I’ve been here in Israel for 280 days, trying to make a new life in a place that is intimately familiar and wonderfully foreign and strange. Every day, I encounter the things so common and integral to my life on a scale that I could have never imagined in the states, but I also find myself in countless situations that never could have happened back in America. It’s in an indescribable feeling, seeing your Judaism everywhere and yet expressed in a million ways foreign to you in a plethora of languages which you understand to varying degrees. I am no less Israeli than the haredi man with his kosher phone, than the Ethiopian woman with a small child in a cloth bundle on her back, than the Russian-speaking elderly woman looking for the right eggplant in the supermarket, from the Moroccan whose Hebrew still sounds more like Arabic than the American-tinged Hebrew I heard for years. I am as Israeli as the Druze man in the hospital waiting room, his moustache expertly dressed in his distinct billowy pants and shirt. I am as Israeli as my Arab doctor, who lives a half-hour away from me in a city that might as well be in a different world. They all express the same idea of why I came here, to build this state into a miracle in the desert.
I came to this place with certain preconceptions about life. More than that, I came here thinking that certain of my beliefs were those uppercase-T truths of life, things that were supposed to shine past all of the mirages and illusions of a lifestyle I was supposed to reject.
But then you really see the Truth.
You see G-d in the people around you, and it’s not wearing a kippah. It’s not wearing a headscarf. You see the Master of the Universe in the Russian who had two Jewish grandparents, but not the right ones, making a beautiful life here, one that enriches my own. You make friends with the people that a year ago you didn’t want in the country. You cannot help but look at the man whose Jewish documents were lost after nearly a century of Soviet attempts to erase everything Jewish come here and face the horrible reality of being too Jewish for Russia but too Russian to be an Israeli, let alone a Jewish Israeli. You make friends with the people “fleeing” South America, Asia, Europe, and the rest of the places where just a single Jewish relative marks you for hatred. What kind of Zionism can exist without taking in these people? What kind of return of the exiles can there be without the people that are bound to us by fate, and who have chosen to live a life amongst us, with us, for our collective progress as a Jewish state?
Then, there’s the Arabs. So much hatred comes their way from every aspect of Jewish life around the world. Of course, I’m not so ignorant as to ignore who the ones committing terrorist attacks are; but I’m also not so blinded by anger as not to see the humanity of my doctors, my neighbors, the people walking down the same streets as me. Am I to say to someone whose family has been in this city for eight generations that I, with all of my 280 days, has anymore claim to this city than them? I listen everyday to diatribes against the same people that share this amazing city, as if they live in a parallel dimension than we currently inhabit, unable to see the fact that we are all beautifully intertwined in a story that will determine the future of the world? How can their smiles, their precocious children, their laughter, their warmth, and their willingness to speak with me be any less beautiful than anyone else’s?
My Zionism has changed in 280 days. My worldview has changed, my reality has changed, the cells in my eyes have opened in a way that I never thought possible. This place has a magic that allows you to see the layers of the most complex and multilayered tale ever written by man and G-d in a partnership since Abraham first walked this same soil. Every moment here is like looking through a kaleidoscope filled with glass pieces of history, faith, reality, imagination, G-d, and the intimate souls of each man and woman you encounter.
I’ve had the chance to meet people visiting from America, and each time they ask me how it’s been, it’s been nearly impossible to express what has happened to me here. Every moment is transcendental, every day transformative, every Shabbat culminating a week of complete self-discovery. This place is more powerful than I could ever describe. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re in the holy land, that G-d’s presence in this land somehow blurs the lines between worlds and heightens the perceptivity of everyone and everything around you.
All I can say is that you have to get here soon, and you need to be transformed by this place. There is nothing like it in the world, and all I can hope is that I can keep holding on while the ride keeps going. Life, love, faith, and the connections between people here are on a completely different level, and there’s no way I could ever go back to seeing life in a different way. My eyes, my mind, and my soul are forever changed and constantly transfixed with the eternal and complex beauty of this country. I will never go back; this new reality, and this new me, are too sublime to ever stop living on the dividing line between the sacred and the profane.
I’m back in it, and I’m not going anywhere. I promise to keep you all posted on how this place changes everything. I’m in for life, living this dream as long as the One Above allows me to walk the path.