There was a point in my life where I felt disconnected from the people around me. I felt like I was different from the peers in my small town because I was one of the only Jewish kids at my school, but I also felt different from the fellow Jews at my temple because my mom wasn’t Jewish even though I was raised in a Jewish household. I had a lot of Israeli cousins who were joining the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and as a result of feeling the disconnect between myself and my Jewish identity, I decided I would look into boot camp and training as an IDF soldier.
I was suppose to spend 14 days in Israel living on a base half an hour outside of Jerusalem, however the summer I spent there was when there was a lot of unrest between the Palestinian Territory and Israel. It was the summer where everything changed when the 3 Israeli teenagers were kidnapped, when they closed the airports and I ended up staying an extra week before they would reopen travel again. I slept in the barracks with other Americans considering enlisting, wore the uniforms, and performed training missions. I worked with search and rescue missions, and became a certified emergency first responder. I watched car bombs go off outside of the training center I was training in, I felt the panic of only having 30 seconds to try and find cover as sirens blared. I learned what fear truly meant, and what it was like to live in chaos.
At the end of my time there I decided that I shouldn’t enlist. As amazing as the experience was to be able to experience all of that, it wasn’t for me. The strangest part of the whole thing wasn’t so much the fear of it all, but rather that the local Israelis never showed fear. It was as if this was the most common thing. I couldn’t mentally live in a world where chaos was expected. In a world where terror is apart of the normal routine. My time there has forever changed me though. I have a better understanding of how valuable human life can be and how easy it is for it to be taken away. I learned that media outlets never show the whole truth, and even when they do get the facts correct that there is no way for them to portray the human emotions behind the situation. I will never let myself get worked up over the small details anymore because I know that there’s much more beyond just the small trifle things in life.
I came back from that trip more connected to my Jewish identity. I fully began to understand that I would always have a home and a people in Israel. I know that although Judaism is a religion it is also an ethnicity. There is a people and culture behind it. There is a land filled with people that are Jews. They are normal people and yes they are on the other side of the world, but that world isn’t that far away. They don’t care there, if I am half Jewish or fully Jewish, if you are an American or an Israeli. They understand that underneath it all we are just a human, a body that is skin and flesh and that bleeds the same way anyone else would if placed in the same situation. What bonded us was our faith in something beyond ourselves, and the desire to make a difference in this world.