I gazed outside the plane window 30 minutes before we touched down on Israeli soil, and my eyes swelled with tears as my heart swelled with a mixture of devotion, love, and pride. This is my Moledet. It is the place where my mother was raised, where my parents met for the first time, and where my story essentially begins.
The last time I was here was eight years ago. I was eleven and I didn’t understand. From then until this summer, I always knew that I loved Israel. I knew I was a staunch Zionist, that I would challenge anyone to a historical debate about the claim to this land, and that I would defend its politics and people with everything I have. But I admit that I still considered myself somewhat separate, like I could never be fully part of it because I lived elsewhere.
Even now at the age of nineteen, I did not think the impact would be so radically different. But I was so wrong. I knew that from the moment my heart skipped a beat when I looked out onto Israel’s sacred soil. The first night I spent in Israel was a sleepless one. Among other thoughts that kept me up that night, was the one of my understanding that this trip to Israel could likely decide my future.
A few days later I visited Tzfat and Jerusalem. The feeling of being in these holy cities was indescribable. It was more enjoyable than floating in the Dead Sea or even riding a camel. Walking these cobbled paths was enough to bring joy to my heart. In these places I learned the true meaning of emotional and spiritual happiness, as opposed to intellectual happiness of my comfortable life in the States. Here I was truly home, with people who understood my culture, spoke my language, and valued the struggle and triumphs we share as Jews.
Coming from an observant home, visiting Israel on Taglit with students from very secular backgrounds, posed numerous questions in my mind. I will be spending the rest of my summer here in Israel, in the hopes that I will gather some answers.
But Israel is more and bigger than just my story. It is the beginning of every Jewish story – the land where the holy words of the Torah come to life, the land which G-d promised to the Jewish nation, and the land where after thousands of years of persecution, exile, and torment, a frail yet striving people saw a miracle realized. That miracle is realized every single day in this land.