No Longer Half of Something
By Jordan Amorelli
My mother, born a Jew, and my father, born a Catholic, neither particularly religious in any way shape or form, decided to raise my brother and me in a way that would allow us to choose our own direction.
Religion was not a huge part of my childhood, with the exception of the holidays. Growing up, we celebrated Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter and Passover. We never went to temple or church; these holidays meant nothing more than just traditions - an extravagant meal surrounded by love and family. We also didn’t attend Jewish Day School or Confraternity of Christian Doctrine. For me, things began to change, however, after my first visit to Israel: Birthright January 2017.
I don’t think religion is for me, nor do I think that will ever change. I didn’t come to Israel to find that. I came here with the purpose of, what I feel like many other students would agree with -- a free trip. To my surprise and gratitude, it was much more meaningful than that.
Birthright opened my eyes to a land that has changed my life. It allowed me to experience Judaism in a way that I had never done so before. As I stepped off the bus in Jerusalem and we celebrated with challah and a toast, I felt at home.
I felt like I belonged here - despite my lack of religious knowledge, that didn’t seem to matter. The only thing that mattered was that we were Jewish and we were together. In that moment, as we were welcomed into the holiest place on earth, hand in hand with people who were strangers two hours prior, there was no fear and no second guessing, there was only happiness.
Stepping foot on this land, for real, and not just adhering to tabloids and the media, allowed me to take in the true beauty of Israel - something many people never experience. Here I was, an 18 year old traveling outside of the US for the first time and feeling sorry for those who have never touched down on this soil.
Finding myself culturally here solidified something for me. It filled a void in my life that I was always searching to fill but never truly realized that I had inside. Although kids were jealous of me for receiving more presents than them during the holidays, the thing that seemed to be missing was my strengthened understanding of “my religion”. I was always just “half Jewish, half Catholic”. After Birthright, I had a better understanding of the role I wanted in Judaism - it was comforting.
Before experiencing Israel, I didn’t feel like I wasn’t “doing Judaism right”. I felt like because I wasn’t a practicing Jew, I wasn’t embodying the rightfulness of the faith. I was persay “a bad Jew” because I didn’t attend Temple, or because I didn’t know all the prayers at the holidays or my local Rabbi. In the land of Israel, I was never questioned about my religious practices. I belonged on this land because I was Jewish. I belonged here because of my blood, not because of the way I did or did not fulfill a certain ritual. That’s when I began to understand that being Jewish is about more than religion. It’s about heritage, tradition, ancestry, culture. In Israel I am not “half Jewish,” I am all ME.
Now, I am learning that there are different ways of belonging, different Jews can find the ways that are appropriate for them. Israel will forever be a part of me and I am grateful for the gift she gave me - my presence in this country connected me to the people and culture in a way I didn’t know was possible.
I hope others will also put their fears aside, travel across the Atlantic, explore and possibly find what they might not realize is missing but can be found in Israel. It’s an experience that can change your life.