Posted on: June 16, 2011
A few weeks ago the Salute to Israel parade went down Manhattan’s 5th Avenue. I was in Ohio so missed it. Lately I’ve been thinking more about Israel. The more I think the less I actually come to a definite opinion about my views. In my experience most Jewish people have definite opinions about the State of Israel. I’ve been around many Shabbos tables in which someone turns to me with a smile and asks, “Have you been to Israel?” I always tell them that I have not and they list off reasons why I should go. I want to go, I’m just conflicted. As converts there seems to be a division, of sorts, between your pre-Jewish thinking and Jewish thinking. Before making the decison to convert I had very strong and very opposed feelings about the State of Israel. Now…
In the late fall Mirs and I visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage . I’ve been to several Holocaust remembrance museums, nearly every Jewish Museum has a Holocaust memorial but for some reason, being at this museum something clicked. I’ve always had a pretty clear understanding of why there was need for a Jewish State after the War. Neighbors and countries literally turned their backs on Jewish people who were displaced. People were left without a home or a country and needed a place to live. Without getting into the Biblical promises made of a Promise Land found in more than one Holy Book-the idea of “discovering” or “owning” land already occupied is a hard pill to swallow. Especially when it happened so recently in history. Sure 1948 was a long time ago-but it really isn’t.
It’s obvious that Columbus did not discover America. The country that was named America was already occupied by people. The land and the people thrived until it was “discovered” and “civilized.” I have the same feeling about the land of Israel. It existed with living breathing people before it was called Israel. So this need for a home but acquisition of a home already home to another is definitely hard for me to comprehend and agree with. I imagine what it must have been like in 1492 when Native Americans first saw the ships approaching their shores. I can imagine what it was like for Palestinians to have waves of immigrants “coming home” to reclaim land.
It’s even more complex as a convert not doing an Orthodox conversion. The powers that be in Israel today would most likely not grant me Israeli citizenship if I decided that I wanted to move to Israel. My conversion as a Reform Jew would be deemed invalid.
There is still this pull towards Israel. Not as a Jewish state and not even as a Jewish person, but because it makes up so much of my Christian history as well. As a child when I discovered that I could find Bethlehem on a map I was surprised. The Bible is one of the oldest books I’ve read surely the places in it were made up or washed away by time. They aren’t. I want to go to Jerusalem as a Jewish person but one cannot subtract the Muslim and Christian history seated in Jerusalem. The stories of The Bible are fascinating because when you discover that the lands we read about thousands of years ago still exist you can’t help but get excited at the idea of walking on the same streets, cooling your feet in the same seas that those people. Taking away the Bible the land itself is filled with so much human history. The very seat of Monotheism is a place we can visit today. In my Utopian idea of Judaism and religion as a whole the Holy Land, as it were, would be a bit like Switzerland or Costa Rica.
If you’re a Jewish youth you have the opportunity to visit Israel on a BirthRightTrip. My ideas and thoughts around the trip and name will be saved for later but there is a bit of jealousy that there isn’t such a trip for Jews by Choice. Yes, we can go to Israel, yes we can take trips with other Jews by Choice but where’s our free trip? (Did you hear the whining? I can’t seem to stop whining lately) I actually whined to one of my rabbis that converts are just as deserving, if not more deserving of a free or low-cost trip to Israel. Will your average horny 18 year-old boy really appreciate a trip to Israel or will he appreciate the hot Israeli women? Whining aside, there are options for Jews by Choice, LGBTQ Jews, Jews of Color, etc. to visit Israel. Keshet is currently planning a November trip to Israel that I’m thinking about attending…I’d just like a free or low-cost trip.
My thoughts on Israel in terms of the politics vs my desire to see and experience Israel always conflict. I know that I will go, I hope to go sooner than later and I will go with no expectations but just to experience what Jews have experiences for thousands of years. I want to go not because it’s my right as a Jew but because all of the land in that region is embedded in my religious history. When I go to Israel I want to visit not just that country but surrounding countries. I want to experience history and live a life removed from the life that I live. The interesting thing about Israel vs the US is the division between state and religion. I’m American, I don’t want politics in my religion. I chose to become Jewish so there will always be politics in my religion.