Surrounded By Israel

How can I feel so connected to something that overwhelms me?

It all happened so quickly. In just a matter of seconds, I saw and felt Israel everywhere — on posters, on fliers, in my homework, on CNN, and on my Facebook timeline. After all of these pieces flashed by my eyes, I immediately felt overwhelmed by the thought of another conversation, another argument, another policy position about the Jewish state. For something so central to Judaism and the lives of the Jewish people, the topic of Israel should not make me feel this way. And yet, this feeling is happening more and more often…and it doesn’t seem to be going away in the foreseeable future.

As this recent article in the Jewish Daily Forward demonstrates, Israel is preoccupying an enormous part of the Jewish college student experience. Whether it’s going on a Birthright trip, taking an Israeli politics class, eating falafel at a Hillel event, or battling with other students and faculty over BDS on campus, we are surrounded by all aspects of Israel. And while particular campuses have created incredibly helpful and supportive spaces to explore Israel and its many complexities, many students must endure this confusing and overwhelming experience without the comfort of a community. Our Jewish community is supposed to be one of welcoming, warmth, and comfort, but for so many young Jews, including myself at times, it doesn’t seem like the process of wrestling with all parts of Israel, the history, culture, religion, politics, and people of the Jewish state, is an important or valued journey. There is an expectation that all Jews must strongly and steadfastly support Israel without the opportunity for criticism or pointing out faults. But that expectation is unrealistic and alienating for many young Jews.

As someone who has visited three times, who has friends there, who understands its complicated political situation, who values its incredible religious and historical significance, and who wants to see it thrive as a light unto the nations, I am simultaneously surrounded and exhausted by Israel.

I feel anxious when a friend recommends I read an article, watch a video, or attend a program about Israel.

I feel betrayed each time Israel intentionally discriminates against and forcefully oppresses Palestinians and African asylum-seekers.

I feel overwhelmed each time I’m expected to have a fully prepared answer for every question about Israel — and then more overwhelmed as my answer doesn’t seem to satisfy the opinions of the group.

I feel compassionate when I hear the every-day, yet powerful narratives of ordinary individuals and families living in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.

I feel isolated as Jews rise to their feet and applaud presidential candidates that promote hatred, bigotry, and violence.

I feel proud each time I think about the powerful prayer that occurs every day at the Western Wall.

I feel angry when members of the Israeli government demonstrate their disrespectful, degrading, and arrogant views of Reform Judaism and its leaders.

I feel surrounded by Israel and I’m not sure how to handle all of its complexities along with all of its commentary.

While I feel overwhelmed, I refuse to be apathetic. I refuse to not strive for understanding. I refuse to let Israel leave my mind and heart. But it will be a struggle and it will require wrestling…and isn’t that at the heart of Judaism?

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