“The first meeting that seems so embarrassing makes me laugh because in 10 days you will stand here again—some of you will cry and it will be very difficult for all of you,” said Noam, our amazing guide tour, a few minutes after the Birthright group from Boston arrived in Israel.
I must admit, though it was very nice of him to say it, I thought he was saying this to relieve some of the initial embarrassment; I never believed how right he was. It’s not that the people would not look nice; I just thought it would be a pleasant, light-hearted experience that breaks our army routine and that there would be a few funny stories that I would tell my friends. I did not think about more than that. It was 10 days with strangers from another language. What else could there be? I also came with suspicion and curiosity about the American Jewish community, and I really wanted to know who the Jews of the United States were. In 10 days I found an answer, a beast kicking and yelling. Slowly I met amazing people with sociable values who are especially curious. The Israeli and American Boston mentality at certain points was very similar and at certain points was completely different; this combination made the connection like a magnet and poles that are drawn together.
I remember the first time I understood the difference was during a conversation one night when one of the girls asked for a phone and everyone gathered around the small screen. It turned out to be a football game, and in a way, that stunned me that all the women of Boston sympathize with the teams—Patriots, Red Sox and slightly fewer Celtics. Young women of 21 who recite the local team’s squads and encourage the group with all their might are rare and rarely exist in Israel. For me, it was certainly a refreshing change.
Between the alleys of Zefat and Jerusalem, between the borders of Syria and Gaza, and between falafel and shawarma, we created magical moments and especially connections between people. There are no Israelis, no soldiers, no Americans. There are only a bunch of young people whose lives have passed so far on different but similar sides of the world, with different realities and different conditions, but the common denominator we all found is joy and an innocent youthful spirit. You can talk politics and you can talk about an army, a Holocaust, Zionism, occupation or anything else, but in the end, it’s a journey of people with people, a happy and passionate life to know each other’s world.
The first time I realized that the gaps between us were minor was on Friday during kiddush. American Jewry respects the central stream of Reform Judaism that a large part of Israeli Jews does not agree with at all. The gaps between us can be expressed in such big headlines, but in reality, they are minor. This is the first time I had ever had a kiddush made by a woman (who was charming, by the way), and this was the first living and passionate encounter between the conservative Israel I know and another Judaism, which is no less than any Judaism. And this encounter between Reform Judaism and Conservative Judaism can sometimes be explosive, especially in the newspapers or by politicians, but I have seen with my own eyes the strength of the connection to the social idea of Shabbat in the eyes of these charming Jews, who just shattered all the stigmas I had before about Reform Jews. It was a super powerful moment that taught me a lot. Large parts of Israel view Reform Judaism as a bad factor in Judaism that sometimes disparages the principle of traditional Judaism. In fact, their connection to Shabbat was so personal and so amazing.
During the trip, we visited amazing places in our beautiful country. True, this was not our first time as Israelis in these places. But this time it was so special thanks to our partners. Every place got a special shade from every previous time we were there. The spark in their eyes sparked our love for Israel anew.
But for me, the most magical moments were in the evenings and in conversations, and I realized that no matter how many kilometers between Boston and Israel, this connection is full of power and emotion. The Bostonians were inspiring, curious, and hugely supportive. I remember that suddenly, for the first time in my life, I felt that not only am I part of the country, I am part of an entire nation, strong and amazing.
I certainly found an answer to my question. The Jews of the United States, that unfortunately my dear country likes to have a relationship of ups and downs with, are amazing people, and far more Zionist than many Israelis I know.
Somewhere between the Boston slang and Israeli integrity, we created a common language of Hebrew-English, most of which is based on phrases like “a wicked sababa” and “yeah.” I found myself whole days saying only these three words—it’s amazing how much you can understand from just three words! But seriously, beyond English, Hebrew or any other language, there is an international language of emotion.
The final confirmation for me of what Noam said on the first day at the airport came to me on the penultimate day of the trip.
In Jerusalem, the holy city of the Jewish people, there are two holy sites for Judaism and Israel: Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, and Mount Herzl. After an exciting visit in Yad Vashem, we continued on to Mount Herzl. On Mount Herzl are buried the greatest nation—prime ministers, presidents and, unfortunately, young soldiers.
At the mount, I spoke about my friend Ido Ben Ari, whose grave is in Tel Aviv, and who was killed in a tragic tank accident that changed my life forever. I remember the second I finished my words and raised my tearful eyes from the screen, I suddenly saw 40 people crying and hurting from my pain. Suddenly I realized that my pain became their pain also, and their pain became our pain. The pain of the Jewish nation. No Israelis, no soldiers, no more “they” and “we”—just us.
It was there, perhaps at the most powerful places for the State of Israel, which are supposed to differentiate between the Jews of Israel and the Jews of the world, I felt the full strength of the connection. Forty young Americans whom I had not known but for a few days became my brothers. Their faces conveyed support, their eyes tearful and their hearts full of good intentions. It was very exciting and hopeful.
To summarize this life-changing and stigma-breaking journey, I got to know amazing people, friends who will be my friends for life. The messages I received after this journey from my friends excite me and give me tremendous strength to continue with all my might. And this power for change is something I am so thirsty to do.
So, dear Bostonians, you have a true friend forever in Israel and a huge place of honor in this country, in a country that is yours, no less than mine. No matter what you hear, we love you and I know you love us.
My journey with Boston just began, in many ways. We have power, there is hope and there is faith, so let’s change the world.
This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here.