Every week on my secular gap year program, we have a rabbi come visit us to do a little thing we call “Parsha and Pizza.” While most people come mainly because of the free food, (who could pass up free pizza?!) there is always a lesson to take away.  In our warm, chatty and pizza filled apartment, our rabbi begins. He tells an animated story of everything that happened last week in the Torah. We hear about Jacob, Esau, and their fighting.  These brothers are used as a metaphor for the Jewish people and their ongoing clashes with the Roman Empire all throughout ancient history, bringing truth to the angel’s prophesy of the “two nations” inside Rebecca’s womb.  The Jewish people are represented by Jacob, the smarter, but less burly brother. Our in-house rabbi then gives us a little history of Jacob.  His other name is Israel, given to him after he wrestles with an angel.  The word ‘Israel’ means ‘Struggle with God.’


Here on my Israeli gap year, I’ve seen many struggles with God between myself and my friends.  We struggle with God by challenging our own beliefs, challenging each other’s beliefs, and looking for meaning in our lives.  I struggle with God by trying to connect to an ancient and prevalent history and soul of a people, while trying to keep it relevant to myself today.  


When I say we challenge each other's beliefs, I’m not just talking about religious beliefs.  We struggle to understand things that we’ve believed our whole lives that may not be true any more.  Over shakshuka yesterday morning, the recent tragedy in France came up in the sleepy discussion.  One of my friends said, “I’ve never heard of a Muslim that was peaceful. I don’t understand how people can love Islam so much if it’s so violent.” And just like that, our breakfast table woke up.  We brought up recent things that have happened in the news, the Arab-Israeli conflict, what we’ve learned in school, what we’ve learned from our friends and our parents. We talked about the difference between the Islam that my friends practice and the Islam that terrorists practice, and compared the terrorists and extremists in every religion. We tried to define opinions versus facts and my other friend spoke up, saying, “I think that’s just you as a Jew saying that.  You need to unlearn what you have been taught.”


So that’s what this year is about. We’re here in Israel to embrace our Judaism and our heritage, but we’re also here to struggle with it.  Just as Jacob wrestled with an angel, we too must fight.  Open your mind.  Fight to unlearn what you’ve been taught and discover who you are and what is around you.  


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