Written By Jonny Newburgh, NFTY-NEL RCVP 5768-5769
My trip started with the famous 10-hour plane trip that many NFTYites have taken over the Atlantic Ocean. Once we arrived at Ben Gurion Airport we went through an hour of customs. After the whole hustle and bustle through the airport there was an hour drive to Kibbutz Tzuba, located outside of Jerusalem. Arriving in Israel gave me, and still gives me a sense of security that I do not have at home. At home I may have a security system, locks on all my doors, my parents at home and my friends at school, but in Israel I donʼt have any of those things. Being here, in Israel, gives me such a sense of pride. I get questions from people back in America about all aspects of my safety. People ask, “Aren’t you scared?” “Have you seen any terrorists yet?” and many more. The truth is that even though Israel has been attacked and bombed so many times, all you can think about it your Judaism. Going down the streets in Jerusalem, you see men with tzitzit and payas and you think to yourself, “wow, how can I not feel safe being surrounded by my people?” The whole thought of insecurity momentarily disappears, even though the memory of past events stays in the back of your mind.
I remember thinking about Israel before I finally arrived. I thought about the common Jewish American thoughts of what Israel is to me. It was a place where Jews were accepted, a place where Jewish culture thrived, and a safe haven for Jews if they ever suffered persecution. That is what defined Israel. All of these aspects make Israel what it is today. However, it is no longer just a big commercial for a Jewish state. There are many things that, as a country, Israel does to set itself apart. For instance, Israel also goes out of its way to save Jews. Which is clearly seen through events such as Operation Solomon. Much of Israeli law is based off Halakah, Jewish law, which means that Rabbis are in charge of marriage (Ketuba), divorce, Yibum, and countless other ritualistic Jewish practices. It is this and more that makes Israel such a uniquely Jewish place. When I arrived in Israel and saw the Haredi (Orthodox and Hassidic) men and women walking to synagogue on Shabbat I was filled with a huge sense of joy. It’s magniv (cool) to really see Jewish life everywhere, but sometimes it’s not very different from what we have back home. In America, there is a presence of the Reform and Conservative movements, but in Israel, they are both considered part of a single progressive movement. A few years ago Beit Tefillah was founded in Tel Aviv. It is a new synagogue, which does not affiliate itself with a particular movement, and asks famous Israeli pop stars to compose new melodies for its prayers. In doing so, it brings Israeli culture into the prayer structure, which in Israel is unheard of with most people only knowing of Orthodox Judaism.
Overall, the weirdest thing for me when was came to Israel was for the first seeing soldiers in their uniforms wearing their guns on their backs. Prior to my trip to Israel, I knew that soldiers walked around with guns, but I assumed that the weapons would be pistols, similar to those used by policemen back home. I was surprised to learn that the soldiers carry large M-16ʼs. And not only do the soldiers carry guns, but many pedestrians carry them as well. I have seen many people leading tour groups that are accompanied by a security guard or medic that carries a rifle for the groupʼs protection. In our group as well, whenever we leave the kibbutz on a trip, we always have our security guard with us; not because we are constantly in danger, but because itʼs a necessary precaution. Initially seeing so many people walking around with guns was quite a culture shock, but I now appreciate that it is just one more thing that makes Israel so special.
Growing up as an active member of NFTY has certainly been an experience that has changed my own personal Judaism, and in many ways, my life as a whole. From living in Israel for three months already, I have experienced and studied various aspects of Judaism. Of all that I have learned, there is so much that I will be taking home with me. I have come to realize that nothing can replace actually being in Haeretz, speaking the language of our people and experiencing Judaism where its history lies.