Frustration and Appreciation
by Daniella Shields
While working for Israel Forever, my fellow interns and I were given many opportunities that went beyond simple desk work. While all of these experiences were meaningful, a few stood out in particular. On one occasion, we were invited by Elana Heideman, our boss, to visit her home and spend a day in the surrounding Judean mountains. In addition, as it is one of her specific areas of expertise, she served as a private guide for our group on a trip to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum in Jerusalem.
When we arrived at Elana’s house, we were welcomed with open arms. My fellow interns and I had snacks, played with Elana’s bunnies, and took in the view surrounding us. After that, we went on a short hike in the mountains that ended up impacting me more than I expected.
Elana saw the impact our trip was having on us, and to give us an outlet to express how we were feeling, we went into a cave and drew. Because drawing is not my typical mode of expression, I chose to just sit and think. It was then that a group of young teenagers came into the cave, and I would soon come to realize that I don’t know Israeli perspectives as well as I thought. Being blessed to have been here so many times, I thought that I understood all that there was to know about the country, until I started talking with them.
The teenagers told us they were on an extremely intense four-day hiking trip with their friends. I asked them what they loved most about living in Israel, and two of the boys told me they didn’t love Israel, and they wanted to move away when they were older. That shocked and frustrated me. Reflecting back on this afterward, I realized where my frustration came from. Here I was, at 20 years old, questioning what I want my future to look like, and they already have the immense privilege of living here, one of my future goals. I was upset because the boys were living my dream and yet they didn’t appreciate all of the blessings they had from living here.
Flash forward two days. It was hot out, it was the 17th of Tammuz so I was fasting, and we made our way to Yad Vashem. This too was a place that I’d been before. I knew going in what would happen; I’d lose my voice and not feel like talking, which would take everyone by surprise as I’m normally an outgoing individual. Yes, this did happen. I was silenced by what I saw around me, different this time, as it was my first time visiting the museum since going to Poland. I heard what happened in Poland. I learned what happened in Poland. I finally saw firsthand the place where my family had been in Poland. I walked the grounds that they walked on, those who survived, and those who didn’t. Having had those experiences, this trip to Yad Vashem was particularly meaningful. On this trip, I didn’t feel frustrated with other people. The rooms were full with other tours, but the only effect that had on me was the profound sense of gratitude I felt from seeing the many tours that were made up of soldiers.
I am also grateful that I was able to go through Yad Vashem under the guidance of our boss, Elana Heideman. I think that everyone who has the possibility to visit Yad Vashem with Elana should take the opportunity. Elana interacted with each of us before going inside, asking us about our connections to the Holocaust, which gave us the space to feel vulnerable. As a result of this vulnerability, we were able to truly digest what we saw in the museum. Elana didn’t stop at every sign or graphic, instead, she chose a couple of central locations per exhibit and spoke on the room as a whole. This allowed us to move around, to listen to her descriptions while searching for what speaks to us personally. I appreciated this greatly, as it allowed me to take control of my Yad Vashem experience while still learning from Elana.
These deeper interactions, with Poland and Yad Vashem, have heightened my awareness of today’s reality. I see the same patterns of what happened in Poland in what’s happening currently in the United States. Sure, the Antisemitic actions aren’t usually huge. Sure, they are often done by thoughtless teenagers who are just trying to have a laugh. But, a laugh with support has the choice to go in one of two directions: towards good, or towards bad. In Europe, as history teaches us, those laughs turned into the Nuremberg Laws, which turned into ghettos and concentration camps, which turned into mass murder. Those “simple” laughs of heartless people had huge impacts, not only on my family, but on the entire Jewish people.
So, thinking back on the hike, I don’t think that I was really frustrated with the boys. Yes, they didn’t appreciate what they had by living here. But I realize now, how could I be frustrated with these boys when I am doing the exact same thing? I see what’s happening in America, and yet, I stay. I stay in America and I pretend that everything is okay. But they did that in Europe, too, and Yad Vashem shows what happened when the world ignored Antisemitism. I know what I would’ve done if I were in my family’s shoes in Europe; I would’ve left. So why am I still in America? Honestly, I go back and forth deciding whether or not I want to make aliyah. Moving across the world is not easy, and there are so many things that I appreciate about living in America. While I haven’t made a decision yet, I am thankful to these boys for making me aware of feelings and thoughts that I didn’t know I had.
These experiences were incredible for me. They both opened my eyes and my heart, and showed me where my priorities are. I’m not saying that I’m going to make aliyah tomorrow. I’m not saying I ever will. I will, however, take the lessons I learned from my time with Israel Forever into account when I do make my decision. With the hate we see towards Jews all over the world, it’s clear to me that what is often presented is a fictionalized version of Israel, a story that makes Jews out to be the villain. I hope people will still see the real Israel, the Israel that I love. I want to inspire others to think of Israel not as a burden, or something to escape from, but a part of all of us, a home that bonds together the Jewish people.