Honestly, I came to Israel fully knowing I was an ignorant Jew. I’ve avoided Judaism as a defining part of my being for a while. I didn’t want a Bat Mitzvah or a Confirmation because I’ll never be Jewish (my mother isn’t Jewish), I truly didn’t believe in organized religion (I thought there could be no validity in a random collection of stories from unknown sources) and I wasn’t sure there was a God (I just saw it as a ploy for people to avoid the reality of death and responsibility).
Before the age of 12, I knew being Jewish made me different but I wasn’t sure how. As I learned more about Judaism and religions as a whole, the more I found the ideas ridiculous. Where did the Torah come from and why do I care? How do I know these stories are real? If there is a God why doesn’t he just send out memos to clarify his message? Judaism was something I practiced for my parents because it was a nice excuse to have family gatherings. It had nothing to do with spirituality.
Everything changed when I went away to university in Western Washington. I had no friends so I had to join some clubs. I chose Chabad, Filipino club, the student TV channel and others. I went to meetings to just get out of the dorms. Out of all these random meetings, I felt most at home in Chabad. Everyone had a shared culture, people were nice to me and even took me out to parties. I found somewhere I could have friends and belong. After this I started exploring Judaism and trying to understand it more. Chabad was ready to help. So I went to every Shabbat dinner and went to synagogue. I even got a Jewish tattoo of a hamsa and Star of David.
Then I moved back to New Mexico and I took some Jewish History and Literature classes. I wanted to get credits and discover what it really means to be a Jew. I learned things I never could have fathomed before about the atrocities my people endured.
Then I graduated and people said, “You still haven’t been to Israel? You need to do birthright.” I would sign up and something would happen then I’d cancel or I’d committed to something and put it off. Then I graduated college and the age of 25 is approaching so now it’s imperative I go to Israel and reaffirm my Jewish identity. So here I am and my biggest goals were: understanding Jewish identity and also finally form an educated opinion about the state of Israel.
Here’s the thing about being Jewish in America, the people tell you that Jews are greedy scum or that they love matzah ball soup. Then your community tells you the world hates the Jews and the only hope for the Jewish people is Israel. It is the haven in hellfire.
So what I thought about Israel before coming here was this: Palestinians are treated like second class citizens in Israel because Israel cannot trust the Palestinians to not hurt the Jewish population. Israel puts these restrictions in place in order to protect the Jewish people. Israel is as kind as they can be to Palestinians through providing housing and healthcare. The separation is for the safety of citizens.
So to clarify this is completely past tense. I found out by being here and listening to people and seeing things. I’ve physically seen what the reality is. And I’m so grateful to be able to see it without the Birthright movement guiding my ideals with propaganda. I’ll probably still apply for Birthright to see their side too.
This post has gotten long enough but I’ll post about my enlightening experience in Jerusalem in more detail.