Growing up Jewish in America meant that the idea of Israel as the holy state was ingrained in my head. There are many Jews who feel so strongly about Israel being their homeland that they move there to become a legal citizen as if that is the only place they could possibly call home. I have grown up surrounded by this variety of Zionists, and when the opportunity presented itself to take a trip to Israel last summer with the Ramah Seminar program, I felt as though this was not only something I wanted to do, but also something I was supposed to do.
Upon my arrival to Eretz Yisrael, all of my ecstatic friends tumbled out of the airport to kneel down and kiss the sidewalk. Everyone hugged and beamed, some with tears rolling down their faces. Each person kept exclaiming about his or her feeling of belonging and love for this country. I smiled and hugged with the rest of them, but I couldn’t help feeling a little uncomfortable. Cynical though it may be, I just kept thinking, “we’ have only been here for five minutes and all I have seen of this so-called magical country is the parking lot of the airport!” I wanted to feel that immediate connection to a land I’ve only seen on postcards and feel that devotion to a people with whom I had never even shaken hands. I couldn’t possibly be the “good Jew” I had labeled myself as.
But my love for the country of Israel grew the longer I was there. I came to cherish the ever present rich smell of Falafel and Shwarma, the sounds of the almost conversational squealing breaks and honked horns from the busy streets of Tel-Aviv to the slumbering cobble stones of Jerusalem, and the extremely fast paced conversations that would put an auctioneer to shame. In the last couple days I finally began to feel a connection to the land that everyone had been talking about when they first stepped off the plane. This feeling wasn’t the feeling of being home in the usual sense, but it was a feeling of belonging. When you share a commonality of faith with virtually an entire country and where you share a difficult history, it is as though all of the strangers you pass on the street are part of your extended family and you have just stepped through the doorway into a bizarre family reunion.
My trip to Israel turned out to be everything I wanted and nothing I had expected. I learned so much about this amazing, deep-routed culture and brought parts of it home with me. My friends and family raised their eyebrows when I opted for an avocado salad for breakfast and wore long, wrap-skirts to school. In American culture it is polite to respect other people’s personal space while conversing with them, but after coming home from Israel, I noticed people leaning away from me when I talked to them. In Israel, personal space is a bit of a laughing matter. Perfect strangers clap each others shoulders and look directly into each others eyes while talking making for an incredibly warm and friendly environment. Although at first this was hard to get used to, it seemed as though that boundry had come down for me in the short six weeks I was abroad. This kind of personal change I saw in myself was a daily reminder of the amazing experience I had been lucky enough to have. Even as I relearned were to stand in proximity to others and remembered my love of waffles in the morning, I will never lose the honest feeling of belonging to this land and it’s people thousands of miles away.
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