Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Welcome Home Gilad....עם ישראל חי

It’s been five years.

We’ve been waiting for today for five years.

The entire country has been holding its breath since his capture. Gilad Shalit… you couldn’t - you still can’t - walk a mile in Israel without seeing a sign with his face on it. I’ve attended rallies and marches, I’ve hung posters and signs with the words “גלעד עדיין חי” screaming at passerby in those blue letters we’ve all come to recognize. I have yellow ribbons in my room at university and at home, on every backpack and purse I own. I’ve visited the tent, bought tshirts, heard his parents speak. I’ve discussed and debated the prisoner trade with all of my friends, with a vehemence that suggests my opinion makes a difference. And every time I saw his name, I’d think to myself, “What if he was my brother?”.

Today, after months and months of negotiations, of protests, of his parents fighting tirelessly for his release – our Gilad finally came home.

So now what happens? The nation gets their son back, the Shalit family can begin to heal, and life goes on. But what about us, the ones who fought for him in our prayers, the ones who marched and yelled and cared and cried? This should not just be a moment in history that passes us by, a happy ending to a sad story. We must take this personally. We must allow it to affect our lives in a meaningful way – all of the pain we felt for the past half a decade cannot be forgotten because he has come home. We have to use the pain we felt for Gilad. Use it in a way that will make this all worth it.

Gilad sat in a Hamas prison cell for five years. I haven’t spoken to him, but I can imagine that all he wanted to do was come back home, come back to Israel. For Gilad, we needed to release over 1,000 terrorists so that he could be back here.

And now I am speaking to you, Jews in America. I want to ask you this.

How many terrorists will we need to release for you to come back? How long do you want to sit in confinement and pray until you get brought to Israel? Come home! Come back while you can, come while you’re free, come at a time that no one is stopping you! Come back to this country, to our country that needs you. Look at what we have done – an illogical trade of a thousand prisoners for one boy, for one son of one family. I didn’t know Aviva or Noam Shalit personally. I’ve never had a one on one conversation with either of them. But they are part of my nation, part of my people. And when they hurt, we all hurt. The only way we can survive is if we band together, if we all come together as one. Come home!

Let this be more than a homecoming. We can transform it into a catalyst. Please let us tell our children that this is when it all changed. That when Gilad came home, עם ישראל came home, because we finally realized just how much we all need each other.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

October 3, 2010 - Essay I wrote a year ago...

When I was in high school, one of my teachers did an experiment on our class. She would write a word on the board, and we would have to write down the first thing we thought of. It started off simply, “black”, “tree”, “rainbow”, and then progressed to “friendship”, “trust”, and “freedom”. Some of my answers were predictable, and some surprised me. I challenge you to surprise yourself. ISRAEL. What do you think? I’ll tell you what I think. When I see those letters, I simultaneously picture our flag, and think of “pride”.

I'm not the most political of people. Honestly, I don't understand most of what goes on in our government. But here’s what I can explain. I can tell you all about why I fell in love with this country. I can describe to you the past year since I’ve made Aliyah. I can convince you that moving here at age 17 against everyone else’s better judgment was the best decision I could have made. I can tell you that since moving here, my family has grown exponentially. I have added an entire country’s worth of people to my family tree. If you think I’m exaggerating, ask anyone if they’ve seen my missing brother, Gilad Shalit. He doesn’t know my name, or the thousands of names that are praying every day for his safe return, but it doesn’t matter. Here in Israel, we are all family.

Like most religious post-high school students, I came to Israel for my gap year. I knew that I wanted to live here, but in my mind it wasn’t even an option until at least after college or marriage. I have, thank God, five married siblings who all made Aliyah separately within the past eight years. Coming here was inevitable – it was all just a matter of time. I started my year in seminary like everyone else, but I felt as though I was wasting my time. On the academic front, I’ve never been very interested in non-interactive classes. On the social front, I hung out with my friends on Ben Yehuda every night, ate at Froyo, and met more American teenagers then I had known existed. All in all, I wasn’t feeling very productive. I decided to stray off the beaten track and leave seminary. I had no intention of leaving Israel – I was having the time of my life! The Israel I had grown accustomed to was exciting, always entertaining, and I had an independence I’d never felt before. I had about 5 months until the year was over and I’d have to go home. I had a few options of programs I could’ve joined, but I chose a Kibbutz Ulpan. I figured it’d be a fun experience and when I would eventually make Aliyah, it would be a huge advantage to already know Hebrew.

The Kibbutz was not quite what I expected. As I said before, the Israel I was used to consisted mostly of ice cream, pizza, teenage Americans, and occasionally a visit to the Kotel. This new Israel was a shock to me. The kibbutzniks were Israeli to the core, and would not speak English to me unless it was completely necessary. I went to their Purim parties, spent all my Shabbatot there, and immersed myself in the Jewish culture that made up their lives. I worked harder there then I’d ever worked in my entire life. My goals were to learn the language, and make Israeli friends. I did both, and did my best to assimilate into the Israeli culture. I bought Teva sandals, cut the collars off my T-shirts, and tried to fit “sababa” into every other sentence. As the five months passed slowly, my mother kept asking me when to book my return ticket for. I kept pushing off the conversation, not wanting to think about leaving Israel. For the first time in my life, I felt completely comfortable being myself. In America, I always found myself not really fitting into the labels or boxes my friends did. I had always tried to change myself to fit in to where I thought I wanted to be, or who the community expected me to be. In Israel, I realized the labels and boxes were mirages and mind-games. I could be whoever I wanted to be. And I wanted to be me.

If someone were to ask me to break down the reasons I made Aliyah, there are quite a few. There are the obvious ones to start with. I love living in a Jewish country – love seeing the “Shana Tova” message on the city busses, love seeing the bakeries selling matzah pizza around Pesach time, love not being looked at funny for wearing a skirt. From an ideological point of view, I believe that this is our homeland. Our forefathers spent their lives trying to get here and some never even made it. For us, all we need to do is get on a plane. Besides for that, I’m blessed with the fact that I have siblings here. Family is really important to me and the fact that the majority were already here was a big factor in my decision. Honestly though, most of these things were afterthoughts. The real reason I made Aliyah – I love who I am in Israel. I’ve become a person that I never imagined I could be in America. Israel has a certain freedom about it. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s such a small country, maybe it’s the fact that it’s only 62 years old – but here, I know that I matter. Here, I make a difference just by living. I am one of thousands of Olim Chadashim who are making a difference.

Everyone always speak about the “youth of the nation”. They say we are the ones who will shape the Jewish future. We are the ones who will create and design the world for our children, and theirs. We are the ones who CAN make a difference now. Everyone wants to make a change, be a part of something bigger. They say things like "if only I could..." If only I could donate a million dollars to Haiti. If only I could adopt a Chinese baby. We wait for someone else to do what we cannot, comforting ourselves with the knowledge that if we could have, we would have. Making Aliyah - YOU can do this! I am no different than any of you. Do you want to make a difference?

ISRAEL. What does it mean to you? Homeland, family, Judaism, history, just the freedom to be whoever you want to be.

For me, it’s pride. I am proud to be a part of our Jewish country. I am proud to make a difference here. I am proud to be Israeli.