Let me start at the beginning.
I was born a month early in California in 1992. Born a whole month before my time, and still my mother had to have a caesarian in order to convince me I should come out. That was the first and last time my mother experienced the glory and pain that is childbirth–I am an only child. When my father tells the story of that day, he likes to embellish the part about my mother ripping his shirt and almost breaking his hand before she got her epidural.
Most of my “family history” details are similar to these, that is, they usually start with me. Of course, I’ve always known that my father was born somewhere near Tel Aviv, that he went to yeshiva from a young age, that he has two degrees from Bar-Ilan. I’ve always known that my mother was born in Ashkelon, the seventh of seven children, that her father owned a movie theater, that everyone recognized their last name. My father was an officer in the army. My mother was considered the beauty queen of her small town. I grew up with all these pebbles of information, but I could never make a mountain out of them. I could barely make a hill. But I tried anyway, knowing that Israel was the foundation, untouchable. After all those years in America, my parents neglected to take me to their motherland.
My first trip to Israel was nine months long. I was just shy of eighteen. My mother told me not to go; my father took me. While my friends were unpacking in their dorm rooms in California, my father pointed out his old apartment to me in Tel Aviv. While my mother went to bed in Thousand Oaks, her sister showed me pictures of her family– my family–that I had never seen. My cousin drove me by a site of ancient ruins I had just seen my mother laughing on in an old photo. I sat with soldiers wearing uniforms my parents donned thirty years prior. I ate the food that they too had eaten, I hiked the same trails, and I spoke their language.
A lot of people seem to find themselves in this country. People are moved to tears at the Kotel. They are astounded by the many climates and terrains they find themselves hiking through, they are inspired by the teenagers in uniform, and many even enlist themselves. Personally, I didn’t think I needed to be “found.” I was over the Kotel in about fifteen minutes. I wasn’t bombarded with overwhelming urgency to enlist. I didn’t find myself in Israel–I found my history. I found the lost chapters of my parents’ lives. I found out where I came from, and where I could have been all this time, and who I could have been, had things gone just a little differently. Moreover, I found my future. I am now involved in explaining to others what Israel truly means for this world, an explanation I didn’t truly receive until just over three years ago.
With every passing moment, I am making up for time lost. I could have been in Israel every summer since my birth, like many other Jews. Instead, I am writing from Haifa on my third trip to Israel. They say third’s the charm, but charm I experienced a while back. Now I’m just getting settled, eating absolutely everything, and taking it all in. I made it back home.
Maya Fried is a current Hasbara Fellow and active member of MishelanuLA, she is also an Onward Israel participant.