I’m sitting in Cafe Hillel on Jaffa street about to get a goat cheese sandwich. Our program has ended and although not everyone has left for the airport I had some gifts to get and broke off on my own. As I observe the people around me, I could be in any city, the US or otherwise. The main difference is that everyone around me is presumably Jewish, this is the draw of Israel, the land where Jews rule, where we are the majority- finally! But what if I don’t want to be the majority? What if I like having non-Jews around me, like feeling special, more responsible for being a good person.
We visited the Israel museum yesterday and one of the things I took away was that the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, ink on parchment scroll, the tree of life, was the same- no matter where in the world, no matter what time period- from the first moment these stories had been written down, they have continued, word for word, letter by letter. This is the heart of Judaism that beats inside every Jew, religious or not. What changes is what it looks like on the outside, the physical case, the Synagogue, the geographical place, the time period, the culture of the non-Jewish neighbors, the thoughts and feelings of the Jews who read from it, and Israel is but one expression of what Judaism looks like as expressed as a nation for the last 60+ years. As I have previously stated, if there was nothing else that connected me to another Jew, I can appreciate that our Jewish essence is the same.
From this, my thoughts as our trip came to a close (having not re-read my previous posts) was that my connection to Israel is not to the societal norms, the politics, the religion, or the land, but to the people I’ve met who have shown me my place in the Israeli Jewish community. I know people here now, I could call up someone and stay at their place (thanks Chase!), I could navigate the streets, and bargain in the shuk. I would assume, however, that I would have the same feelings if I were to spend two weeks immersed with, say, the Brazilian Jewish community.
I’m walking away from this experience a different person than when I arrived disheveled and sleep-deprived last Monday morning. I am able to view Israel with more informed, knowledgeable, and rightfully critical eyes. I do not yet know how this will manifest itself when I actually do return home and begin classes- knee deep in my thesis research, finance and budgeting, issues in philanthropy, program evaluation, cross-sector leadership, and my internship. How will I feel after I’ve re-read my blogs, re-living my experience from the view point of the end?
What I do know is that this has been a once in a lifetime experience and that I look forward to returning to Israel on an organized trip with family to learn more about myself and the Jewish people. I would also be quite interested in visiting other Jewish communities to see how Judaism is expressed in South America, Africa, China, or Europe. I also feel very blessed and appreciative of being Jewish (thanks Mom!) and having a wonderful world-wide Jewish community that I can connect to simply because I am Jewish.
Not everyone has that, but I do, and for that I am forever grateful!
Michelle Westmiller is a first year student in HUC-JIR’s School of Jewish Nonprofit Management, earning a dual degree in Public Administration from the University of Southern California. She is also a graduate of the first cohort of HUC-JIR’s Certificate in Jewish Education for Adolescents and Emerging Adults. This post, along with a number of other reflections from her participation in the SJNM Israel Seminar, first appeared on her blog on December 28: http://thebestblogyouvereadtoday.blogspot.com/2012/12/sigh-and-then-there-was-one.html