Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Po ve’sham: kesher sheli l’yisrael (Here and there: my connection to Israel):

Even when I’m not in Israel, I feel a strong connection to the Holyland. I don’t know exactly where my connection stems from. Is it because I’m an Israeli citizen? Is it because I’m Jewish? Maybe there is no concrete answer. All I know is that when I am here, in Israel, I feel complete. And although I wasn’t born in Israel, I consider it my home. Whenever I stepped off the plane at Ben Gurion Airport I feel the energy of Israel surge through me. To know that I am in a land where my beautiful religion and culture was born and where my family found refuge after fleeing from Iraq 60 years ago and to know that I am in a land where I am welcome makes me feel safe and optimistic.

Many people would probably find the idea of someone feeling safe in Israel, a country surrounded by hostile neighbors and under constant threat of war, to be a strange concept. But any country brought together by a small and mighty group of people who defied all odds and grew into a strong, diverse, and liberal democracy and a home for Jews anywhere and everywhere, makes me feel safe. 

D. M.

Never Gets Old

I visited the Museum of Independence in Tel Aviv for the 4th time in the past 4 years. I have to say that this must be one of the smallest yet most meaningful museums a Jewish person can visit in his lifetime. Hearing David Ben-Gurion’s voice echoing though the speakers in the exact room Israel was declared a little over 65 years ago is absolutely breathtaking. Even though all I heard was a recording, it was still hard to grasp the meaning behind this historical moment. Finally, after years of leaving in a diaspora the Jewish people had a place to call home. Moreover, it was even harder to wrap my mind around the fact that shortly after Israel was declared it was already facing a war against an army of over 18 million soldiers ready to destroy it. Let me state that this is neither the first nor the tenth time I have learned about the War of Independence. Moreover, as an ex-soldier in the IDF I can definitely say that it would take a vast amount of emotional strength to stand up against an army of millions knowing that you will most likely give up your life to defend your right for a Jewish state. A task of this magnitude can only be achieved by people who have no other choice but to unite, literally, unite to stay alive.

“When there is no enemy from within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you” - Winston Churchill


Understanding Two Worlds

     Ever since I moved to the United States from Israel at the impressionable age of 6, I felt like a part of me was left behind even after visiting several times over the years. This trip, however, has led me to believe that all I really needed was more time to fully understand myself and grow a little more. Experiencing Israel on a peer to peer basis is still new to me. Usually, going to Israel means seeing family and being in my own bubble. Having only gone on one other instance where I had the unique opportunity to be the person who knew more than those he was travelling with, I continuously get the urge to reach into my mind and remember things I hadn't thought about in a long time. 
     Being knowledgeable doesn't mean that all the information is readily available to you 24/7 but Israel is one of those unique places that keep triggering my past memories of growing up and learn about what it truly means to live in Israel. I live in California so I have the proper distance to put life in Israel in perspective yet at the same time, I had lived in Israel long enough to feel a connection that will last me a lifetime. This is the duality I carry on my shoulders every day dealing with my own identity but this trip makes it easier to put myself, for once, into perspective; to reflect on my own life as an Israeli and as an American by sharing these experiences with my peers. It's undoubtedly the one place where I feel like I know myself best and where those around me can understand me, as a living example of someone from two different worlds, better than ever.


Sparks of Independence

The tour guide was amazing, and the air conditioner felt great, but I was still exhausted and distracted as we were sitting at Independence Hall listening to Ben-Gurion’s speech. I had been here so many times, that I started feeling complacent about Israel’s independence. That is, until I looked around and saw the reactions of my group mates. The tour guide had just started playing “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, and we all stood up to sing along. As I looked over, I saw two of the girls, sisters, hugging in an almost tearful embrace. The intense sense of emotion they displayed struck a chord within me. Their faces looked as excited and eager as I imagine the face of Ben-Gurion looked as he announced Israel’s independence.

To me, standing up for Israel has always been the obvious choice, maybe even the natural choice. I was born here, experienced much of my childhood here, and even served in the army here.  My extensive and unique experiences in Israel are much of the driving force behind my strong desire to advocate for Israel on my campus. But today, on the first day of our BlueStar trip I came across a phenomenon I had never thought about before: Much of our group is not Jewish!

This concept is foreign yet fascinating and motivating for me. I know why I advocate for Israel, but why do they?

I asked my two roommates, who do not have a Jewish or Israeli background, why they are here. Their answers made me smile- they see Israel for what it is, a country that is fighting for its existence, and they feel that it is their duty to support Israel and the Israeli people.  As the day progressed, I got to know some of my fellow trip mates, and I became more and more inspired by their stories.

Even though every one of them was on the trip for a different reason, our common denominator is our passion to learn more about Israel. Hearing the emotion and enthusiasm of my fellow trip mates as we walked through independence hall, or the old city of Jaffa, rekindled the spark of excitement within me.  


