“Why do you want to write about Israel, everybody hates us?” A new acquaintance asked as he was driving me around Beersheba one early evening two months ago. I took the train from Tel Aviv to the progressive capital city of Negev in southern Israel to interview him about the sports association he was leading. I told him that halfway through my visit, I decided to write about his country.

It was my first time in Israel and I was there for an extended break and to spend time with my parents who were training leaders of Filipino churches from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

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“I was taught to love Israel,” was my sincere yet also knee-jerk response. His comment on how some people feel about his country wasn’t surprising. A quick read of Israel’s history or a quick search of others’ opinion about the country will confirm his conclusion. My perspective and feelings toward Israel was molded early in life, and although others were taught to hate the country, I was taught to love her, her people, and her history.

The Old Testament of the Bible played a huge role in my upbringing. As a kid, I would sing in school about Abraham, and that he had many children. I know that out of Abraham’s descendants came forth the Jewish race. Growing up, I would always listen to the story of a shepherd boy named David defeating the giant Goliath only with a slingshot, and eventually becoming the most prominent king of his country; reigning over one of the most prosperous times in Israel’s history. I also learned how Moses led the Exodus from Egypt, how Esther helped save the Jewish people from annihilation, and many other Bible stories.

As a teenager, I remember watching Schindler’s List and as a fresh college graduate my first and only visit to the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC, is still vividly ingrained in my memory. Both experiences gave me a visual narrative on the evil that hate can cause, and how the Jews were the recipients of this terror. They were also reminders that citizens of a civilized world must never allow anything like the holocaust to happen again.

My parents began regularly visiting Israel in the early 2000s, and after every trip they would share about how much they love the country. They would describe how Shabbat is observed, Israel’s colorful and rich public squares, Jewish families celebrating their faith and family at the Western Wall, and vendors extending their warmth to Filipinos like us – even speaking our native tongue when inviting to their stores in the Old City. All of these I’ve seen and experienced firsthand on my first visit.

As I was molded and influenced to love Israel, it never occurred to me that hating other peoples or nations were a prerequisite for showing my affection for this country. It is possible to love Israel while also celebrating other cultures and nations that may or may not be in conflict with her politically.

My environment, my experiences, and my education have inculcated in me a love for Israel that until recently was simply a name I would hear in stories, her sights seen in pictures and videos, and her people spotted in the streets of my former home, New York City, and in movies, documentaries, and news shows.

As I aim to delve deeper about her history, her unique role in the world, and her people, I find it to easy to get to know Israel. In the same measure that we find pleasure in getting to know better those we love, it’s a privilege and opportunity to write about a country whom I’ve felt a connection with all my life.
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