So, why Israel? In my first blog in this series, written all the way back in the beginning of February, I posed this question to myself. Prior to leaving, many of my friends asked me why I chose to study abroad in Israel. I always felt disingenuous in my answers. I would reply with some cliché about finding my Jewish identity, or experiencing what it really is like to live in Israel, but to be honest, I was not quite sure why exactly I had chosen to study in Israel. At the beginning of the semester, in the first blog I wrote, I hoped that by the end of the semester I might have an answer to this question. So here goes nothing.
As a Jewish person in the US, before my time in Israel, I saw my Jewish identity as a religion. But since being here I figured out that being Jewish is not a religion at all. It’s an identity, it’s a community, it’s an ethnicity, it’s a group of people with common thought and morals and values and language and slang. So, first, I chose Israel because Israel feels like home. As cliché as that may sound, studying here has provided me with a sense of security, even in a place that at times has been insecure. When I have travelled in Europe and felt homesick and alone, I didn’t crave to hear an American accent, I craved to hear Hebrew, or see a yarmulke. My Jewish identity was torn down to its core here in Israel and built up even stronger than it was prior.
Israel is more than what one hears in the news, from either side of the political spectrum. It is more than what lively campus groups from both arenas argue it to be on campus. It is more than the Arab-Israeli conflict, and it is more than just a Jewish homeland. Israel is a diverse, beautiful, vibrant, and unique country. It is a Jewish state, it is a democracy, it is surrounded on all sides by unstable war-torn countries, and yet, through all of this complexity, Israel is thriving. After generations of persecution and massacre, one might expect Israelis to be afraid, but they are simply not. They are strong and they are proud. So second, I chose Israel to sort through these complex issues and find a true understanding of what Israel actually is. I didn’t want to be told by the news or any group what to think of the State, and studying here this semester I have found, for myself, what Israel really is all about. And that connection and understanding that I have created with this place is something that will last with me for a lifetime.
To those looking to study abroad in Israel, or anywhere for that matter, here is some closing advice. It is easy to stick with American friends and other people on the program. It is easy to turn down cultural opportunities, to explore only from one perspective, or to get boxed into a bubble. Branch out, make local friends, try one new thing each day or week or month, and don’t get boxed in. Studying abroad is an experience that I feel is 100% what you make of it. It can consist of familiar faces, studying, and relaxation, or it can be about personal growth and overcoming challenges and learning something new about yourself. Lean into the uncomfortability, because it will be uncomfortable at times, and allow yourself to enjoy the experience and squeeze every drop out of it that you can.
לכולם ותודה בהצלחה (Good luck and thank you to everyone!)