I grew up in a town that had more churches than it did individual Jews. I did not grow up in Martin, where there are all of six Jewish people (five of which belong to a single family). I grew up in a primarily liberal town on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Within my town of roughly 30,000 people, I went to school with 300 students in my graduating class. Most were Catholic. None were Jewish.
Being the only Jewish child was more lonely than one would think. When all of my friends were decorating Christmas trees, I was given a meere menorah and some multi-colored candles to watch melt for eight days. When my friends got easter baskets overflowing with candy and games, I was not able to eat my own birthday cake, because Passover falls on March 26th more often than not. Lonely holidays combined with anti-semitic jokes and ignorant questions regarding my religious beliefs created an adolescent that resented her own religion. I knew that I was raised to follow a set of beliefs, and I did wholeheartedly, but I found myself asking, “why bother?” I’d ask myself why I followed a religion that people didn’t understand, and why I bothered trying to make them. My resentment only grew after I was Bat Mitzvahed in Israel. I was constantly being asked why I went to such a dangerous place, or worse, why I sympathized with the Israelis who “were oppressing Palestinians.”
Until I was sixteen and went on my second trip to Israel, I would continuously ask myself “why did God choose for me to be Jewish if no one likes us,” and “why can’t I find the words to explain myself to others?” After my second trip to Israel, I still have questions, but I no longer question myself. My first trip was when I became an adult in my religion’s eyes, but my second was when I became an adult in my own eyes.
My second trip was not only mine. I went to Israel with 72 other Jewish students from the North Shore of Boston. We experienced the cities, desert, food and culture together. We met soldiers, Hasidic Jews, Bedouins and Israeli teens. We slept in the desert, prayed at the kotel and mourned for six million Jews at Yad Vashem. We created relationships that would last long after our plane touched down back in Boston. We became Jews, together.
Because of Israel, I now have the courage to answer the hard questions and question the antisemitism around me. When someone calls me a murderer for being Jewish, I am not afraid to ask them why they say that, then show them why they’re wrong. Israel changed me. I saw the way in which all kinds of religions coexist in such a small space. I saw the way the markets bustle with people of every skin color, nationality, religion and social status. In Israel, I never felt judged and never felt the need to judge others. I felt safe. In a community so often plagued by war, I felt safe.
Because of Israel, I can walk a little bit taller. I have answers to questions I never thought I would, and I no longer wish I was someone else. I have faith in the path I have been following, and I am no longer looking for a new one. The trip of a lifetime, as I often call it, gave me a new perspective and was my transition into self-assurance.
Photo courtesy of me.