By Amber Modena, Grand Valley State University, Bus 3 "There's something special about Israel," said the middle-aged woman who had just finished dancing with us, a group of college students, at a nice hotel by the Dead Sea. We could not help but agree. This was not the first time I had heard an Israeli say that. What is so special about Israel, though? Why do they say that? The media, especially in the United States, is so fixated on this little country. The conflicts, issues, and political ties all play their own intricate role, but I came to realize, only a few days into this trip to 'uncover Israel', that there is so much more to it than what we hear on the news. There are layers of significance in Israel: deep-rooted, complex, and beautiful layers.
The prevailing theme in the trip which held these layers together is the connection to the land. How does one have such a strong and deep connection to, and desire for a part of land which has carried on through thousands of generations? That is what has impacted me.
Jews came from all over the world throughout the diaspora to create this nation. The reason why is because the Jews who were dispersed around the globe had a sense of longing for their home. A passionate, unexplainable longing for somewhere that they had only ever heard of in stories. It was and still is a passionate, deep love and its authenticity is known to few other places. When the Ethiopian Jews were told they had the chance to go to their homeland, Jerusalem, they were willing and happy to do so. They had been learning all of their lives about this beautiful land, flowing with milk and honey, and were finally given the means to taste it.
It has happened this way for many Jews around the world, and has therefore created a unique and very diverse Jewish population within the country. This passion and love for a homeland is so strong that it is nearly tangible. It has been passed down through generations as stories and customs are. The Jews had been praying to return to their Holy Land for thousands of years, and each generation was affected by the love for a home that they had never even seen. This piece of their heritage and culture is what makes them who they are today. Their connection to this land has been the glue that holds the Jewish people together from all over the world, and has done so throughout their many experiences with persecution. It is Israel that they are connected to, and it is Israel that they yearn for. They knew that they had a home that they were meant to be in, and they knew that they would be unified as a people in it one day. Now, people from around the world can find something dear to them in this beautiful land as well. There is something for everyone here in Israel. To hear this beautiful story in history allows me to attest to the fact that, yes, these Israelis are absolutely right: there truly is something special about Israel.
Amber Modena is a sophomore at Grand Valley State University. She is majoring in International Relations. Amber is representing her campus on Bus 3 of Israel Uncovered: Campus Leaders Mission 2015-2016.