Friday, August 30, 2013

Falling Slowly

I am in love.

Over the last two months or so, I have fallen head over heels in love with the State of Israel. Our relationship is tumultuous, vulnerable, emotional, volatile, and absolutely beautiful.

I remember sitting in the chilled sanctuary of Temple Israel Center of White Plains, clutching my Siddur Sim Shalom to my chest as I recited the Amidah. "Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya'aseh shalom aleinu v'al kol Yisrael, v'imru- Amen". My eyes fell upon the word Yisrael -- Israel -- and my mind wandered across the Atlantic. The Israel scattered throughout the pages of my Siddur was a land of desert heat and weathered cobblestone, pious old men with long beards and large families, droves of young women in long, thick pleated skirts and wrist-length sleeves scurrying across the Kotel plaza. Milk and honey, figs and olives, dates and pomegranates, za'atar and sesame.

But what about me? Where do I fit in? Is there any room for a young, American, socially progressive, Queer, halachically-conscious, music-loving, activist, meditative, pluralistic, sort of yeshivish, guitar-toting, Kosher-style, Reformaconservadox cantorial student with a penchant for Hazzanut and a love of Torah learning?

Each morning I wake up feeling like I've finally come home, but each night I go to sleep feeling like an imposter in a land of complete strangers. But I think it's that tug of war -- knowing exactly where you are but feeling totally lost at the same time -- that makes living in Israel so startlingly life-changing.

Late last night, I arrived home from a two-day study field trip to Northern Israel where we learned about the early Pioneers who built the Jewish homeland from the bottom up, and the visionaries who continue to shape Israeli society through commitment, activism, and awareness. Across the generations, these people are linked by a fierce love of Israel and a passionate devotion to her safety and continued growth.

There may not have been room for these fearless individuals when they first set foot on Israeli soil, but they made room for themselves. They worked and nurtured the land, ensuring that others would have that same opportunity.

They dove in despite the risks, despite the challenges, and despite the ambiguities, grasping only a vision of a reality that they lived and died to achieve.

As the sun was beginning to set over the banks of the Kinneret yesterday, I dove in too.

I waded into the water fully dressed. I didn't have a towel, a change of clothes, or a care in the world. The water was alive; the waves thrashed warm around me, and my toes could barely grasp the swelling, shrinking ground beneath me. The guilty, self-conscious, uncomfortable, scared, not-Jewish-enough, too-Jewish, awkward, uneducated, out of place, inadequate voices in my head were muffled by the water rushing into my ears as I immersed myself in Israel's turbulent embrace.

Israel and I are in a relationship... and it's complicated. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

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