Student Thoughts: Israel had me at 'Shalom'

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By Lorenzo Santavicca, Michigan State University, Bus 3 Immediately upon landing in Tel Aviv, Israel, I felt as if I were back at a place I had walked before, a place I once called home. It wasn’t a stirring feeling of fear like the media typically portrays (and quite well, at that) or the feeling of “no return” which was instilled in me by my immediate family before leaving. It wasn’t a preconceived battleground site like neighboring nations actually may experience on a daily basis. No, it was a feeling of sudden comfort after being greeted by Marty, our tour guide for the week, saying with a great smile “Shalom, mishpachah!” or “Hello, family!” From this moment, I knew that being on this land was where I would be able to establish an understanding of Israel for myself, impacted immensely by the power of family. 

The permanent home established as a refuge and state for the Jewish people in 1948 welcomed a bus full of Michigan State University tourists. We would return from Israel as a voice for its sovereignty and the culture that lives on in this highly contested space within the Middle East. Granted, I had some prior knowledge about the history of Israel’s battles for claiming and maintaining its nationhood and land the size of New Jersey. This knowledge didn’t hold much precedence in my mind until I stepped onto the soil where it all happened.

Now Israeli culture is significantly admirable to me, having been able to experience it firsthand. Visiting the collective community style living of kibbutzim, a lifestyle established upon agriculture back in the early twentieth century, solidified to me how the values of these people are the fighting cries to keep the land true to its word for the outside world looking in.

We heard a member of a kibbutz in Ashdot Ya'akov explain his story about being raised in this community as it was being first established. He spoke of the determination of his family to hold tradition together in a tight-knit space. Nothing was more settling than to see a picture of him today with his several children and grandchildren who have all been raised on the same kibbutz. This was the moment I recognized what it meant to be a Jew in a place that one could call home at the end of the day, no matter what was said, felt, or experienced in terms of the land and the conflict between the Palestinian Territories and Israel.

Hearing a woman from another kibbutz in Ein Gedi of the North present her NGO startup called “EcoPeace for the Middle East,” I was amazed to see how the Earth-conscious efforts of one were able to spring up into the initiative to make a difference to many. She explained how she has made renewable resources central to the daily life for everyone in the kibbutz. From the composting area to a sun ray collecting stove, the community supports her efforts to make the world a cleaner place for future generations, including those which may be using the same resources she has built for the kibbutz.  

Over two hundred of these collective communities still exist today in Israel and they give Israelis the opportunity to build a quality foundation for their family. Whether it was, on the first kibbutz I mentioned, hearing children playing in the schoolhouse and the ringing bell from our speaker's son's bike, or seeing the lady who dedicates her daily life to ensuring a healthy earth still exists tomorrow, I gained a new way to tell my family that Israel is nothing like they’ve been told before. Israel is the land of the young and old, Jewish and secular, environmentally sustaining, and a place where I immediately felt at home.

Lorenzo Santavicca is a sophomore at Michigan State University. A student of James Madison College, he is double majoring in International Relations and Economics. On campus, he is the Vice President of Academic Affairs for the Associated Students of Michigan State University. Lorenzo represented his campus on Bus 3 of Israel Uncovered: Campus Leaders Mission 2015-2016.