I never put much thought into Israel’s existence. Since I have been alive, Israel has been there, a homeland for the Jews. It didn’t occur to me to consider its struggles, its triumphs, its significance, all it stood for.
Sure, I learned briefly about the state’s history, about the wars, the conflict with the Palestinians. I heard about the bombings, and I knew of the hardships many faced. I even spent a year there, walked its streets, interacted with the people and happily partook in its delightful cuisine.
To me, it was a beautiful place to visit with a rich history and so much to offer. As a Jew, Israel was meaningful to me, but it was hard to connect to what was going on there. Much of it felt peripheral; nothing truly penetrated me.
When I returned home to the U.S., I missed Israel, but was relieved to be back in my comfort zone. I cared about Israel, but I was so far removed from it, physically and mentally, that I made no effort to understand or educate myself about its current state of turmoil. After all, what happened there didn’t affect me, did it? And what could I possibly do to make a difference for those it did affect?
I didn’t keep up with the news, so I only knew what was going on when something big happened and people would mention it. I barely knew anything about Israel’s politics, economy, technological advances or innovations either. At times, I considered keeping up with the news and brushing up on my knowledge, but having no pressing or compelling reason to do so, it didn’t happen.
And so, Israel became a distant conversation.
Until this past winter, when I had the opportunity to join Hillel of Metro Detroit’s Israel Fellowship, an opportunity that sparked my interest in Israel and the affairs surrounding it. We began by learning about the history and establishment of the state. After learning the different forms Zionism could take, I gained a better understanding of the concept and began to form my own ideas of what Zionism could mean to me.
Throughout the fellowship, we heard from many dynamic and knowledgeable speakers. We also read news articles and opinion pieces that offered differing viewpoints. Topics we covered included Israeli innovations and technology, politics, the BDS movement, the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians, settlements and Israel support groups.
I started to get a clearer picture of Israel and the important role it played in the world. On a personal level, I developed stronger feelings of connection toward the land and a desire to increase my awareness and involvement in Israeli matters.
I am aware Israel is not perfect. Nothing is. While I may not agree with everything the country does, I believe in its cause, in its very existence. I now see Israel as something to be proud of and something to fight for.
I know there is no one way to do this; I can believe in Israel and support its cause in my own individual way. Hopefully, I will have the chance to return there with this newfound sense of conviction, and my experience will be more meaningful because of it.
Gila Hennes } jewish@edu writer
Gila Hennes, a senior from Oak Park, is majoring in dietetics at Wayne State University.