Privilege and Responsibility: Grappling With Israel in Exile
By Ariella Amshalem
I would like to reveal my true self to you.
I am a “nut”.
I am trying not to let that stop me.
I am an adult. I am expected to have leanings and opinions. I am theoretically supposed to have my own set of values.
That being said, there is something distinct about the subject of birthright and peoplehood that seem to make some people uncomfortable. I happen to be in the contingent claiming that it is the unique privilege and responsibility of each and every Jewish person to grapple with their relationship to Israel, their birthright to this country and their significance as a Jew in a nation of Jews.
The modern world being what it is, I will not go so far as to say that it’s an obligation to live in Israel. The world is too messy and complicated for that.
That line of thought is idealistically naive as displacement characterized much of Jewish history. Aside from this, it also can be quite a turn-off for people who want to have a relationship with Israel but for whatever reason find Aliyah (immigration to Israel) outside the realm of reality.
It has taken me a long time to figure out that living in Israel is a privilege; like a lot of children who grew up or spent much of their childhood in Israel, it was just a place I (often) preferred over another.
Sometimes Israel was a place I ran from. Sometimes Israel was a place I ran to.
Each time I find myself on one side of the ocean or the other I gain a greater perspective on Israel’s role in my life and clarity around my connections to the land.
Whether Israel is home by birth, choice, or default, each Israeli I have ever met has contemplates these sometimes tenuous connections.
They have either dealt with or are currently dealing with the similar questions of what it means to be a Jew in the Jewish land and whether or not the benefits outweigh the sacrifices. Despite this observation, I have arrived at an entirely different line of thinking - so much so, that not only have my answers changed, but so have the questions.
I am currently in my third or fourth exile from Israel (depending on how you count it considering pre/post adulthood) and it has finally become easy to explain, at least to myself and others on a similar journey, why being in Israel is a privilege I hope to earn for good next time around.
When I am in Israel, whether I am walking alone, sitting with a friend, singing around a table with people I love or have just met, or even filling out forms at a government ministry, I feel the presence of something greater than myself, greater than the collective.
This feeling, transcendence of the individual to the collective, is the opposite of emptiness and of loneliness - it is a feeling of ‘rightness’ and belonging.
Although it is a privilege being Israeli, being part of the people of Israel, this feeling is not unburdened. Israel is a mess - imperfect in many ways that sometimes are easy or tempting to ignore (other times like this past summer, less easy, but perhaps more tempting) and overwhelming when we consider the responsibility that we should be taking on, as part of this tiny tribe, to better our land and our relationship with all the people in it.
I will say that this too is part of the privilege.
I want to stop thinking of Israel’s problems as simply a sadness and a burden on us as a people and instead see them for what they are, an opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth for us an individuals and as a nation.
I want to stop asking why we have these 'problems' and to start the process of introspection, challenge ourselves to change so that we can actually find and moreover, feel peace with our neighbors: religious and secular; Arab, Kurd and Armenian; Christian, Alawi and Muslim.
The questions I want to be asking are: WHY we were given these particular challenges? What are we meant to learn about ourselves through them?
There is so much work to be done in Israel, inner and outer. Israel is not whole and neither am I.
I hope I can earn the privilege of doing that work, there, in my land, in my home, and I hope it is soon.