That Awkward Israel Moment

I don't remember a time when Israel wasn't central to my identity.

Growing up with an Israeli father and nightly family dinners that reflected on the events of the Second Intifada on what felt like a daily basis, I honed my views on Israel over evening chicken soup and morning cereal. This subsequently lead to my first experience as a bona fide Israel activist - as a fourth grader. While my classmates spent their summers at camp or visiting grandparents in Florida, I was fresh off the plane from Tel Aviv, ready to tell everyone that Israel wasn't like what you saw on the news. From that young age, the bond was solidified.

Israel was where I could be the best, most complete version of myself.

My love affair with Israel permeated my life - from school assignments where I opted to write about Golda Meir, to pleasure reading that to this day involves more Israel histories than most actual historians read, to extracurricular interests that lead to me being un-ironically called Israel Girl during my undergrad years, to an ultimate move to Israel and Israeli husband of my own. And I'd be lying if I didn't own the fact that one of the things that drew me to my husband was his Zionism, his deep, active love for Israel that matched my own, and his badass savta, an original pioneer who still lives on her kibbutz, right next to the cows. 

From my pint-sized amateur hasbara days to my time as a campus activist, I understood my mission when it came to Israel. If I couldn't be like my cousins and serve in the army, defending the country that I loved with a passion and intensity that I couldn't describe, then I would do the next best thing. I would be the voice that Israel needed in North America, telling the stories that no one else seemed to know. Stories of a nuanced, colorful, amazing place full of good people, innovation, and the sacred work of creating a society founded on the twin pillars of Judaism and democracy.

This is the part where, if I were like many of my Millennial peers lately, I would switch gears, and write about some kind of break in my relationship with Israel. Some kind of clarity about the complexities of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, or disenchantment when I realized that things weren't as black and white as I thought. 

But that's not my story.

In my soul, I'm a contradiction when it comes to Israel. I'm basically drawn to religious Zionism, while somehow reconciling that with secular, liberal Judaism and progressivism in all other areas of my life. I'm aware that it doesn't make sense, but it's what resonates for me.

I'm a Zionist. I believe in the Jewish right to self-determination in our ancient homeland. I believe that there's a unique relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, forged over centuries of prayer, tears, blood, and love. 

And I also know that there's another nation that feels the same way. I acknowledge and respect that, but it's not my story to tell. 

My story is one of the age-old longing of a Jewish person for the place that compliments my soul. Of not wanting to apologize for aching to claim the stones of the Old City as my own. Of wanting to scream in defense of Israeli soldiers and military strategists whenever they take a defensive measure to protect the people and land, despite knowing that it often comes at a tragic cost. Of frustration at the double standard that Israel still faces, in international arenas, in the public square, and among many of my peers.

But lately as an educator, I haven't told this story.

Instead, I've hidden behind the role of education, the mission of meeting my learners where they are and giving them a chance to explore their own relationships with Israel, rather than giving them the trappings of mine. Instead of sharing my own views, I've perfected the art of flipping the questions back to my learners - what do you think? I haven't wanted to share my take on different issues, because I believe it's my job to offer multiple perspectives, to challenge, and to encourage dissent. And I stand firm on that. But perhaps I've also lost something along the way, as I've stopped sharing my own Israel truth in favor of meeting others where they are on the journey to find theirs. 

So this is the first step of getting it back. 

I'm flying to Israel tonight. It's a too-short trip (as they all are) that'll be full of family, friends, fun, and food. I'll be spending my time celebrating my grandmother-in-law's 100th birthday (!!!), running around with my sister, and soaking up the feeling of being my most complete self that only comes when I'm sliding on the slippery Jerusalem stones, digging my feet into the Tel Aviv sand, or breathing in the earthy goodness of the kibbutzim. And I'll be bringing all of you with me as I start telling my own Israel story again. My role as an educator is to embrace complexities, so get ready for all of mine - the contradictions that I can't seem to make sense of, the love I can barely wrap my mind around, and the awkward balancing act that comes with being a proud American Jewish Israeli Zionist. 

Jewish Journey