Today's blogpost was written by Alyssa Shapiro, a Yahel Social Change fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9-months in the city of Rishon LeZion. Prior to participating in the Yahel Social Change Fellowship, Alyssa completed her Masters of Social Work and is also an alumna of a shorter Yahel summer program!
When asked what draws me to Israel, my first response is usually “the air.” Something about the air here has always felt fresh and welcoming to me. Thus, contrary to what many may assume about the feelings that this country may evoke, the feeling that I associate with Israel is a feeling of calmness. Calmness has always pervaded my consciousness in this country, despite my simultaneous knowledge of the overarching amount of conflict that arises here on the daily.
I felt calm when I was 13 years old, as I stood on my tippy toes and I watched my triplet brothers’ read their Bar Mitzvah Parasha over the tall mechitza of the Kotel Hama’aravi; a ceremony which I was invited to observe but not invited to participate.
While feeling calm, I simultaneously acknowledged the conflicting Jewish religious identities here that may either praise this experience or may look down on the division of gender within the spiritual context in this communal holy space.
I felt calm when I was 15 years old, and I listened to sad tune of Megillat Eicha On Tisha B’av at an overlook in Jerusalem. Tears streamed down my face and feelings overwhelming my heart, I was internally imagining the existence of the Jewish communities of the past and processing the destruction of my nation’s homes and communities throughout the course of history. Meanwhile, I heard the fireworks of neighboring Arab communities in the background.
While feeling calm, I simultaneously acknowledged the conflicting claims to a land with a tremendously complicated, blurred, and tense history; a history that which bleeds into the present life.
I felt calm when I was 18 years old, as I ran to the bomb shelter for the first time. I felt calm when I was 20 years old and going to the bomb shelter became commonplace. Hearing the names of the lost and injured became an everyday activity.
While feeling calm, I simultaneously acknowledged the constant question surrounding the possibility of peace and the reality that war and hate is unavoidable at this point in history.
It was not until this past weekend, at 24 years old, when I finally realized how it is possible that I feel calm in Israel. I turned on my phone after Shabbat to the news that there had been a shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburg, and my first thought was that I am happy to be here. I feel calm here. I feel calm here because in my heart I believe that anti-Semitism is inevitable, and Israel gives me a place to go as the inevitable strikes. So, I made coming to Israel this year a priority; to grapple with the complexities of this country, while simultaneously feeling calm.