It seems appropriate before I go any further, to tell you a little bit about how I came to fall in love with Israel. It was towards the end of my third year of college. I had spent the last two years becoming increasingly involved in student government and Model UN. Not being religious at the time, these things seemed to give meaning to my life. As the end of the school year approached, I began to feel as though I were with the completely wrong people; I wanted to build lasting friendships having something much deeper in common than politics or being on the same committee. I was longing to reconnect with my Jewish heritage and to feel part of my extended Jewish family.
By the end of the year it became clear to me where I intended to focus my career and my life. The love of the Land of Israel had become my driving force. I felt as though this is how I could make my contribution; this is how I could be a part of the unfolding story of the Jewish people. I spent that summer re-learning much of what I had forgotten about Judaism. I started going to synagogue and meeting other Jewish students. As my senior year of college began, I was feeling increasingly connected with my people, my heritage and my history.
I formed the first pro-Israel student organization at UConn and began hosting a flurry of events on campus and attending conferences around the country. To this day I will never forget my first pro-Israel student conference. I have no way of describing the feeling of seeing the Israeli flag being waved overhead as we danced and sang; it was as if the State of Israel had just been declared. And for many of us, at that moment, perhaps it was.
Towards the middle of my senior year, before I had even made my first visit to Israel, I found myself trying to convince as many Jewish students as possible that the best and right thing for us to do was to make Aliyah. Most students I spoke with had never even begun to think of the implications of American Jews making aliyah. The way I saw it, there is only so much student activists can do to affect US government policy towards Israel, yet EVERY student, every person could come to realize their own historical role and its impact in bringing about G-D’s plan for the Jewish people by choosing to build their lives in Israel.
During winter break of my senior year, I made my first visit to Israel. What would it be like? Would I feel as though I were in a foreign country or a strange place? That’s how I expected it to feel and as my time in Israel passed, I mistook the lack of feeling of ‘strangeness’ as my own lack of receptiveness to spirituality. But it was so much simpler than that. The reason I didn’t feel like a foreigner is because I wasn’t. How foreign could things possibly feel when you are for the first time, no longer a stranger in a strange land? I was amused by the simplicity of it all; I really was home.
A Jewish state. The concept itself boggled my mind, yet alone the reality of walking the streets, seeing street and store signs all displayed in Hebrew. This is the only place in the world where we are not a small and often vulnerable minority. This is the only place where we can truly be ourselves, truly be at home. And the thing that stuck with me most throughout my visit was how safe I felt. I had become witness to a modern day miracle. I left Israel knowing that making aliyah was the only thing that made sense.
As things began to wind down and my senior year drew to a close, I continued to become increasingly aware of what a blessing it is to be part of the Jewish people. There is so much meaning to every day, to the holidays, to the year and life cycle – especially in the Jewish homeland where the seasons and daily life itself follow the flow of the Jewish calendar.
The summer after graduating I returned to Israel for a short visit, the next year for a professional internship and the following year I returned for graduate study and ulpan…aside from short trips to visit family, I never did leave Israel again. But those are stories for another time.
Next, I’m going to take a look at an extremely important and mostly ignored topic: the phenomenon of culture shock. Is it even possible for Jews to experience culture shock in Israel?