How I Became a VIP (Very Israeli Person)
By Ariella Charny
It’s June 2009. I am in Israel on a CAMERA Student Leadership trip, on the phone with my mother:
“Mom, I want to join the IDF.”
Now fast-forward to the present day - in just two months I will enlist in the IDF Spokesperson's Unit. I was almost 19 years old at the time I called my mother. It took me a while. A decision over 5 years in the making.
It’s the realization of a dream. I guess it’s not the typical dream. Others dream of being a dancer, a doctor. Still others dream of being the president or an astronaut. My brother, at age three, confidently asserted his ambition of “driving the big green garbage truck” when he grew up. I could never quite decide on that one thing I wanted to be.
My aspirations spanned from being an artist to a lawyer to an environmental scientist, and then back to artist...and then that CAMERA trip lead to a university concentration, which lead to a career path, which lead to a life path, which lead to the decision to make 'Aliyah', which lead to enlistment in the IDF.
I guess I felt it for many years but never quite said it until now; I dreamed of becoming an Israeli - a 'VIP', or Very Israeli Person.
From then on, that simple question from the Swedish tourists at Park Guell in Barcelona suddenly took on a whole new level of significance.
“So, where are you from?"
Israel. Not France, not Australia, not Turkey, not Brazil, not Japan. Certainly not the USA, the magnificent country I am very proud to be have been raised and educated in.
I answered: "Israel". I can see in that flash of a moment, all of the articles and pictures along with all of the assumptions and associations that Swedish couple have when the word “Israel” swirls through their minds. I smiled and bid them a wonderful vacation.
I am an Israeli citizen now and from now on everything that Israel is and is perceived to be is stamped across my forehead.
How should I put it?
A lot of people are not so fond of Israel. If they are not 'so fond of Israel' then they are ambivalent or at the least confused. They hear a little of this and a little of that and they certainly don’t like to pick sides.
And there are those who hate Israel with the very core of their being and consider every human ill on this planet, including shark attacks, to be the fault of Israel - people who patrol the internet spewing sizzling nuggets of callous hate at the very mention of the word “Israel,” even if it was a typo, who would rather see kittens drowned in a bucket than so much as smile at a Zionist.
But most, most are just confused.
And here I was, a person that was driven to tears, full of emotion at Ben Gurion airport when I saw that photo exhibition of all those immigrants arriving in Israel from Yemen, Ethiopia and Russia; a person that can watch the IDF’s rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” on endless repeat; a person that experiences bouts of excitement at the idea of social gatherings in Israel that include religious Jews, Arab Muslims and everyone in between in an all around spectacular display of coexistence giving me hope in the spirit of humankind.
So, I did it. I put on the “Israeli” hat and marched outside.
It’s certainly not easy. I constantly miss my family and friends back in the U.S. I am exceedingly more sensitive than the average Israeli to rude clerks in stores. I fruitlessly and endlessly struggle to avoid the blazing sun here. And did I mention there was a war here just over the summer?
I put on that hat because just as the dancer was meant to undulate with majestic beauty, just as the doctor was meant to pour every ounce of their ingenuity into saving a life, so I was meant to be an Israeli I was meant to inspire the world with the vibrant, raw, beautiful, heart-wrenching, monumental story-in-the-making that is Israel.
World take note: when you face Israel, you face me; when you google Israel, you google me; when you think Israel, think of me; and, when you think VIP, think Very Israeli Person.
Ariella Charny, former CAMERA Fellow at Tufts University, made aliyah to Israel after graduation. After working as a marketing consultant for CAMERA over the past year, she intends to begin her national service to the Israel Defense Forces in the Spokesperson’s Unit this month. Ariella is a native of Needham, Massachusetts and currently resides in Tel Aviv.