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Reflections on My First Trip to Israel

08/08/2023 11:10:55 AM


Lauren Park

During our trip, one of the things we talked about with the many people we met, whether Jewish, Christian, Arab, Druze, or immigrant, were labels. How do these folks identify themselves? I thought a lot about identity on the trip – and have now reflected on how Israel impacted me. Here are a few of my takeaways:

I felt safe in Israel. Honestly, safer than I do in Florida these days. It’s the extraordinary feeling of being part of a majority. Similar to the feeling black students have described being at a Historically Black College or University – the lifting of the weight of otherness and defensiveness. The joy of knowing that you don’t have to explain anything because everyone around you just gets you.

I felt immense pride. My people were responsible for the triumph that is Israel. I’ve heard people say that Zelensky is the first Jewish super hero, but he is not. Israel was built by many Jewish super heroes. Through sheer grit, determination and bravery, my tribe powered Israel into existence. And demonstrated remarkable ingenuity. I had not understood how Hebrew had been revived in Israel. It took thousands of years for the Greek language to transition from an ancient to a modern language. The Jews created a modern Hebrew vocabulary bank in only 75 years. I took great pride in the fact that, despite all the obstacles, my ancestors were clever and lionhearted enough to pull off the miraculous achievement that is the State of Israel. 

I felt an appreciation for the history of the land and a tie to past generations. You cannot escape the layers upon layers of our history – they are embedded in the very crevices of the walls and streets and hills all around us. But more importantly, being on the trip with my two kids, I could appreciate my role as a link, connecting the past and ensuring the continuation of the Jewish people into the future. I knew my son, who is a history major in college, would find the country fascinating, but didn’t anticipate that he would feel so inspired that he would switch to a Jewish Studies minor, start looking into a Birthright trip and thinking about how he could work in Israel as a tour guide for Americans someday. That feeling of belonging within the continuum of the Jewish people was vivid for all of us.

Finally, I felt that I was granted permission to love something that is flawed. We went to the protests in Tel Aviv and I felt inspired and even a bit jealous to see the way Israelis show up for their democracy. I can now better manage the dichotomy of cherishing the land of Israel and the people of Israel and their can-do ethos, while also criticizing its government or policies. Just like with the United States, I can love the ideal of a Jewish democracy. And I can feel solidarity with so many Israeli Jews who also hope that Israel will live up to its promise and be a beacon for the Jewish values of democracy and human rights.

So back to the original question, did Israel impact how I self-identify? I have been on a journey to discover my Jewish self for a while now and I believe that while I was in Israel, I did gather up a few more pieces of my Jewish puzzle. Perhaps my biggest takeaway is that Israel helped me take another step towards feeling self-acceptance and self-worth as a loud and proud Jew. 

Mon, June 24 2024 18 Sivan 5784