by Jake Fenton
I recall vividly the day that I found out I was Jewish. I was walking to the local swimming pool, my 8-year-old hand holding my mother's when she asked me what I learned at school earlier. I said I had a religious studies lesson and explained that we had been learning about Judaism. “Oh, you’re Jewish, by the way”, she exclaimed. I still remember the mix of shock and confusion on my face as I reacted to what she had just said. I later found out about matrilineal descent and its determination of Jewry. And yet, since then, Judaism never really entered the discussion and I didn’t connect with my Jewishness until about eight years later when my mother decided it would be a good idea to go on a family holiday to Israel.
Arguably I didn’t know what to expect. I was intrigued to discover more about the holy land and how it related to me and my journey of faith (at the time, I was agnostic). It didn’t hit me until I was standing in front of the Western Wall, wearing the white Kippah I was provided before entering the men’s side. With my right hand pressed up against the stone, emotions flooded my head. Surrounded by various segments of the diaspora of the nation of Israel, in the promised land, Orthodox, Hasidim and Reform Jews altogether at the holiest site that our forefathers had built at the time of Moses.
I was surrounded by the Jewish people, my people. The State of Israel had brought me alongside my fellow Jewish brothers and sisters to where my ancestors had prayed, longed and dreamed of being.
The 8-year-old boy who would have never guessed that he had Jewish ancestry was finally connected. Amidst the initial ambiguity surrounding the significance of my heritage, a profound and irresistible connection to the country I was visiting began to envelop me. In that transformative moment, I comprehended the extraordinary nature of the Jewish State, a miraculous haven for a culturally distinct people who had endured unrelenting persecution, expulsion, and extermination throughout history. Here, they had finally discovered a sanctuary where safety and a sense of belonging were no longer elusive dreams.
Throughout my journey, the indispensability of a nation that embodies the world’s oldest and most unique history and culture became increasingly apparent, offering every Jew a firm sense of identity and self-determination. An uncharted personal identity, barely surviving the pressures of modern secularism, now found a solid foundation for preserving the continuity of Jewish lineage and fostering its flourishing growth.
As a student of politics, I have come to recognize the intricate complexities that often plague Middle Eastern nations. Yet, I was genuinely astounded by the remarkable freedom and progressiveness that thrived within Israel, defying the stereotypes imposed by its geographical location. It impressed me deeply how Israel achieved a delicate equilibrium between religious and secular principles, seamlessly blending modernity with a steadfast commitment to tradition. Remarkably, it stood as the sole bastion of Western values in the Middle East, pioneering advancements in LGBTQ+ rights, gender equality, and safeguarding freedom of speech against government interference and political coercion.
The disheartening reality emerged that certain individuals harbored an insidious desire to dismantle this remarkable nation and harm its people. Such a notion deeply troubled me as I beheld a society striving to create a better world, a nation whose remarkable accomplishments should be championed and safeguarded. In light of the increasing use of terms like ‘Anti-Zionism’ as a vehicle for anti-Semitism and a means to ignite conflict, I found myself compelled to take a stand.
The alarming rise of such a narrative served as a catalyst for my unapologetic embrace of Zionism and my subsequent involvement with the Israel Forever Foundation. By actively demonstrating my unwavering support, I strive to make a meaningful impact and contribute to a world where the Jewish state is celebrated, and the Jewish people can thrive without fear or prejudice. With the help of the many Jews of similar backgrounds to my own, we can challenge the distorted perceptions, foster understanding, and build a future rooted in unity and peace.
Preserving Jewish identity, acknowledging the remarkable achievements of the Jewish state, and countering distorted narratives are vital endeavors that require our attention and support. Through active engagement and support of Israel Forever, we have the power to contribute to a world that recognizes the historical and cultural significance of the Jewish people and the land of Israel. By promoting education, advocating for truth, and fostering community engagement, we can cultivate unity, peace, and understanding, guaranteeing that Israel and its exceptional accomplishments are celebrated, safeguarded, and cherished for generations to come.