We Are Still Fighting
By Jack L.
I’ve never been a religious person, haven’t even stepped foot in a synagogue for over 7 years. There is one thing I have always been proud of though - my Jewish heritage. For me, being Jewish always meant being proud of what my people have gone through, for what they persevered through time and time again. This gave me a feeling of respect toward the Jewish community. The conversations I had with members of my family, and with instructors in Hebrew school as a child gave me this connection.
I believe there is a lack of information about the Jewish history and community among young people today, myself included. This often leads to people struggling to understand or even have a Jewish identity. Growing up I always thought being a Jew wasn’t anything more than practicing Judaism. This concept changed when I went to Hebrew school and developed over the years into an identity that went beyond just the prayers and idea of an organized religion, or even a concrete belief in god. Being agnostic, those aspects never really stuck with me, and in some cases, I felt isolated from understanding what it meant to be a Jew because I couldn’t connect with the facets of faith that I apparently was supposed to just automatically accept as given. No, instead, I found comfort in our rich heritage. This heritage being our history, our customs, and our communities.
Growing up, I was surrounded by people who cared deeply about our heritage and culture. Especially my grandparents, who regarded that as more important than the religious aspects of Judaism. My family came from Russia, my great-great-grandfather was being persecuted for leading an underground Jewish organization, and escaped on one of the last boats to the United States. The boat was searched, looking for him, and the only reason he was able to escape detection was by hiding underneath my great-great-grandmother's skirt. It is stories like these that show just how much our people went through, just for existing. So it makes me very proud to say that I’m still around and a Jew, despite so many people who tried to prevent that very thing from happening.
None of my friends growing up ever spoke about visiting Israel. It was offered to us at our bar mitzvahs, yet none of us ever planned to take anyone up on the offer. We didn’t know much about Israel, but I always knew that Israel was important to our people. We were bound in our history, but I never really understood why until I came to Israel myself. Until I stepped onto the streets, felt Jewish culture and pride everywhere I turned, saw Jews of every walk of life wandering around me, living freely as Jews in a way that maybe I myself had never considered growing up as a typical Jewish American kid. Suddenly I realized, I’d never really had an identity as a Jew that was actually associated with Israel, with its significance in our people’s history or to our freedom today, and I am learning that I still don’t have much of one now. But the more time I spend here, and the more I learn about the meaning of Israel, the values that Israel stands for, the culture that my people - the Jewish people - have built literally out of sand to become a sprawling thriving society filled with diversity and pride. And the more I learn, see, hear, the more I feel connected with it.
I think simply visiting Israel is one of the best ways to make a difference in someone's identity as a young Jew especially. The best way to fix a lack of information on Jewish history would be to encourage people to learn but today, that is harder than ever. So the ability to come to where that history occurred and see it with one's own eyes is one of the most important tools to opening that person’s mind and heart to just how important Israel can and should be to a young Jewish person’s life.
The more I am witness to the amazing facts that make up our history, the more I believe Israel should matter to everyone, no matter how far away they may live. It's still our homeland - for 3000 years the only land we ever did call home. It’s a place that our people have fought and bled for, and a place that holds so much history for our people. This should all matter because it is constantly at risk of being taken away by people who don’t want us to have it. This place should matter to everyone because even if you don’t have the strongest connection to Israel, you can’t wait to see how important something is until it’s gone.
So, I sit here, typing this piece as a proud Jew. One who understands not just the hardships we have all gone through, but is beginning to understand the ones we are still fighting.