This past summer I was a madricha for Israel 2.0, an Israel trip for college students and young professionals. It was during this trip that I had the privilege of celebrating one year of living in Israel. It was an incredible way to sum-up my first year as an Israeli citizen — a jam-packed week-and-a-half of seeing the length and breadth of the country, spending days learning in the beautiful Jerusalem, and hearing speakers share their incredible organizations and initiatives that make Israel and the world a better place. I fell in love with this country all over again. I was reminded of all the beautiful reasons of why Israel is not just my homeland, but my present home.
In the past two months, I have been reminded once more of why I have decided to live here, but this reason is fringed with pain. Since October, Israel has been hit with a rise in terror — car rammings, drive-by shootings, rock throwing, molotov cocktails and stabbings. I have received concerned emails and messages from family and friends showing love and support — the first time I’ve been the recipient of these since making aliyah. It has become a war more personal and brutal than rockets; a kind of terror that can’t be prevented by sirens, bomb shelters or an iron dome. There’s no facade of protection; it’s a war that exposes our necessity to trust in God.
These attacks are as sudden as a terrorist pulling out a knife, and so there’s no assured safety. Though I wish I could unabashedly extend a smile to an Arab I pass down the street, I don’t know whether to feel awful or wise for picking up my pace. I think a little longer about where to spend Shabbat and what transportation to take. How do I comprehend that there are people out there who want to kill me? They’ve never met me, but would prefer me dead simply because I am a Jew — an unfortunate reality that is just as applicable to Jews worldwide. How can I reassure my current gap-year students on The Israel Experience at Bar Ilan University that everything will be okay? That shouldn’t be a madricha’s job, to resolve students’ fears. But while I can share love, and support, and worry, there’s no answer to the heartbreaking news that Ezra Schwartz z”l, a fellow 18-year-old gap year student, an American, was murdered on his way to volunteering for lone soldiers. It goes unspoken, but we all know, that he could have been any of us.
And yet, when times are hard in Israel, I reaffirm my decision to live here – that there is no other place I’d rather be. If our Jewish family is experiencing pain, I want to be home to be part of the strong-willed, tear-filled embrace. There is comfort in being surrounded by our nation. Israeli civilians become heroes defending their brothers. Songs of peace and encouragement are played in bus stations. People hang posters of hope at sites of terror attacks. The bride forced to postpone her marriage last week after terrorists murdered her father and brother, has now invited the entire country to her upcoming wedding.
When I lived in America, I felt distant — subject to a media silent to Israel’s plight, frustrated that life around me just continued on. And while here, too, life goes on — it goes on with more meaning, with more purpose. Because we know that continuing our lives here ensures continuing the future of the Jewish people. That being here means maintaining our home in our homeland. That we’re part of a living Jewish history with a bright future, and I am here to witness it happening — to be a part of it happening. The current events impress upon us that we’re not in control of how the events unfold — that’s in God’s department to decide. But I must maintain this awareness without shirking my own responsibility. I can do my little extra. I can pray a little harder, learn a little more Torah, reach out to someone with more love, give charity to a worthy cause. And without a doubt, by living in Israel, being in Israel, visiting Israel – it keeps our nation proud and strong. I couldn’t be more confident that I want to be in Israel, surrounded by my nation and my family. This is how I defend my home.