Post 17: Why Israel?

As a disclaimer, I recognize that this article looks a lot more like something you’d find in Travel Magazine than on a blog. That being said, a lot of my younger friends are currently contemplating where to study abroad, which is why I felt it was important to write this piece.  However, I believe that what I wrote holds true whether you’re looking for a place to study abroad for six months or whether you are looking for a place to take a two week vacation. At the end of the day, there is something special about Israel…

Europe certainly has it’s wonders. Paris is known for it’s fine wine, the Mona Lisa, and the Eiffel tower. Venice has the Canals, and all of Italy is known for it’s phenomenal dining. London has the West End shows, fascinating museums, and of course Big Ben. Amsterdam has marijuana and prostitution (okay maybe that’s not on the same level as fine art and high culture but it’s still something). But in each place, what do you really take away other than a cultural experience? You can see the Eiffel tower. You can learn from the museums of London. You can smoke a lot of weed and peruse the halls of the Van Gough Museum. But what do you really feel? In the case of the last example, you feel high. But unless you speak fluent French you shouldn’t hope to feel any real sense of belonging in France, a nation notorious for it’s snobbery towards foreigners. And even if your roots are in Germany or England, you shouldn’t expect to feel any spiritual connection to your ancestors in the castles of London or in the rolling hills of Germany (unless of course your worship castles and hills in which case I can’t help you).

In short, Europe is a trip. You’ll see amazing sights, eat great food and meet new and interesting people (except in France), but it will end there. The sights will be world history, and the people will be strangers.  As a Jew, there is only one place you can fly to 6000 miles from where you grew up and still feel home. Where people you’ve never met will invite you into their homes and into their lives. Where strangers are extended family.  It’s the only country where the ultra-Orthodox Jews beat up the police and not the other way around. As an interesting side-note, it’s also the only country in the world where Starbucks tried and failed, because coffee here is just that good.

Rain forests and deserts, Beaches and Ski slopes, Mountain ranges and the lowest point on earth are all within hours and in some cases minutes of one another. You can cross the country from east to west in less than an hour and a half. And as amazing as Israel is, what it has done is even more amazing. It has survived in the face of impossible odds. In every generation the enemies of the Jews have sought to destroy them, and today those nations are remembered only in history books and museums. The vigilance, the persistence of a nation of survivors, of the Israeli nation, is palpable. There is something special about this place, as was noted in Dan Senor’s recent book “Start-up Nation.” Israel, a country of 7.1 million, only 60 years old, surrounded by enemies, in a constant state of war since its founding, with no natural resources— produces more start-up companies than large, peaceful, and stable nations like Japan, China, India, Korea, Canada, and the UK. Israel has, per person, attracted over twice as much venture capital investment as the US and thirty times more than Europe.

But beyond the wonder of Israel’s very existence and her tremendous success is the wonder of the experiences to be had in Israel.  There is no feeling quite like walking into a restaurant at 3 in the morning in November and joining a couple of rabbis in a dance circle to the tune of Chanukah songs. Nor is there anything quite like the sight of a mezuzah on the door of a nightclub. Or the sight of our soldiers, Jewish soldiers, patrolling the streets with M-16s.

From a young age, as Jews, we learn about the history of the land of Israel. We read of the heroism of the Maccabees and the commitment of Abraham to his covenant with God. We read about the wisdom of King David and the experiences of the Jewish nation under his rule. We learn of the tenacity of Jews under the Roman Empire who were forbidden from studying Torah, but who did so anyway in the face of torture and death. Here these are not just stories of a far off place; in Israel, unlike in Europe, the history is not just world history. As Jews, it is our history. There is no feeling quite like experiencing Israel for yourself live and in person, no matter how religious you are or are not. Everything takes on new meaning in Israel, from the sites you see, to the relationships you form and even down to the food you eat. Everything has an inflated level of importance when you experience it here because you are experiencing it in Israel.

For my non-Jewish friends it is hard to explain why I feel this way. How do you explain the feeling in your heart of praying at the Western wall for the first time? Of walking the streets of the old city and marveling at the same cobblestone streets walked by our ancestors thousands of years ago? Or climbing Masada at sunrise and watching the induction of soldiers into the Defense Forces of the state of Israel, who fight to protect our right to exist freely in a Jewish state? There is no country like Israel.

On a more mundane note, the nightlife in Tel Aviv rivals any European capital you can name. The port in Tel Aviv is bustling with restaurants and clubs that are open until the early hours of the morning. All of Israel’s major cities are filled with old-school bars, many of which feature live music on weekends. Shoppers rejoice at the number of stores in Israel’s urban centers.

In the end, you could take the same money it would cost you to fly here and use it to fly to Paris, Amsterdam, London, or any other major European destination. And the country you fly to will be bigger. And the museums will be grander, and the shopping will be more exquisite. But you will return home without the feeling in your heart that you get when you return from Israel. Because when you leave Israel and you land at LAX, JFK, YUL, or wherever it is you hail from, a part of you will feel not that you have come home, but that you’ve left it.

9/10/2010

3 Responses to “Post 17: Why Israel?”

  1. Mindy Feldman Says:

    I cannot imagine a more beautifully written description of Israel…don’t be surprised if I show up to study abroad there next semester!!
    I love you so much,
    Mom

  2. Michael Kleinman Says:

    Legit! Great points. i’m so happy to be here and happy that you are defending this place. Thank you.

  3. kb6kgx Says:

    I can definitely relate to your comments comparing Israel to Europe, and to what it feels like when you return to the US (notice, I do not say “return home”, because I agree with you: You have LEFT “home”. Unless someone has experienced what you have, as I have (though I haven’t followed through as you have), they cannot understand your final comments at the end of your writing.

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