Remembering Israel's History

I know Israel as a representation of strength. And this is true, of course. Israel is strong and enduring, but many fail to recognize that for a point in her history, the Jewish people were without an anchor. They were nomads, wandering against their will, and Israel’s Independence Day was the force by which these men, women, and children became fastened to a homeland. This is Israel. That being said, today I had the privilege of being enlightened and educated at Israel's Independence Museum in Tel Aviv. Our tour guide, adorned in shades of blue like the nation's flag, conveyed a message, which rocked me to my very core. "The tragedy of the Jewish people," he explained, "was that they didn't have a 911." As I listened to the passionate words of this man, I couldn't help but think back to recent events of the United States. Not in an ethnocentric, "my culture is better than yours" type of way, but instead in a way by which I was able to gain an even greater appreciation for first, the oppression of the Jewish people and second, their unbreakable solidity.

When the Boston bombings occurred in the US, a flood of police officers and military officials arrived within moments of the tragedy. When New York was attacked on September 11th, every news station transmitted the information, and every form of help was directly sent to the scene. When someone is wrongfully treated in a school ground, the whole nation is alerted, and immediate actions are taken. This cannot be said, though, for the Jewish people. When Nazis stormed the neighborhoods of various countries, the Jewish people did not have a 911 to call. There was no military force giving them a backbone, no police to arrest the soldiers for searching their houses without proper intent. There was no defense. Despite this anchorless history, David Ben Guiron was able to stand, his feet firmly planted in what is now Israel’s Independence Museum on May 14th, 1948. “This is our story,” the tour guide proclaimed with an emotional tone.

The tour came to an end inside the room the Declaration was actually signed in, and as I looked left and right to fellow Blue Star students, I thought about how diverse the group was. We all came from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, and many of us set foot in Israel for the first time just yesterday. However, as the Israeli national anthem rang, we all stood in unison. My goose bumps were clearly evident at this point, and I stood in awe at the impact this history is able to have on a group of such different people. The enduring solidity of the Jewish people from the past is still, to this day, changing the lives of students around the world including non-Jewish students like me, and it can never be forgotten. Israel is a nation of strength, but one mustn’t forget what she has overcome in order to rightfully obtain this status.


Old New Home

Bob Dylan famously sang the lines, "How does it feel, to be without a home... like a rolling stone?" And up until 1948 the Jewish people were the only ones who could have told him exactly how that felt. For hundreds of years, the Jewish people were persecuted and repudiated by states that wanted no part in serving as a home to Jews. As tension continued to grow between the Jews and their oppressors, the need for an established Jewish state became more and more evident. Thus, on May 14th, 1948, in a conference room in Tel Aviv, David Ben-Gurion declared Israel the first Jewish State. Disregarding eminent threats from opposing powers, David Ben-Gurion created a home for the Jewish people.

Interestingly, I discovered upon further investigation that Tel Aviv's name stems from Ezekiel 3:15, where Ezekiel writes, "I came to the exiles that lived in Tel Aviv near the Kebar river." The irony that Israel was founded in a city named after a biblical town inhabited by exiles borders on dark humor, and fittingly puts the Jewish people's journey to their own state into context. Experiencing this rich history first hand by walking through the streets of Tel Aviv brought a whole new understanding to the immense tribulations the Jewish people faced before earning what most would call a basic human right - a place to call home.

Israel's Choice

The history of the Jewish people is not a particularly positive one – wars, genocide, and discrimination are major parts of their experiences.  Some of my travels here have particularly impressed these experiences on me. We visited the Anne Frank Huis in Amsterdam and saw firsthand a memory of the Holocaust. Today we were able to visit the Independence Hall in Tel Aviv and hear about the history of Israel. Even in this brief history of Israel, which begins with the first Jewish settlement of Israel in the 1880s, Jews could not escape animosity. Jews in Israel were exiled by the Turks, then taken over by British Mandate, and then the atrocity of the Holocaust in the 1940s –which leaves very little time when the Jewish people could feel accepted anywhere – until the birth of the Jewish State, Israel. In more recent history, Israel is constantly under attack by surrounding countries.  Bomb shelters and rockets are not uncommon for the people who live here. With this past and present of injustice and intolerance, Israel could easily turn to hate as well. It would almost be understandable if the Jewish people sought to destroy all who have perpetuated unfairness and violence against them. If they chose revenge and vindictiveness against their oppressors (which are many) I cannot say I would have blamed them. However, after spending just a short time in Tel Aviv, it seems that these people have made a very different choice.
Upon visiting the ancient city of Yafo, the first sight that struck me was a theater entitled “The Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa” whose mission is to unite both Arabic and Hebrew speakers in the creative and performing arts, and to celebrate the contributions of both peoples.  During my visit to the port in Yafo, I saw a group of Muslim families boarding a boat to tour the harbor. Walking down the streets of Tel Aviv, I can easily see the diversity among the people. Not only with Jews of all kinds, both reformed and orthodox, but Arab women wearing hijabs, and even blonde, pale people like me! It is fascinating to see how the Jewish people have endured such injustice and yet broken the cycle and are striving to create a tolerant and accepting homeland. Even in the face of current oppression, Israel seeks to push forward and create a brighter future for all who live in Israel.

There is nothing unusual about the purpose of Israel. Simply, it is the desire to have a homeland and basic human rights – something that I, and many others, are privileged to have both of.  What is incredibly unusual, however, is that these people wish to do this through patience, humanity, and tolerance. In the face of everything, the people of Israel have done something incredible.  In the face of violence, of intolerance, of pain, these people have chosen peace.