The following is the letter I wrote to my parents about why I needed to return to Israel, and visit Jordan and Poland, to continue the important personal journey I began while studying abroad:
My study abroad experience at the Arava Institute was part of a journey, though it was just the start. Since returning back to the United States, I’ve realized how ingrained the lessons I learned have become in who I am and who I aspire to be.
- People are people
- Accept people for who they are
- There’s always another side
- Our diversity is our strength
But, the transformation goes much deeper. I was challenged as a Jew, Zionist, American, environmentalist, and optimist. These are things I hold near and dear to my heart, and my time at the Institute really forced me to question these integral parts of my identity. With each, I am now asking questions that I couldn’t have even considered previous to the experience
- Do I believe in G-D? What does that mean?
- What do I believe Israel should be? What rights and responsibilities do I have?
- What should American involvement look like in the world taking into account its past mistakes, its geopolitical counterparts, and the rights/freedoms our engagement will advance and hinder?
- Given that people have changed the environment for thousands of years, what objective should we really aim to achieve, and why?
- Are there some issues that can’t be solved, or the price of “solving” them isn’t worth it?
Coming away from the Arava, I have a better sense of the humanity we must accept and embrace in everyone, a value I will bring forward in whatever I choose to do. But, I still have so many questions on how I should engage with Israel, personally and politically.
In all honesty, I’m scared to return to Israel. I’m worried that my vision of my experience there may feel romanticized; that the magic was just in my head. I’m worried that the relationships that I treasured will not continue as closely, making me question how real they were in the first place. I’m scared that I won’t feel a sense of purpose, that I’ll just be visiting people I know or wandering through a land that may still seem foreign. I’m scared that I won’t feel like I have a reason to be there.
But, that’s exactly why I need to go. I need to take the next step on my journey to discovering who I am, what I believe, what is important to me, and what I want to do about it. Israel, Israelis, and the Arab-Israeli conflict cannot be removed from this. Not engaging the thoughts in my head would be doing a grave disservice to the journey that deep down I know I need to continue forward with.
To be honest, I’m not too sure what that means for me being in Israel. I know I want to celebrate Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom Ha’atzmaut (Independence Day) with Israelis and feel like I’m part of the Jewish State and the Jewish people. I know I want to visit my friends at the Arava Institute, over half of which are still there, because I want these friendships to last a lifetime, and just “staying in touch” isn’t enough – we need further connection to stay connected. I want to visit Jordan, something I really wanted to do while I was there and didn’t get the opportunity to. It will be a peek into the Arab world. I wish I could visit Lebanon, Iraq and Syria, but acknowledge political realities currently prevent this possibility. But, Jordan will provide me a lens into a culture that I’ve become very interested in, especially as I already know how many similarities there are to my own. I’m confident that seeing Jordan will expand my worldview, provide me a greater appreciation for Israel, and help me understand the complexities in an area which I really can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to call home. Learning about Islam will also offer new insight into my Judaism.
In order to grasp the importance of having a Jewish State, I need to see what life was like for Jews without one. It’s hard to really fathom the tragedy my family endured during the Holocaust without seeing a concentration camp and the decimated communities they were from in Eastern Europe. Now that I know where my relatives came from, it will be fascinating to visit such towns and critical to understand the surrounding Jewish history.
In Israel itself, I want to meet new people. I want to meet friends and families. I want to see new cities, new communities, new sects of the population. Jewish or Arab, Ashkenazi or Mizrahi, city or Kibbutz, North or South, liberal or conservative: its not as important who or where, but why. I want to develop a greater appreciation of the diversity which makes Israel such an incredible place. I’d be lying if I said I just wanted to talk with them, I want to feel like I’m connected to them. I want to feel like homeland isn’t just a word, but it’s a feeling, it’s a reality. I want to see places in the Golan, learn about Jewish settlements in West Bank, see Orthodox communities, experience new parts of Jerusalem, and get a taste of what life is like had I been born in Israel. I want to know what it is that I love, why, and get a better sense of my connection to it.
I share with pride that the Rishon LeTsiyon bus stop is land our family owned, that my Hebrew namesake helped build the State of Israel, that we helped fund its environmental prosperity through Jewish National Fund donations in that little blue box. I like sharing that I had my Bar-Mitzvah on Masada, got a feeling that Israel was a home when I returned, and had the opportunity for cross-cultural engagement by studying abroad there. But, my journey has only just begun.
I don’t just think, I know that returning back to Israel and the region will propel me forward. I’ll have the chance to explore my newfound questions, to test out my various thoughts, to leverage my Hebrew skills to feel like I’m a part of it, to really engage in a way that I haven’t been able to in the past. I want to hear stories. I want to make memories. I want my connection to the Jewish State to be made more real and more genuine. I need to be back in Israel, because I need to figure out why I need to be back in Israel.
This summer is about my future, working on John Delaney’s Presidential Campaign. But, Israel needs to be a part of this, because it truly is a part of me, and I know that this trip – the next step on my journey – will move me forward in a way that connects me to my identity, my history, my heritage, and my life goals.