Unpacking my baggage

My physical baggage made it with me to Israel this past summer, and my personal baggage came along for the ride, despite my best effort to once again run away from it.

Justin Hayet (photo credit: JUSTIN HAYET)
Justin Hayet
(photo credit: JUSTIN HAYET)
It’s weird. We all have our baggage.
Some baggage is welcomed at Newark Airport with the all too familiar El Al greeting or barrage of “WHO PACKED YOUR BAG? DID YOU PACK YOUR BAG?” Other baggage is not welcomed, but instead shamed alongside or even beneath our deepest secrets and sorrows.
My physical baggage made it with me to Israel this past summer, and my personal baggage came along for the ride, despite my best effort to once again run away from it.
I first arrived in Israel in 2009, as the first member of my immediate family to make the voyage to Israel. I returned in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2014 (again), and most recently in the summer of 2015, first to work for Birthright, then to embark on making a name for myself in the historic halls of the Knesset as a reporter. My main goal, to be honest, was to meet the players of Israeli politics, or the Israeli version of The Hunger Games.
In 2009, I saw a blurred reflection of myself and my ancestors in the faces at the capital’s Mahaneh Yehuda market, unaware that the reflection, that the mosaic of faces plastered like slowly fading but always noticeable graffiti, would lead me to my destiny: to stand strong as steel always in defense of Israel. After working for Birthright 11 months after Operation Protective Edge, and as I told the story of Max Steinberg to 39 versions of my 2009 self, the truth I saw in Israel transcended into my own pocket of personal clarity.
Fast forward to a week later after Birthright ended: Instead of entering the Knesset, I boarded an Air France plane home. Why? How could I, how dare I, run away from the place I was bent on running toward during every break possible; searching endlessly for opportunities to be a part of and to bask in the greatest experiment of being a Jew in a time where there is a state for us and by us? By 2015, the truth I saw, and felt, in 2009 had come to define my life personally and professionally. The truth I saw time and time again only made me feel like the hypocritical character I’ve mastered so well, unfortunately. In Israel, its challenges and failures and successes ignited a roaring fire in me. Each time the plane’s wheels touched the ground, our ground, I felt as if my body and mind was an island of deception in a sea of Israel’s truth. It was that same truth that made me feel isolated despite Israel’s vast culture of diversity and acceptance.
And then, somehow, somewhere, not exactly in one specific location, but perhaps the memories and feelings from each trip overcame me. Ironically, the country that had hired professionals to constantly ask me upon arrival and departure, “WHO PACKED YOUR BAG,” was the same country that allowed me to finally unpack my bag, or my baggage at least.
I returned to the States to come out to those most important to me.
My name is Justin Hayet, I am an American- born Zionist and I am gay and I am here to dedicate my life to the nation-state of the Jewish people.
It is time for all of us, in our own ways, to use our deepest identities, misconceptions and realities, to advocate for and build the state we so fatefully cherish.
It is time for more young leaders to emerge with the warmth of Golda and the bite of Begin who refused to be defined by the stereotypes.
How strange it is that time and time again after making Israel’s case, it was Israel itself, or an abstract idea of my feelings, emotions and memories of Israel, which made me question my own truth, which shinned a light on the darkness lurking beneath my then-untruthful self.
How bizarre, if not eerie, it is for Israel to be the one state in nearly a thousand-mile radius of our world that celebrates, instead of stones, those who act on their truth.
How honored I am to feel a part of a nation that is not only a light onto nations, but a light onto those who love, question, praise, struggle and, ultimately, defend it.
How blessed I am to have parents who love me unconditionally and schlep me to JFK and Newark each school break, so I can relish in and escape to Israel, despite never having the chance to go themselves.
How inspired I am to fight for, and to be part of, a cause that enabled me to hold a mirror up to myself.
Mom and Dad – one day soon we’ll travel to Israel together, of course after an intense, melodramatic, but totally necessary, El Al-style interrogation.
Everyone has his baggage, but something tells me, for once, my baggage will be underweight when I return again and again to the Israel that shined its light on my darkness and radiate my truth. Don’t worry, feisty El AL lady, I packed my baggage myself.
Justin Hayet is graduate student at Binghamton University. He can be contacted at [email protected] binghamton.edu