of Judea towards our golden city, my material concerns seem to dissipate and I am captivated by the story of this place- the story of a land and a people liberated and conquered and liberated once more. To live in Jerusalem, this living testament to the sacred bond between people, land, and God, is to experience Jewish civilization in all its majesty.
This heterogeneity of Jewish experience, between the lifestyles of the kibbutzim, of Tel Aviv and of Jerusalem, is not the result of the random physical development of our state. Every part of Israel is the fruit of a different ideological movement: Labor Zionism, Cultural Zionism, Religious Zionism, and so many others each propose unique visions of what Jewish life in our homeland can be; visions that reflect all of the facets of the Jewish soul that yearns within us.
The work lies with us, to build and to be built, to shape and to be shaped by the land to which we have returned.