Monday, March 31, 2008

Why I'm here.

What drew me to Israel? I was not escaping some sort of difficult life in America or fear of anti-semitism. I was running towards something. I was sixteen when I first stood on this Land and from those early moments was filled with a sense of belonging and purposefulness. It felt like even the most mundane of activities were imbued with meaning and purpose. Going to the market to grab some milk had a greater “feel-good” quotient than heading out to volunteer at the old age home back in the old country. When I returned to life in America I felt like a fish out of water suffering from reverse culture shock. While many of my friends were able to stifle that feeling or drown it out and carry on I lived with a weight in my heart and a quiet but persistent voice in my head “go home!”

If there was a quiet voice telling me that I didn’t belong there was an even louder voice in the soundtrack of my mind saying “Israel is awesome!” At the height of the intifada I waltzed onto my university campus wanting to shout from the rooftops “I love Israel!” You can imagine my disappointment when I got involved with Israel activities on campus. The general rule with these groups was that we had to combat anti-israel sentiment and prove that we weren’t like the arabs. This meant that "Israel Week" display tables were filled with fascinating facts like “we let women drive,” or “x% of Israelis are literate and y% of surrounding Arab countries aren’t” “Israel provides all religions freedom to practice.” Well fantastic for us! Who cares?? It reminded me of the Chris Rock routine with the punch-line “he want credit for things he supposed to do!” Something never sat right with me when I saw that display and no matter how hard I fought to get them to change it fellow committee members and Hillel staff especially, insisted that this was the way to go. Why should we constantly be comparing Israel to the countries around us especially when there’s nothing to compare? All the facts they cited were things we were supposed to be doing regardless of how other countries behaved. Besides that, how often did any of us walk around Israel and think “My! What a fantastic country, the people here are literate!” No, when we were in Israel we were in awe of its beauty, the tranquility of the desserts, the soft glow of setting sun on Jerusalem stone, the community of a beach party in Tel Aviv, the sense of family. We conveyed none of this in our displays with facts printed in large block-like black letters on stark white poster board. Why couldn’t we present the side of Israel that we loved? Why was Israel advocacy only playing “defense”? The Israel I remembered, the Israel and I knew and loved was a beautiful, positive place that filled me with tremendous pride.

I look around at the anglo-oleh community filled with the infectious sense of purposefulness. There are those who are not working in their field and struggle to get by but many others are not only working in their chosen career paths but using their skills to change the world. There is an entrepreneurial spirit that is alive and kicking strong. From venture capitalists providing funds to startups to startups shaking up the marketing industry, to filmmakers, musicians, architects, designers, lawyers. They are not merely filmmakers or artists. At the core they are truth seekers and possess an inner sensitivity to produce honest and poignant films and images that no other person could capture. At the core we are movers and shakers and we use our skills as tools to reach our goals. It is not only the drive for our own self fulfillment or advancement in a career path that pulls us forward but the desire to contribute to the greater good to build a stronger community and a greater Israel. There is a passion that I see here that I don’t see anywhere else. That passion first pulled me in and it is what keeps me here. I can’t compare life in Israel to life in America because they are incomparable. Life in Israel can be judged only on its own merits. With each year seeing an influx of similarly impassioned, like-minded olim I am convinced that many more will catch on and be filled with the pride that comes so naturally to those who truly love Israel.

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