Walking the Land to Self-Discovery

Tags: Jewish Identity, Zionism, Diaspora, Inspiration and Hope, Social Media

by Zayde Stein

I have always felt a deep connection to my Jewish identity, but never so much towards Israel until I visited for the first time in 2019. I came to Israel on a BBYO Passport trip and instantly felt connected to the land and the People of Israel, but it was not until this summer, 2023, that I really gained a deeper understanding to how my faith and the land of Israel are connected to each other.

To me, being in the birthplace of not only Judaism, but Christianity and Islam in one land, shows the interconnectedness of all our foundations of life, learning, and culture shown through the history of the land. This reality vastly shifted my perspective as I learned more about Judaism and its starting history as I walked through the streets and hiked on the same ground our ancestors walked. This in turn allowed me to see that as the People of Israel, we are one and can achieve our highest potential when united.

Growing up, even though I wasn’t very religious, I connected to my Jewish identity in my own ways. Through stories my mom would share about her time living in Tzfat and Jerusalem where she learned about her own Jewish identity that she would later pass along to me and my sibling, to going to temple on Shabbat and during the holidays, to learning new interpretations of stories I had heard a million times. When I was younger, I knew I needed to be in the land of Israel to fully identify where I stood with my own personal beliefs.

Zayde's mother visits the Kotel (Western Wall)

Things began to shift for me on my program this summer where I began to learn about the ancestry of the land of Israel and where that fit into the Torah. I saw a new perspective and approach to Judaism and Israel, one that allowed me to question my beliefs and find answers that resonated. I realized that this lack of understanding that I was facing before my trip started is an issue that affects many others in my generation that don’t have a place to explore and question their faith. This inspired me to find resources that can help others who started where I was and begin to connect to their Judaism in Eretz Yisrael because I believe that seeing the places written in the Torah with your own eyes can help build a stronger, more meaningful connection to where we as a people come from.

Unfortunately, young people today are not being exposed to what it truly means to be a member of the People of Israel as they lack a strong connection with Judaism and Israel. Especially because there are many levels of Jewish identity and many polarized perspectives of Israel. The ongoing conflict, whether political, physical, or in the press, does not help matters because it portrays Israel in a way that makes the land seem unsafe and unwelcoming to people whose birthright it is to enjoy the land of milk and honey while learning about their roots and original homeland.

The issues we have with connecting to our Jewish identity and Israel can be solved through more open resources and less pressured discussion surrounding areas of topics of concern. With Jewish identity, many young people feel disconnected to the religion because it was forced on them as children, making the entirety of their Jewish identity and Jewish practice feel like a burden instead of a pleasure or a safe place to lean back on. This can come from sources of miseducation as well, since many of us have only been taught one way of thinking about Judaism that never resonated with our beliefs, creating a further disconnection.

When it comes to Israel, the misinformation through social media is one of the main reasons young people struggle to side with Israel, Jewish or not. Since the first introduction of social media, generation Z and Alpha leveraged these platforms for widespread forms of news with no filter for or awareness of credible and noncredible sources, creating massive amounts of misinformation on important topics, notably on Israeli conflicts. With better and more reliable information available from credible sources within Israel, like IsraelForever and other organizations, I feel this bridge can be connected and hopefully create less of a struggle to want to learn and connect with the country. Young people need to begin to realize that Israel is the place that can answer so many important questions about their culture, Judaism, and ancestry, they just need to open their minds to find the answer.

Israel is the birthplace of not one, but three of the primary religions in the world; Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. No matter how far away you live, you are connected to this country and its land, through its ancestry of extraordinary religious figures, like Abraham, Isaac, Leah, Rachel, and many more prophets, holy to the creation of all three religions. This is the land where, unlike most, you can see the living history in the streets and culture like no other, from its food and language, to building structure and activities.

Israel is also not only important for its historical components, but also its innovative style. The country is known as a “start-up nation” with 8.4 startups per million people, which is the largest percentage of any country in the world. Israel has produced hundreds of inventive technologies and products used by millions around the world like Waze, SodaSteam, drip irrigation, and cherry tomatoes, yet, the country stills goes virtually unrecognized for its contribution. This land holds so much value in such a small square mileage that no matter how you identify, you can find a meaningful connection to what Israel has to offer. These innovations, connections, and rich history have unfortunately become tainted by the misrepresentation of recent historical events, that leave a sour taste with those less informed about what is truly going on beneath the surface.

When telling a story as rich in history and controversy as the state of Israel has, there comes many contradicting opinions and views. With contradicting facts there also comes much bias and misinformation of how some things happened or are currently happening. With the “story of Israel” depending on who you talk to, either an Israeli-Jew, Israeli-Arab, Palestinian, a Jewish American, etc, you will get a different story as to who is “right” and who is in the “wrong”. To find a true, honest source of the “story of Israel”, people need to find organizations that have made impactful “cliff notes” or easily-understandable videos, ones that focus on conveying the information, and not just sensationalizing it for the sake of going viral or getting a few hundred more “likes” on social media.

For those unable to find their connection to Israel, I think a good idea is to deep dive into a fascinating history lesson on how Israel came to be through organizations like Unpacked, or StandWithUs. Then, learn about the current story Israel has through passionate and positive outlets like ISRAEL21c and IsraelForever. All these organizations teach you different aspects of what it means to see the state of Israel for its glorious history and culture based on facts, not bias.

With IsraelForever specifically, I feel there are many ways for us to make a lasting impact on those who have not been fortunate enough to have been to Israel. With the wide range of programs already available targeted to educate and inspire people on a deeper level, from 1,000 to 10,000 miles away, IsraelForever gives the insights and resources to find your connection.

This younger generation, however, is changing how we consume media, so we need to make our mark, promoting, educating, and inspiring this generation to be the ones to make the impact themselves to be able to keep Israel a worthy place to further learn about oneself. Through IFF’s social platforms, young people have all the educational resources available to really make a long lasting impact with low effort and immeasurable pride for our land and identity. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with this amazing organization and have an impact on others in my generation, and strengthen their Israel knowledge and connection.

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Tags: Jewish Identity, Zionism, Diaspora, Inspiration and Hope, Social Media