My Zionist Story
By Samantha Vinokor
For many years as an Israel advocate and educator, I felt a certain disconnect from my peers, and eventually my learners.
I don’t remember developing a connection with Israel.
I was nine years old during my first visit, and even at that point, I had been hearing about Israel around the dinner table for years. Having an Israeli family, my connection with Israel was always very personal and integral to my identity, and I never really had to think about it.
Prior to going to college, I visited Israel regularly, on a combination of family trips, youth group trips, and advocacy missions. I enjoyed annual visits to Israel, and a deeply personal relationship with the country and the people, something that in retrospect I took for granted.
Yet, no matter how normal it was for me to visit Israel and to engage with Israel, the country never lost its magic for me. I never reached the point of being desensitized, or disenchanted. Rather, the opposite happened.
Each Israel experience filled me with an even greater sense of purpose, of connection, and of an unquenchable desire to be a part of this place that meant so much to me.
In many ways, I felt a degree of sadness about being born in a time when (it felt like) the fight for Israel was over. My great-grandparents were part of the generation of halutzim, and while they didn’t work the land in the iconic image of kibbutzniks, they settled and built up Tel Aviv. My grandparents were there for the founding of the State of Israel, with stories of childhood memories of real events that sounded like fairy tales to me: The King David Hotel. Altalena. Ben Gurion. Even my father, with memories of old Tel Aviv and classic Israel.
I was jealous of these stories, and of those that I read about in the books that I devoured. I wished that I had been born in a time when Israel was still being shaped, when I could have really contributed to the building of the State.
Over time, as I got to know Israel on a deeper level, going beyond the myth to the reality, I realized that, although established, Israel was far from complete. The young country, still less than a century old, is continuously being shaped, and there is more than enough work to enable me to contribute to building the reality of the Zionist dream.
I became involved in campus activism and hasbara, Israel advocacy, using my passion for Israel to advocate on its behalf and to inspire others to do the same. I hosted events on campus, championing causes such as Gilad Shalit and raising awareness about the rockets that continued to fall on Israel in times of “peace.”
I discovered that I had a sense of personal fulfillment when I did these things, and felt that I was doing my part on behalf of Israel from abroad, by enabling others to engage with the place that I loved more than anything.
My love for Israel took on the form of a long-distance relationship. Strong feelings peaked during annual visits, and in the intervals I counted down the days until we could reunite once again. This culminated in my decision to make aliyah, and move to Israel. I moved to Jerusalem, in a fairly spontaneous decision that allowed me to live a dream that had been building for over ten years.
Moving to Israel fulfilled me in certain ways, but in many others left me searching for a new sense of purpose. Living in Israel, in many ways I’ve fulfilled the Zionist dream, and therefore needed to find a new way to channel my passion.
I’ve found that the most meaningful way for me to continue to express my Zionism is through education.
By teaching others about Israel, sharing my experiences, and providing paths for others to develop their own meaningful relationships with Israel, I am able to continuously deepen my own Zionism by seeing Israel through different eyes.
Israel means something different for everyone, and everyone connects with the Zionist idea in a different way. Mine, I have found, is through others, and through the relationships that I watch develop as each individual finds their own home in Israel, and simultaneously deepens my own appreciation for this place.
Samantha Vinokor is a native New Yorker who recently returned to the US after three years in Israel. She is currently living in Washington, DC, and working as a Jewish Educator. More about Samantha's freelance work, experiential education initiatives, and blogging can be found HERE.