My entire life I was taught to love Israel because I’m a Jew. So I did.
I was in Hebrew school from second to 12th grade, went to Camp Ramah Darom, and was a leader in USY; yeah I did it all. But by the time I started college in the fall of 2011 at University of Massachusetts Amherst, I still hadn't gone to Israel.
My freshman year all I wanted was to go to Israel and experience the wonder and magic that seemingly the entire world, except for me, had already experienced. I now thank my lucky stars for my good friend Jackie because on one fateful October afternoon, I returned from class to an email from her with the most wonderful nine words in the English language:
“Do you want to go to Israel this winter?”
I’ve never responded so quickly to an email in my entire life! Little did I know that what I had built up in my mind as the perfect time in Israel was far from what I’d actually experience.
On my trip, organized by the JDC (American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee), we volunteered in a low-economic Ethiopian Jewish community in Ramle.
After all the hype about the enchanting land of Israel, the first few days proved that it was indeed magical. Toward the end of the trip we visited Jerusalem, where our first stop was the Western Wall. I wondered what visiting the Kotel would be like: if I’d cry; what I would write on my note; what is a 10-year hyped-up reaction supposed to look like? My mind was going a million miles a minute.
I may or may not have started to get clammy as we pulled into the Kotel parking lot.
As I walked up to the wall, my heart was pounding so loud I thought it would pop right out of my chest. This is it, the end of my hype-filled road, it all ends here. Jackie started crying, and dare I say it, I felt nothing.
Okay, maybe not nothing. The Wall was the most awesome thing I’d ever seen from a historical perspective. But, no light bulb went off. I didn’t feel the need to become kosher or pray three times a day. I thought something must be wrong with me. Where was my huge religious revelation?
Disappointed, I figured I screwed up and I’d just have to move on.
The remainder of the trip was equally as magical as it had been before we went to Jerusalem, but I couldn’t help but think I did something wrong, since I was still not yet initiated into the “perfect Israel experience” society.
Upon returning back to UMass, everyone from my trip decided that we would all go to Hillel the first Friday night of second semester to see each other. At 6 p.m. services started and that's when my light bulb finally went on.
I was back.
I felt like me again; singing all the Friday night prayers to the tunes that I know and love, surrounded by people and feeling a sense of family. Things just felt right.
The feeling of unrest and disappointment I experienced at the Kotel vanished. I realized that my connection to Israel didn’t need to be religious. Rather, my connection was through the sense of family, overwhelming pride, and national identity that only after being in Israel, was I now able to fully grasp. I was no longer the lonely Jew that hadn’t experienced Israel the “right way.” But, I also wasn’t just “part of the club” now either. I had my own experience; my own meaningful, engaging, and magical experience unlike anyone else’s. And that was okay!
Believe me, coming to this realization after a decade of build-up was quite a liberating feeling.
This realization taught me that everyone connects with Israel on their own terms, whether that be a cultural, spiritual, political, economic, religious, or anything-in-between connection.
This summer, I am so excited to be interning at The David Project where I will be researching and writing (on this blog) about the different types of connections that people have with Israel and how each connection is equally meaningful and valuable.
So ask yourself, "How do I connect with Israel?" Leave your comments in the box below!
Because I promise that everyone, including you, can find a unique and meaningful connection with Israel.