People ask me a lot why I chose to be Jewish and why I choose to live in Israel. I don’t mind the questions, and I really do try each time to answer honestly, but I have to admit, the whole inquiry seems a bit silly to me. Like asking someone, “why do you like sunshine?” or maybe “why do you keep your hair brown?” or even “so why do you like chocolate?” The answers to these questions are mostly “givens,” right? I like the sun because it is keeps me alive and feels nice. I like my hair the color it is, because, well, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. I like chocolate because it makes me happy. I could have replaced “Judaism” into any of these answers. I like being Jewish. I like the Jewish people. I like Israel. It feels nice and like home to me. I realize others view my choice to be here as different, but it just is. Not all things in life really need to be explained, do they?
But I guess that’s not a really good answer. In addition to people asking me about why I’m Jewish and why I live in Israel, the Jewish Agency would also like to know. In fact, they recently asked me to write a letter explaining (in detail) exactly why I want to be where I am and how I am. Isn’t this an interesting concept? If someone asked you to explain why you are the way you are and why you live where you live, what would you say?? Would you have a good answer, or would you find the inquiry challenging? I was happy to write my answers to the Jewish Agency, but as with the inquiries from individuals, I felt a bit baited. People tend to believe that life in Israel is more difficult than that in America and that being Jewish is (in some ways) a burden in addition to being a blessing. I honestly do understand this opinion. Everything from the buses to the phone company to the university to the politics takes extra patience in Israel. However, for me, I simply need to try my hardest to be here in order to be true to myself.
Perhaps an example will help. Right out of college I got my first professional job working at a university. It was a pretty easy job at a nice, small, private university in southern California. The people were very nice and happy. The biggest problem I had was that of “helicopter parents” – those who called every day to make sure their student got the best room, the best roommates, and the perfect meal plan.
After I finished my master’s, I accepted a job at a community college and moved to a rural (and very poor) county in northern California. My eyes were opened like never before. I had homeless students, mentally ill students, and brilliant 18-year old students all together in the same class. One day a “star” student came to me after being beaten senseless by her boyfriend. I talked to her and tried to get her help, and when she left my office I quietly closed my door and sobbed. I caught students doing crystal meth, and I saw students receive full athletic scholarships. My time there completely changed me, and in many ways the work was so much more difficult than the quiet private university. However, that college was exactly where I needed to be. After working there, I knew I would not ever be able to return to the helicopter parents. That first year, I remember praying that even one parent would call in concern of their child, but they never did. So I’ve spent the last 5 years building my career and writing my dissertation around community college students – my students, and I plan to continue that work in some capacity as long as I live. They will always be part of me.
In just the same way, Judaism and Israel are part of me. Once I came to know them, I was changed in such a profound way that I can never go back. So I became Jewish in order to be true to myself, and now I came to Israel in order to be part of the Jewish people. It is hard. I don’t have a “real” job or a resident visa. Living here takes perspective, trust, and hope. I am practicing that each day. I just signed a lease on an apartment for a year and I’m applying for post-doctoral fellowships here. I’m building a life, and I’ve got to tell you, it feels as warm as sunshine, as natural as the color of my hair, and as easy to love as chocolate.