Fostering a genuine relationship with Israel

Okay, I’m just going to go ahead and say it - being a young American Jew today is the weirdest thing ever. Coming into your identity as a young adult can already be a complete train wreck on its own, but mentally processing the conflicting voices of Jewish meaning today is a whole other story. On top of this, creating (or purposefully avoiding) a relationship with Israel is more challenging for American Jewish youth today than perhaps ever before in history.
There is a piece of the Jewish American dialogue that’s missing when it comes to understanding Zionism and the actual message it sends. It wasn’t until I started planning my own Aliyah that I started hearing friends around me (Zionist Jews, mind you) saying to me “wait, what?! You’re actually making Aliyah? That’s crazy!” as if it were the first time they had heard of the concept. These were people who fiercely identified as Jews, who dedicated their college careers to the pro-Israel political cause, and spent their entire lives preaching the value of Jewish community. And here I was, announcing that I would be moving to Israel, watching my friends completely shocked that I would actually take our Zionist values and put them into action.
This is when I started asking myself complex and somewhat uncomfortable questions: what is it that separates me from them? If we all claim to hold the same values and staunchly identify as Zionists, then why was I making this decision and they weren’t? Am I doing something wrong? Why was it so crazy to them that I was doing this? What is it that keeps them from going, and me from staying? And, ultimately, what does this say about American Jewish youth and their honest connection to Israel? I think the easy answer to these questions is that people couldn’t fathom living so distant from their families, and potentially raising their own future families so far away from “home”. Along with this, I know that the Zionist idea is quite a big one, and for most Jews my age people are more concerned with simply getting a job than fulfilling Herzel’s dream. I’ve also relentlessly heard the argument that life in Israel is just simply hard, which prevents people from coming as well. I recognize all of these reasons and would never delegitimize their concerns. But, I think there is a lot more going on under the surface that is preventing people from truly understanding the weight of not only Zionism, but the action it requires.
For me, my values are useless if I don’t live them, and I think that most would say the same. I value my family, therefore I strive to be a good daughter and sister. I value my health, therefore I exercise and eat well. And I value Zionism, the idea that Jews should live in their own homeland, therefore I moved to that homeland. When college graduation was creeping up on us and the Jewish seniors starting announcing their plans, not a single one had anything to do with Israel. This was not only surprising, but almost felt like a betrayal, not to me but to the Zionist values we all claimed to hold.
I am going to argue that a large percentage of American Jews my age don’t really know Israel. They might have gone on Birthright or a high school teen trip, but they don’t genuinely feel a part of it. This is what truly prevents people from coming. They feel like tourists who have visited a foreign land, but simultaneously realize that their time spent in Israel is expected to be special. They realize that their trip’s meaningful content needs to be utilized in some way, and in effect, labeled as Zionism.
Let’s look at some examples, in case what I’m saying makes no sense to you at all. The strongest pro-Israel activist on your campus might be a student government rock star, but he/she probably couldn’t say a sentence in Hebrew. Why? Because it’s irrelevant to them! Their pro-Israel front is for the benefit of their college career, not Israel. Your Hillel board members might plan countless falafel nights and Israeli film screenings, but it’s unclear if they know anything about Israel besides falafel and movies. Your campus might have a variety of pro-Israel student groups, all which essentially do the same thing: give students a feeling of importance in the community and something to put on their resumes. The term “pro-Israel” is flashed everywhere, but its true motives and meaning are blurry.
I now realize that this post might come off as a giant insult to my entire Jewish generation, especially some of my closest friends who I love dearly. Please know, that is not my intention! I understand that there are several ways to support Israel, especially from the United States, and I am not discrediting any of those choices. I simply want people to look at the situation for what it really is: a lack of genuine understanding between American Jews and Israel, and this is what hinders young people from coming. This is what keeps people comfortably in America.
I want Jewish youth to truly consider this thought, not as a criticism but as an opportunity to see themselves in a new light. Know that it is never too late to build a genuine, loving, mutual relationship with this county. Like any worthwhile relationship, it takes time, hard work, patience, and acceptance. So please, I encourage you to spend time in Israel and invest in yourself here. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Struggle through butchered Hebrew conversations. Get lost in Tel Aviv. Get yelled at by pretty much everyone. Build a place for yourself in this country, so that you’re a Zionist with an honest understanding and connection, not a Zionist on the outside looking in.