Who Are You When You Talk About Israel?
By Samantha Vinokor
I am an American.
I am an Israeli.
I am an olah chadasha.
I am a Jew.
I am a Zionist.
I am a woman.
I am an advocate.
I am an educator.
Many times, when one goes into a new setting, particularly when discussing Israel, one of the first instructions given is to leave your preconceived notions behind and come ready to process new information with a blank slate.
There is merit to this idea – it gives participants a chance to put their biases aside and contemplate new information for what it is, without relying on individual subjectivities.
However, at the same time, expecting people to leave aside their previous experiences and understandings, the building blocks that have brought them to a specific moment, leads to an inauthentic experience. Instead, I prefer the idea of bringing your full self to every conversation and situation.
By taking all past experiences, subjectivities, beliefs, and understandings, a person comes into every new situation as their complete, authentic self. This is the only way for true dialogue to occur, and lasting understandings to develop.
To bring one’s full self to a conversation about Israel is to embrace the inherent complexity of one’s own identity when they deal with Israel.
Past experiences, biases, and beliefs come together to create each person’s unique perspective on Israel. The countless factors that contribute to the overall composition of a person all come into play when they discuss Israel, reflecting the diversity of Israel and its endless uniqueness.
There is a seemingly infinite number of entry points to connecting with Israel, and to expressing that connection.
When I talk about Israel, I draw from a lifetime of experiences. I enter the conversation as a complete person, but the main part of my identity that I channel when talking about Israel has changed over time.
For years, I was an advocate, ready to defend Israel at every turn, to anyone who asked. I then emerged as a Zionist, grounding myself in ideology and history as I talked about Israel. As I embraced my career as a Jewish educator, my conversations about Israel turned into lessons, opportunities for me to expose others to my point of view, and give them the chance to express theirs as well.
And now? Now, when I talk about Israel, I feel like I’m doing it as an insider for the first time.
I feel confident that I have enough knowledge and understanding of the complexities of this place to “talk the talk” for years, but now that I’m living in Israel, I finally feel as though I’m able to “walk the walk” as well, and this shows up in my ability to speak about Israel.
Ultimately, it’s all about finding your Israel connection, and confidently articulating it to yourself, and to others.
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.