Israel at my Jewish Core
Growing up in a religious community, I had learned about the connection between Jews and Eretz Yisrael, and how that relationship had been set in stone since the times of the Pentateuch. But though I was taught about our ancient, religious connection I was unsure how to view the modern State of Israel.
When I was in sixth grade, I was presented with two then-current Israeli events: One of my Judaic studies teachers stated that the initiative to plant trees in Israel was a silly proposal promoted by the Israeli secular government, and that I should not support it.
Then, my Jewish history teacher handed out an Israeli news article that related a missile attack that landed in Jerusalem. To my surprise, the teacher highlighted that the only victim of the attack was an irreligious Israeli who sold non-kosher meat. I felt confused: Should I be against the development of my own people and homeland? How could I be, given the inherent spiritual connection that I was meant to possess? And what was the moral of the attack- that the missile struck only one person out of hundreds of Israeli Jews, or that someone who was not religious deserved to be killed? I sought out what I realized was much-needed education, but I did not know where to look.
It was not until my senior year when my yeshiva high school hired a new principal that my eyes were opened further. He set out to instill an appreciation of Israel in the hearts of the students and to create opportunities for them to advocate for Israel in a variety of ways. I attended his elective “History of Israel” course, including Q&A discussions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, and visual presentations of Israel’s current events. He also emphasized that anti-Semitism, anti-Israel activism and terrorism are one and the same.
The atmosphere of the classroom was dynamic and everyone was encouraged to take part and develop their own thoughts on the different topics we discussed. This radically shifted my perspective of my connection to Israel. I realized that the country is as integral to Judaism as a State as it is a spiritually rich country in which Jews are meant to live.
I understood that I could form a personal connection to my homeland, and support it, despite the physical, religious, and political biases that threatened its existence. In March of that year, Danny Ayalon, former Israel Ambassador and among the original supporters of The Israel Forever Foundation, came to address the importance of pro-Israel activism in schools across America and internationally. Ayalon stressed that rather than solely utilize speech and history as tools to garner support for Israel, organizations and individuals who wish to promote and educate Israel’s fight against its enemies need to include social media outlets in order to more efficiently and quickly inspire virtually everyone around the world.
This launched my interest in Israel activism and I wanted to do more. I joined my school’s Israel Action Club, hanging up posters urging students to support our homeland. I started clipping relevant and riveting stories about terrorist attacks happening at the time, using them to spread awareness about the current hostility against Israel. And that June, I proudly marched at the Celebrate Israel Parade in NYC, chanting “Am Yisrael Chai” with my friends and schoolmates.
It was in my gap year in Israel at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah where I gained a greater appreciation not only for Eretz Yisrael as a holy place but also for Torat Eretz Yisrael. Through learning Rav Kook’s teachings, that emphasized our practical purpose in the land and spiritual bond to the land as a united source of inspiration. Hiking beautiful paths that spanned the land, from the mountainous landscapes and hot climates of the Negev and the Machtesh (literally “crater”) in the South to the breathtaking valleys of Meron and the Golan in the North further strengthened my spiritual connection to this land that had somehow become so ingrained in every fibre of my being. Everything that I had built up to in my learning led to this immense feeling of fulfillment I felt with each new adventure.
Equally as breathtaking was celebrating Chagim. From Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, through Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, Pesach, Yom Hashoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom Ha’atzma’ut, I became immersed in the collective observance of our Jewish traditions while living in our Jewish national and ancestral homeland - each one an experience I will never forget. And then one year in Israel turned into two, as I found myself unable to tear away from the pull of this land and all that it had come to mean to me.
When my parents and siblings visited from America and we hiked “The Salad Trails” in the Negev, their passion for Eretz Yisrael and its centrality to our lives as Jews were all I needed to continue my time living Israel in every way I could, encouraging me to capture and consciously appreciate the opportunities that G-d gave me to be in the Holy Land.
When I came back to New Jersey to attend college, I was struck by the sudden change in my reality. While on Rutgers-New Brunswick campus, I noticed that some professors and students promoted antisemitic/anti-Israel rhetoric, which threatened the New Brunswick Jewish community at large. My Israel experience had strengthened my resolve that we can never be silent in the face of the hate. Along with other Jewish students, I openly expressed my strong disapproval of such opposition. As my activism on campus grew, I was appreciative of the resources and community at Rutgers University that provided an outlet for a voice that was wrestling to be heard and ways that I could truly make a difference. These opportunities, as well as others, have truly enhanced my knowledge, passion and appreciation for Eretz Yisrael. However, as I seek to expand my involvement in Israel activism, I realize that I - we ALL - need to learn how to effectively share Israel’s significance as well as its historical, personal, and communal connection to the Jewish nation. It just isn’t obvious to everyone, and not everyone reacts to exposure to the negative experiences by turning their pursuit into activism. Many just don’t have the time, patience or energy to make the active commitment to advocacy and activism on the front lines whenever possible.
Joining the team at The Israel Forever Foundation, I was excited to gain professional skills and to learn from the collaborative interaction with other talented graphic designers and marketers while learning technological elements with which I can develop my graphic skills. But beyond these tools that I will take with me in my career, I already sense how much more I will take with me in my life as a Jew, and as a Virtual Citizen of Israel.
Every one of us needs to find our way to be involved, take action, and do SOMETHING. Whatever our experiences may be, every one of us deserves to feel the belonging, commitment and pride that can come with being engaged and inspired to do something MORE, to make a difference for the sake of our people, for the sake of Zion.
Will you make the choice to share your Jewish pride to the world as a Virtual Citizen of Israel? And what more do YOU want to do with your voice? It all starts with putting OUR ISRAEL - our home, our heritage - at the core.
Nathaniel (aka “Tani”) Siegelman is a budding graphic designer creating logos and header designs for professionals and entrepreneurs. At Rutgers University-New Brunswick, he serves as a gabbai/minyan leader and as a social board member for the Chabad House; he is also involved with the Hillel House. Aside from utilizing Adobe programs and Microsoft Powerpoint for design work, he loves to play basketball and the drums; post on social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, Wordpress, and Wix; learn Tanakh, Mishna, and Chassidut; study psychology and anatomy; and read motivational and self-help works.