Being in a Relationship with Israel Is Complicated
I have a relationship with Israel, and it is complicated.
Part 1: As a child growing up in an interfaith home, my earliest memory of a connection to Israel was watching the country’s 50th anniversary celebration on PBS with my mom. She grew up in South Africa during Apartheid and her first trip out of the country was to Israel. The only Jews I knew were big supporters of Hadassah, JNF, Young Judaea, and the like – and the idea that one would be anything but supportive of Israel was never a question.
Part 2: “I love Israel. I want Peace. I am a Zionist.” Those words were on a bumper sticker on my first car in college. The sticker was sent to me from Young Judaea, where I was both a camper and counselor, and I still miss the sentiment. Using a catchy slogan, it perfectly sums up my relationship to Israel without causing a fight with others.
During college, I generally did not have to address Israel with my peers, but in two instances I did. The first occurred during programming for the multicultural affairs department’s “Tunnel of Oppression” when some students wanted to speak about Palestine instead of the Palestinians. I’ve always been supportive of a two-state solution because I believe that there are two groups of people both of whom have a connection to the land. There can be no dialogue, however, when the very existence of the State of Israel is dismissed. The second instance occurred during senior year exams when a friend turned to me and said, “Obviously, you know I support Israel.” In fact, I did not. I believe these experiences were outliers during my four years of college.
Part 3: Living in Jerusalem for a year as a student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) showed me yet another side of Israel. By regularly interacting with Israelis at the grocery store, post office, in the shuk, in the settlements, and at the Kotel – both with and without Women of the Wall – I came to realize that Israel is a country like any other. The day-to-day lives of Israelis echo our day-to-day lives, their serious and not-so-serious problems resemble ours, their happiness fluctuates just as ours does, and just like my fellow American citizens, the people of Israel are not all the same.
Part 4: Today, as a Reform Jew, and especially as a fourth-year rabbinic student at HUC-JIR, I struggle with expressing my love of Israel to those around me. As a teacher, and a graduate of the iCenter with a masters concentration in Israel education, I recognize how important it is to be able to clearly and succinctly explain my relationship to Israel even though I believe that a true understanding of it cannot be expressed simply. This relationship has been built over time and through a variety of experiences and other relationships. Ultimately that is what I try to teach my students: I would like them to have a relationship to Israel, but more than a relationship to the country, I want them to form relationships with all kinds of Israelis.
Indeed, I have a relationship with Israel – and Israelis of all kinds – and it is complicated.
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