The Moments That Led Me Here
I never realized that I lived in a bubble until I left it. Growing up in New Jersey, only half an hour away from New York City, being Jewish was almost “nothing special” - we made up a large part of my community, and even my public high school closed for many of the high holy days. on-jewish students knew a lot about the Jewish religion and culture and it didn’t ever seem like something that was really a big deal.
Like most Jews, I attended Hebrew school and went to Temple on occasion, however I never seemed to be able to form a connection to Judaism through the institution and stopped my Jewish education immediately after my Bat Mitzvah. Having completed this rite of passage, I always knew that I would be Jewish and would never want to be anything else, but I did not yet know what it meant to me or why it mattered.
There was no one specific moment when my connection to understanding myself as a Jew was forged, but rather a series of moments. It was when I was tutoring an exchange student from China in English and realized that his whole view of Judaism was based on stereotypes - primarily negative ones. It was my cousin joining the BDS movement. It was my parents forcing me to remove my Star of David before traveling so that I would be safe abroad. It was realizing that I would never take it off because I will not hide my identity.
In truth, before leaving New Jersey, I did not even realize that there were Jews who did not support Israel. To me it seemed like the most natural connection: being Jewish meant having a home in Israel. When I arrived at Brandeis University, it was jarring to hear how strongly people felt about Israel, Jews and non-Jews alike. Like when my friend told his Jewish roommate that he did not believe Israel should have been created. Or when half the girls in my Jewish sorority would not let a Birthright representative come and speak to us. Or when “Stop Lying to Young Jews. Free Palestine” was graffitied on an pro-Israel peace cube on Holocaust Remembrance Day.
It became clear to me that American Jews have forgotten why we need Israel and how necessary it is. Somewhere along the line being American has become their main identity and their Jewish identity has taken a backseat. Therefore, they no longer feel the pull to Israel that comes with being Jewish. Whereas for me, my father’s parents were immigrants in America, displaced by the war, with very little surviving relatives. For me, I was not an American, I was a Jew because we were only in America because of that simple fact: because we did not have a home. Therefore, I always saw Israel as a safe haven that existed for me and my family, something that we did not have before.
Coming to Israel for the first time is like nothing I have ever experienced before. Not only am I able to witness firsthand the evidence of how Israel is NOT an apartheid state, as so many claim, but that it is in actuality a flourishing democracy. Honestly, when I was in Tel Aviv, it was hard to believe that I was in the Middle East and not California.
Living in America you can recognize that Israel is the only Jewish state in the world, but being in Israel is living it. It is the ONLY place where being Jewish puts you in the majority, where being Jewish does not separate you or alienate you. No matter how much people insist America is secular or is a “melting pot” of identities and ethnicities, being Jewish is a disadvantage. Whereas in Israel, being Jewish in Israel is celebrated, however you practice. Sure there are issues that make a Jewish society so challenging, and part of the criticism I heard from fellow students. But being here it is surreal to see how celebrated Jewish identity is in such a different way than living as a Jew in the Diaspora.
The love and celebration of life is unlike any other place in the world. It is contagious, and it is inspiring, making me wish more Jews in the world could share in this celebration even before they are able to come here. What a powerful thing the feeling of pride could be for our people if we were to unite in spite of our differences of opinion… and what a powerful thing our commitment to Israel could be if we work together to fight the hate by not joining in their chorus of misinformation and manipulation of the truth.
The world right now is at a crossroads and Jews today cannot afford to be divided. When I first came across Israel Forever, I immediately knew that this would be a meaningful way to fight the disillusionment growing between some Jews in the world and our ancestral homeland of Israel. Perhaps we can change the way the next generation recognizes the value of being proud and engaged with the deeper meaning of our historical connection and our role in the future. Israel can be many things to many people, and Israel Forever is a great way to find what it can mean to you.
Melissa Frank is an Economics major with minors in Legal Studies and Hispanic Studies at Brandeis University. A natural-born leader, Melissa is actively involved in her community, a board member of Sigma Delta Tau, and captain of her competitive mock trial team. Melissa works to be a passionate voice for social engagement with the law, culture, and, now, Israel.
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