When I first heard that I was selected to participate in the “Do the Write Thing” program, a component of the UJC General Assembly that took place in Jerusalem last month, the last thing on my mind was an exploration of my Jewish identity.
Do the Write Thing is a unique conference that focuses on the interests and needs of Jewish & Israeli journalism students and writers and young professional journalists/writers – from Israel and around the world.As an Israeli Jew, born in the United States to a religious family which made “Aliya” when I was 6 years old, one would think that my Jewish identity would be as strong and unwavering as could be.
This, though, is not the case. Seven years ago I questioned my religious faith while learning in a “Hesder” Yeshiva. Ironically enough, my Israeli identity was strengthened considerably a few months later when I was inducted as a soldier into the I.D.F and remained there for 4 and half years as an officer in the “Nachal” brigade.
While trying to investigate the “Do the Write Thing” program, I learned that it was a yearly program that invited students of journalism to gather at the time that the GA met. At the time, I thought that the GA was an assembly of Jews that gathered only once every few years, not every year. I thought that this program would help me gain knowledge and possibly introduce me to people with â€œconnectionsâ€, but the words Jew or Jewish never crossed my mind in connection with â€œDo The Write Thingâ€. When our group of 30 young adults convened for the first time, I met a group of ambitious Jews who came from North America, Canada, Russia, Venezuela, France, Switzerland and Israel.
The members of our group were either students in universities or those who had just completed their degrees. Those from abroad were currently in volunteer and government related internships. Everyone felt a strong connection to Israel.
The most moving moment for me was when one of the group members announced at the end of the program that he decided to celebrate a “Bar-Mitzvah” that he never had. He also added a Jewish name as a result of the feelings that he experienced being in Israel for the first time.
In addition to many separate sessions geared just for our group, we participated in all of the main events of the GA. The best speech, in my opinion, was that of Shimon Peres â€“ not the most fluent speaker, but in my mind he was the most sincere and captivating. At the young age of 85, he went into great detail describing Israel’s technological future and was so optimistic that even a cynic like me admired him.
So many Israel-loving Jews in one building can either make me, an Israeli, feel loved or claustrophobic. I haven’t decided yet how I feel. My emotions and thoughts are divided along three different tracks: Do I have that warm and fuzzy feeling of “Kol Yisrael Achim” â€“ all of Israel are brothers? And, am I grateful for their care and support?
Or, am I indifferent like most Israelis, whose only concern is how much money American Jewry contributes and if I can benefit from it.
The third feeling that I have is one of inner conflict. On the one hand I feel that American Jewry is condescending, thinking that they are helping the “poor” Israelis who need their kindness to survive. And, yet, some part of me is saying NO! We can live just fine without our “rich uncles” from America and if they really want a connection with Israel, they should come, make Aliya and join the army.
All of these feelings were unimportant for me before I attended this program. Although I may have felt one of these emotions once every few years, it was not a part of my everyday life. The GA never spoke to me or any other Israeli. This idea is demonstrated by the fact that although the Israeli English daily newspapers covered the GA widely, and the only mention of the GA in the Hebrew newspapers appeared in the financial section, as part of the update how the financial crisis in the U.S.A will affect the contributions to Israeli causes.
Only now, after attending the GA, do I realize how much the Jews in the Diaspora do for the state of Israel. At the same time, there is an unbelievable lack of awareness by Israelis about what other Jews do for our country. This lack of awareness reminds me of the old question: “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it does it make a sound?” Did the GA really take place if no Israelis know about it? The accomplishments of Diaspora Jews on behalf of our country must be heard, loud and clear, and, next time, also in Hebrew!