By Rebecca Dollinger, Student Advocate, Pitzer College, Claremont Consortium This past August, I participated in The David Project’s Relationship Building Institute, and this coming December, I will be going to Israel with the David Project’s Israel Uncovered: Campus Leaders Mission 2015-2016. The impact of The David Project’s Relationship Building Institute and my excitement about Israel Uncovered could not be expressed through one blog post, but I’m a writer and an ambitious student, so I’m going to try.
At the end of The David Project’s summer conference, the student participants were invited to stand up and express their feelings about the weekend. I knew I had to say something as this weekend had influenced me so much, so I stood up and talked about how on campus I was always fighting. I was always upset at what was happening in Israel and with Israel politics on campus, and I felt helpless and alone. But I came to this conference and I learned better ways to handle these issues. More importantly, I allowed myself to take a deep breath and stop fighting. I felt like I was safe with my David Project classmates. I felt like I belonged.
There are not many places I feel like I belong. I have a history of mental illness, which I am very open about, but I find myself guarded a lot of the time, afraid of being attacked for just being who I am. Because of this, I was not able to travel with my high school junior class to Israel and the last time I was there was in eighth grade, with my Jewish day school class. I was diagnosed at the end of seventh grade, so the idea that I would be traveling halfway across the world with a bunch of thirteen-year-olds was quite frightening. I’ve been to Israel other times when I was younger, but my eighth grade trip was different. I was struggling with my illness while still putting on a persona that I was doing fine. But I wasn’t. I felt alone and isolated. I wasn’t your average pre-teen. I was different. I was struggling.
But my memories of Israel are never lonely. My memories of Israel are based in emotions. In the feelings I had bargaining in the shuk (marketplace) with my dad and feeling so confident and powerful. The memories of the excitement of squealing in Hezkaiah’s tunnel with water up to my knees and only a flashlight to guide me. And then there are the physical memories of Israel. Havdalah on the beach in Tel Aviv with my eighth grade class. We sang the most cliche guitar songs ever and it felt like home. The memory of finding the last Twilight book in paperback in Tel Aviv and read it on the bus in two days. The memory of eating waffles on Ben Yehuda street. The memory of eating the best and only truly worthy falafel while our tour guide Ron told us we “MUST try the sabich sandwich it is (hand gesture) mm! sababah (awesome)”
Now, five years and a full recovery later, I am going back. I am going back to Israel without my family and without anything familiar to me, except for the safety of the David Project’s loving community. I am going to step off the plane in the land that I still call my homeland. I am going to have new inside jokes with my tour group and I will laugh too hard with strangers who will become friends. I am finally going to have that falafel again. People ask me “are you going to be safe there?” For me, safety is not always a physical aspect. If I am in a community and feeling loved on this incredible adventure, I will be safe in my own skin. It has taken me this long to arrive at this feeling of safety in body and spirit. So yes, I will be safe. I will be loved. I will be home.
Israel Uncovered: Campus Leaders Mission 2015-2016 holds new adventures and new memories. I am excited imagining that plane ride to the place so old and so new to me. How many new memories this place will hold. This is my homeland. I am going to recreate memories with a new mind and a safe soul. I will have so many new adventures and memories I cannot possibly fathom right now. I cannot think of another journey more poignant for my college experience, for my independence and personal growth. The unknown can be scary and anxiety-producing: I will be with strangers traveling to new places in a land I still urgently need to connect with. But for once in my life, I am not scared. For once, I am happy. For once, I have found a place where I belong.
Rebecca Dollinger is a sophomore at Pitzer College, a member school of the Claremont Consortium of Colleges in Claremont, California. Rebecca attended our 2015 Relationship Building Institute in August 2015, before returning to campus and being selected as the student advocate who will represent the Claremont Consortium on Israel Uncovered.