From Far Away to Finding Home

Tags: Jewish Identity, Zionism, Diaspora, Inspiration and Hope

Israel has been a big part of my life from schools, camps, holidays, and even vacations to Israel. Having grown up in a large Orthodox Jewish community in New York, most of the people I interacted with also felt a huge Israel presence in their lives.

Although in my upbringing Israel was very apparent, in reality, Israel was a far away concept and country that I did not really connect to. I sang songs about Israel, visited Israel, spoke about Israel on holidays and learned history about Israel. But I did not have a deep connection to land or the people of Israel.

I understood “why Israel,” but I had to ask myself “what was my personal connection to Israel?” There were no specific moment that instantly grew my connection, but many moments that laid the groundwork for my year in Israel when I was able to deepen my connection to Israel.

After spending a gap year in Israel, I realized the difference between being TOLD that Israel is my home and EXPERIENCING that Israel is my home. During this year, I lived in Jerusalem, learning about Judaism and exploring the country. I was inspired by the history of the Jewish people and their journey to Israel, which helped me maintain my connection to Israel while living in the diaspora. I realized that it was necessary for me to examine my Jewish identity and my connection to Israel, which are intricately intertwined. As a result, I began to look back on my family’s Jewish story and why Israel was the center of that story.

My mother was born in Morocco with a large Jewish family that was flourishing over the many generations that they were there after being expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition. However, over the years that she grew up slowly her family began to disappear to France, Canada, America and Israel due to the increasing antisemitism that surrounded her. My mother would tell me stories of how she and her siblings would have to walk to Jewish school with bodyguards to protect them from the rocks being thrown at them. Eventually, it became unbearable, and my family immigrated to the United States.

On my father’s side, his paternal grandfather, my great-grandfather, was raised in Poland but immigrated to Canada for a teaching job a few years before World War II broke out. My great-grandfather left being parents and ten siblings to be murdered in the concentration camps in Europe. My family is all that is left from my great-grandfather side.

This is my family’s Jewish history: running and exile. However as I was spending my year in Israel, there seemed to be a new chapter opening, one where my family does not need to run anymore. I looked around to what I saw in Israel, Jews celebrating, learning, and living together, and I realized I belonged. This is my culture, my family, and my home. Furthermore, it became clear to me that by tracing my family ancestry that Israel is the place that Jews, my people, could call home.

Therefore, when I first came across Israel Forever Foundation for the first time I was excited to see a non-profit organization that celebrates personal and communal connection to Israel throughout the world. Israel Forever aspires to create and maintain positive relationships with Israel through exciting programming locally and online. Moreover, these programs engage people across the world to explore their Jewish identity and love for Israel. Therefore, I hope to inspire others to explore their connection to Israel and their Jewish identity through engagement programming, and encourage them to be proud of their identity. Furthermore, I look forward to spending a summer in Israel and continuing to deepen my connection with Israel.

Lauren Kirshenbaum

Lauren Kirshenbaum majors in Design and Technology at New York University. On campus, she is an active member at both the Hillel and Chabad. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, dancing, sewing and drawing.

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Tags: Jewish Identity, Zionism, Diaspora, Inspiration and Hope