In December 2008, just a few days after having my Bar Mitzvah in Jerusalem, me and my family found ourselves hiding under the rockets shot by Hamas, in my grandparent’s home in Beer Sheva. We were afraid, since in Western Europe nearly nobody is used to living in a war zone. But what hurt me most was that when we came back to Italy, every time I went to school I heard some of my classmates accusing Israel of genocide, ethnic cleansing and colonialism.
Growing up in a small town in Northern Italy, in elementary school and in high school I was the only Jew in the class, and most of the time the only one in the entire school. Because of that, and since my mother is from Israel, people treated me differently: most of them were curious or surprised, since I was the first Jew they have ever met; some others were uninterested, maybe because the school had also other minorities and children of immigrants, and I was just one of them. However, a few times it happened that both students and teachers attacked Israel and Israelis, and since I was the only one with Israeli origins they even attacked me for things I had never done.
Despite growing up among non-Jews, I have always felt connected to Israel: thanks to my mother, I grew up speaking Hebrew, watching Israeli films and listening to Israeli music, and every year I go there to visit my relatives. Israel is like a second home for me of which I have lots of happy memories. Israel is where my family emigrated to from the Soviet Union, leaving behind a harsh life to find freedom in a new country.
Therefore, if someone asks me what Israel and Zionism mean to me, 75 years after the declaration of independence of the Jewish State, my answer is: freedom. For my family, Israel meant the possibility to live free from the oppression of a totalitarian regime; to live free from the fear of antisemitism and persecution; and, last but not least, to live their Jewish identity as they preferred. Because of that, Israel is a dream come true.
This blog has been submitted as part of a wider campaign, which is being run by the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS) entitled “Theodor & I – Zionism and Young European Jews”. Being launched on Yom Haatzmaut, the campaign seeks to start a discussion on Zionism, towards challenging the existing conversation surrounding the concept and ultimately highlighting the plurality of Jewish European identity and Zionism.
The opinions represented in these blogs do not necessarily reflect the position and views of EUJS.