When I was 18, I met the most amazing girl. We were both working at an overnight Jewish summer camp, and during staff week, I sat down just to get to know her. An hour later, it felt like our conversation would never end, and in a week I realized that I’d never felt a connection like this before. I still haven’t felt anything like it since. Three weeks later, I knew I was in love with her, and this started months of heartache and confusion over who I was, who she was, and what it meant to be in love with an Israeli.
The first thing I learned is that she didn’t really matter. After camp, she left to do her post-army travels in South America, and I was left imagining a long distance relationship that didn’t exist and wrestling my insecurities. It was so bad that some days I couldn’t get out of bed until I knew she had seen my messages or WhatsApped me back, because that meant she did really care about me and I wasn’t making everything up. For every love first-timer that I know, this has been true: before you figure out a relationship with the other person, you have to deal with your insecurities head on. But I knew this was a once in a lifetime experience, so why should I back away from it? If I could survive her traveling, then we could have a chance at being together.
Of course, that didn’t work out. But, full of emotion, I still dug down the rabbit hole of what might be or might have been. What if I married the love of my life? We would be happy together, of course, but how would we raise our kids? Where would we live? I was fine moving to Israel, in fact more than fine, but she was a secular a-religious Israeli who didn’t really care about a Jewish education. This makes no sense to a young Jew who grew up in America. How the hell do you have Jews, in a Jewish State, that don’t care about religious education when it’s one of the number one things for American Jews? My idea of what an Israeli is was being shattered.
For months, I tried to figure out the balance between her religious indifference and my want to Jewishly educate my future children. And then I realized that it wouldn’t work. To secular Israelis, Judaism is dictated by the Orthodox Rabbinate, so they want nothing to do with it. My knowledge of liberal and pluralistic Judaism from America was and is completely foreign to most Israelis. So if she wasn’t familiar with it and didn’t want it, how would my children grow up caring about their religious life and education if their own mother and society didn’t?
I realized that I didn’t understand anything about Israelis. Because I was in love, I felt rejected through the sheer fact that this girl was traveling away from me instead of staying with me. It took months to realize that after years of being ordered around in the army, Israelis don’t need another anchor to tie them down. They want to feel young for once and have absolute freedom to get away from Israel. The way many American Jews look at Israel with dreamy eyes, young Israelis look everywhere else, at least for a period of time. I could never imagine that someone wouldn’t want to live in Israel, or that the prized IDF service held up as the holy of holies in modern American Zionism would be just another fact of life that many would want to escape from.
Basically, I didn’t realize that Israelis are real people. So a year later I know that I was naive, young, dumb, and completely ignorant. I spent so much time thinking about how I couldn’t have a relationship with someone who didn’t understand me, that the opposite ended up being true. Does this mean I “understand” all Israelis? God no. But after this, and my own experience with traveling alone, I understand Israelis a lot more than I did, and more than I think most young American Jews do. So nowadays when I hear about rough Diaspora-Israel ties, with both sides complaining the other doesn’t understand them, all I can do is laugh. Of course American Jews don’t understand Israelis, and of course Israelis don’t understand American Jews. Let’s not have this be a surprise anymore and instead, fall stupidly in love to figure it out.