Friday, January 9, 2015
Sunday, October 19, 2014
When I was 12 years old, my dad gave me Leon Uris's epic novel, Exodus, with an inscription about what it means to be a Jew and with a note about our people's history. From the first time I read the name Ari Ben Canaan I've been hooked on understanding and protecting this dream. I have read every book, pamphlet, and article about Israel, Zionism, and Jewish history that I could find. I've read journalists I loved, I've read journalists that Menachem Begin would have deemed J.W.T.K (Jews with trembling knees), and I forced myself to read the mostly unfounded biases emanating from our detractors.
Over the years, my college friends (Jewish and non-Jewish) grew accustomed to me talking about Israel in between watching Lebron dunk on ESPN. Hatikvah emanated from my room before a workout session on more than one occassion. My friends stopped acting surprised when I argued with professors and they would always allow me to finish my thoughts on the way back to the house after class. They definitely learned to embrace my promises (bribes?) of food if they came to my Israeli club events. (Righteously or not, Kappa Sig always made their presence felt at Lehigh Friends of Israel, and as the saying goes, "we need the dues.")
Itdidn't take long for me to realize that my passion for understanding and discussing Israel and Jewish history and my commitment to do everything in my power (founding an advocacy club, writing a political blog, going to AIPAC) to ensure the safety of the Jewish people and the Jewish state wasn't fleeting or shallow. It wasn't a college hobby, or a fad that seemed interesting at the time. It was and is an essential part of my personal story . This was the start of my realization that the uniqueness of my passion called for an equally unique and significant way of doing my part and leaving my mark.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
I spent my days in Haifa with the family's son, daughter, her boyfriend, and their cousin, all of whom I had an amazing time hanging out with. The son is 20 years old and currently serving in the IDF, and I spent a lot of time getting to know him and his friends throughout the weekend. All of his friends were great, even switching back and forth to english so I could follow the conversation and speak more than just the limited hebrew in my arsenal (though following along all weekend did wonders for my hebrew). We spent a night drinking coffee at a beautiful and picturesque overlook in Haifa. We spent Saturday morning hanging out in a gorgeous natural spring near Nahariah (see picture), jumping in and out of the water, drinking more coffee (yet another reason I love Israel-the crazy amount of coffee available at every occasion) and listening to music (I introduced country music to solid reviews) along the river bank. We enjoyed a delicious hummus lunch in the old Arab city of Akko (I think I have humus running through my veins) and we spent an awesome night at a nightclub right outside of Haifa just to confirm that I still hate/don't get electronic/rave music.
It was also awesome hanging out with his sister and her boyfriend, both a bit older and currently studying at university (he loved all of the stories and ridiculousness having to do with “frat life"). I became really close with them as well; they had an older brother/sister vibe that made me feel completely at ease in their company to joke around, have fun, and be myself. Upon leaving, they could not have been more gracious and genuine in wanting me to come back as often as possible and to stay at their place (I'm already taking them up on their offer for Sukkot this week!)
It feels weird at times being disconnected from life in America and my family and friends...especially for me. I was the kid at camp that was homesick and missed my parents my SECOND summer away. I've always bounced every aspect of my life off my dad; throughout college I spoke to my mom on a tri-daily basis; and there's nobody I would rather hang out with then my sister Gabby. That's why it's strange that I really haven't gotten homesick or down about how far away I am from all of the people in my life or how long it will be until I am home and back in something approaching my comfort zone. But at the same time, it's not strange. Because, being here, right now, feels right in every way; I feel at ease and I feel at home. Knowing that I will soon get to do my part in defending the Jewish state, that I will be a part of a legacy that has inspired me and been at the core of my identity for so long, fills me with an intensity, determination and sense of purpose that I wouldn't trade for anything.
I thought of all of the idealistic Jews from all over the world, over the past 150 years, who left their homes and their lives determined to contribute to the Zionist dream, defend the Jewish people, and rebuild the Jewish homeland. I thought of Mickey Marcus, an American Jew (and West Point graduate) who became the first general of a Jewish army in 2,000 years and who gave his life defending the new born state of Israel. I thought of the late Michael Levin, a hero of mine, who returned to Israel during the second Lebanon War to be with his brothers, despite already completing his service and being back home in America.
I thought of the Jews from Arab lands that fled persecution with nothing but the clothes on their back to reach the Jewish homeland. I thought of the Ethiopians that held onto their Judaism throughout the centuries and whose dreams were finally realized as they were rescued to the safe haven of the homeland. I thought of the Yemenites and Operation Red Carpet. I thought of the hundreds of thousands of Russians that immigrated to Israel upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and I thought of the record number of French Jews that are currently on their way to the Jewish state against a renewed backdrop of Anti-Semetism. In that moment, Jewish and Israeli history were gripping. Everything else was details. Background music.
This love of Israel and my fundamental belief in the truths of Zionism is what led me down this path and its what will allow me to overcome all the tough moments I am certain to endure throughout my service. But while I think this passion is necessary to endure as a Lone Soldier, there are tons of other reasons why Americans join the IDF. Even for me, there are other benefits that complement my Zionist motivation; primarily the challenge of having to prove my mettle in such a fundamental way. I've had a pretty cushy American life (camp, sports, college), and I know I am lucky to have had such a fun and loving childhood. This next chapter will be a change. It will be brutal at times. The IDF will be by far the most physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging 18 months I've ever experienced. I will have to to suffer and endure, become mentally tougher, fight for myself, and go past my breaking point in order to succeed. I will have to dig deep to really find out what I'm made out of.
I can't wait to find out.
As my dad is fond of saying, “When your why is strong enough, you’ll figure out the how.”
Welcome to Eretz Israel.
Saturday, September 20, 2014
In September, I'll be moving to Israel to realize my dream of serving in the Israel Defense Forces, which I will begin in December. Joining the IDF has been in the back of my mind since I first listened to my dad speak about the world's lone Jewish state over 10 years ago. The idea has reverberated in my head for a while, especially in the last 4 years when I spent a lot of time in Israel, but it was never more than a far-fetched dream, divorced from reality.
The more things change, the more they stay the same...
Zionism succeeded in its more reasonable, and ultimately, more important goal.
Jews are called the “Canary in the Coal Mine” because Jew-hatred is often the first sign of the moral decay and deprivation that will eventually consume the society at large. Israel, as the world’s lone Jewish state, and as the “Jew” in the family of nations, exists in much the same way. Because of its Jewish nature and its proximity to evil, Israel is the West's first-line of defense against the ravages of Militant Islam. Hamas. Al-Qaeda. ISIS. Boko Haram. Islamic Jihad. Hezbollah. These terror groups all share an unabashed hatred for modernity, freedom, and the democratic values that have come to define the western world. While their first targets may vary, their ultimate goal of a global caliphate, imposed Sharia law, and the destruction of the West remains the same. Quite simply, they are determined to destroy our way of life. When they chant "Death to Israel", "Death to America" is always the chorus.